In which ways did the Fifties and Sixties in the USA set the scene for the rise of conservatism in the Seventies and into the Reagan era? Was the rise of the right inevitable? Please explain your point of view.
The 1950s in America are often described as a time of complacency. By contrast, the 1960s and 1970s were a time of great change. But the economy of the 70s was not stable because of the Oil crisis and presidents did not seem to find a solution to get the economy work again.
For the right, the federal government had been spending too much money on the social programs. Conservatism believes that the best way to run a society is to maintain social and political framework and that the government should be as limited as possible, intervening only to keep maintenance and order of the society. Its principles are freedom of the individual with no interference of the federal government, economic freedom and political international status.
For many Americans, the economic, social and political trends of the previous two decades (crime and racial polarization in many urban centers, economic downturn and inflation of the Carter years) engendered a mood of disillusionment. It also strengthened a renewed suspicion of government and its ability to deal effectively with the country’s deep-rooted social and political problems. The conservatism of the 60s, 70s, and 80s was indeed a reactionary phenomenon from the liberal politics. It resulted in the election and the ruling of the New Right in the 1980s.
The conformity of the fifties had become collective action in the sixties. It had enhanced freedom for Black Americans, for women and for many of the poorest in society. But it was at a cost. At a cost of violence against blacker marchers, against and by university protesters, against and by anti-war demonstrators. The deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy seemed the end of any chance to have organized and peaceful political change to achieve a fairer society. To those who had not been part of any of the challenges, it seemed as if their world was falling, made worse by nightly television broadcasts showing riots, rebellion and destruction. The sixties seemed to challenge basic American assumptions; the value of hard work and of traditional family values. “Middle” America formed 55% of the population, earning between $5000 and $15000 p.a. They lived between the city slums and
the affluent suburbs, and were usually up to their eyes in debt. They wanted the law to protect them and their property. They believed in good manners, in respect for authority and the flag. The changes of the sixties left many of them confused and angry. They were not sure who to blame for social unrest. They were the silent minority that Nixon appealed to in his election campaign, and they helped him to victory. They were the resentment and reaction byproduct of social unrest. They worked to ensure their property and found it unfair that the government gave money to the people that did not work as much as they did. They wanted law and order.
They wanted a state that provided security, response to the insecurity they felt in face of the students movement and the liberal culture. They felt ignored by the democrat government because they did not benefit from the financial help, house and health security. Both the political parties had to cope with the growing of pressure groups and those best able to use the media to attract attention to their causes. The refusal of Johnson to stand for re-election together with the assassination of Robert Kennedy weakened the Democrat Party. The two candidates in November were the Republican Nixon and Democrat Humphrey. Nixon’s victory brought a more conservative political agenda for the next twenty years. It was the end of the liberal sixties and the demands for a less divisive society.
Kennedy’s 1960 campaign promise “ to get America moving again “ referred to the American economy. He wanted economic growth at an annual rate of 4-6 percent and unemployment at 4 percent. Kennedy knew that the economy was in big trouble so he sent congress an economic growth and recovery package consisting of twelve measures. The increase in the minimum wage from $1.00 to $1.25 per hour and an extension of the minimum wage to a larger pool of workers, an increase in unemployment compensation plus increased aid to children of unemployed workers, increase social security benefits to a larger pool of people, emergency relief for feed grain farmers, area redevelopment, vocational training for displaced workers, and federal funding for home building and slum eradication meant that the government spent more money but it also meant more taxes to finance all of this. A lot of social reforms made the conservatism react. The right did not agree with all the social reforms that were aimed to the poor because according to the right, people had to work with no help of the state to get better lives. Laws were passed to extend the Food Stamp Program, to expand consumer protection, to improve safety standards, to train health professionals, to assist handicapped Americans, and to further urban programs. Furthermore, it did not please the right because all those programs needed funding and the funding came from taxes that the American had to pay.
Unprecedented prosperity, for example, gave rise to a new middle class that was hostile to high taxes and to many of the social programs they financed. Social unrest (urban riots, violent crime, and student protests) pushed many Americans that looked for stability toward conservative candidates who promised to restore law and order. But perhaps most important was a growing disillusionment with the federal government. Vietnam, deteriorating conditions in the cities, affected the lives of working middle-class Americans in profound ways, and led them to believe that government no longer served their interests. Democrat Party’s promises were empty because the war against communism was failing.
With the two oil crisis, American felt vulnerable at their dependence on others for such crucial material. Ford was faced with the challenges of the oil price rise. Johnson’s budget deficits ultimately resulted in inflation in the 1970s. During Ford’s presidency, unemployment and inflation rose as productivity declined, stock market prices fell, interest rates rose and building slowed down. By 1975 there was recession making Americans feel insecure. After the Watergate scandal, Ford tried to restore trust in government but his too rapid pardoning to Nixon undermined his intention. Then Carter, an outsider to the politics of Washington, was elected president in 1977. His inexperience was a handicap and he couldn’t meet the ideals of the liberals in his party nor could he calm the fears of those who wanted stability. Inflation rose, unemployment remained as 7% and interest rates reached a historic high of 20% by 1980. He was not able to calm the energy crisis. After the 1970s, Americans faced a frightening array of prospects: permanent economic stagnation, the presence of an underclass that directly challenged the essence of the American Dream and bitter division over fundamental cultural values. Evangelical groups such as the Moral Majority, became the core of conservative political ideas known as the New Right. By 1980, there was a reaction against the perceived excess of the sixties. The New Right claimed that the sixties had not improved the economy, had damaged standards and law and order and were dismissive of the traditional values of the family and church. It was a time for change. That change was pushed along by two groups: economic conservatives – who wanted lower taxes to give freedom to people to spend as they wanted, rather than seeing their earning abused on social welfare – and the social conservatives who wanted a return to family values opposed to abortion and homosexuality. Demographic change was also a factor. A larger, older population and a move from the typically liberal eastern states to the more conservative Sun Belt states of the south-west affected political strengths and demands. Reagan advocated a smaller federal government, de-regulation in the business sector, lower taxes, and a strong national defense against communism. He embodied the hopes of the conservative Americans. For Reagan, Carter’s policies favored too much governmental control which he believed was the cause of the economic crisis in America at that time.
I guess the rise of the right was inevitable because there were too many social measures that had been taken in the sixties and this made the right react because the government spent more and more money for the poor, and with the two oil crisis, American lost faith in the Democrat to make America’s economy work again. Thus, the right seemed to many Americans the solution to their many problems.
With the many social revolution and measures happening in the sixties, the conservative Americans that feared changes in America’s values saw in the right the power to restore America’s traditional values that are work, family and church. The economic instability scared many Americans that believed that less federal government spending had to happen. They also thought that more economic freedom would help improve the economy. Their hopes were met by electing a conservative president that embodied the New Right.
Cite this The rise of conservatism in the USA
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