Last Updated 24 Jan 2023

AP US History: growing influence of the government in 1960-1989

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From 1960 to 1989, the power the government had over the country grew immensely. The main cause of this could be because of the numerous wars the United States was involved in throughout this period of time. Wars like the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Middle East Wars all contributed to the rise in federal power. Along with these wars, unemployment rates skyrocketed in the mid 70’s and early 80’s and so did the inflation rate. Government spending also became very out of hand and left the United States in millions of dollars of debt. As a result of the negative view towards a big government, the growing concern of the government's credibility, and an increasing opposition of women's rights, a new conservatism began to rise in the United States between 1960 and 1989.

The 1960’s was a major time in history, because of the Cold War and the nuclear scares that came with it, government had a very strong role during these years. One major event that occurred in 1962, was the Cuban Missile Crisis. The was the closest the United States and the Soviet Union came to having a full-on nuclear war. Thankfully, the missiles the Soviet Union had set up in Cuba were taken down, but the war was still far from coming to an end. Just this crisis alone cost America millions of dollars. This angered many conservatives because they thought that there were better, more effective ways to solves problems then spending hundreds of millions of dollars. Barry Goldwater, a Republican senator from Arizona, writes, “The root of evil is that the government is engaged in activities in which it has no legitimate business.” (Document 1), meaning that government might be involved in too many decisions, and they need to give some power back to the state. Not only were people of this time viewing government negatively, they also were questioning whether or not they were credible. An economist known as Milton Friedman wrote, “The greater part of the new ventures undertaken by government in the past few decades have failed to achieve the objectives.” (Document 2), and was conveying his point that government has failed the country. They’ve left society with major debt that inevitably will have to be paid off by the people through an increase in tax. Both these men are saying that by government having such a big role in society, only negative things are coming out of it. With many people having the same mind set and agreeing that a big government is not a good thing, a new conservative was slowly starting to form.

Another point of view many people found to have in common was opposing women's rights. Women might have gained the right to vote in the 1920’s, but the view of women being less than men never really stopped. Teddi Holt, the president of Mothers On the March, said “There’s no doubt that there was been discrimination against women, but that is past history, just as discrimination against blacks is past history in the US…” (Document 6). There is clear sarcasm in her tone when she wrote this. What she’s saying is that discrimination against women never really stopped. For example, laws allowing women to have an abortion only came about in the early 1970’s. A huge group of people opposed the rights of women during this time because they didn’t believe in the ideas of feminists. A woman writes to Nelson Rockefeller, the Republican governor of New York, and says, “I am a widow who lives alone, pays taxes and lives by the rules. I get very little from my taxes when I can no longer walk on the streets and when I am afraid in my own home...” (Document 3). If you read in between her words, you can see a women who is struggling to live alone and is scared because of urban crime. She’s writing to a Republican governor, not a conservative governor, mainly because there was no such thing yet, but if there was, change might not have been made because it was a woman complaining. In all, the group of people who opposed women's rights would soon join together and be known as the conservative group.

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A new conservatism truly did rise between 1960 and 1989. Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election and many changes were soon to take place under his presidency. One thing President Reagan did was agreed to significantly cut government's spending. Along with this, he cut many Great Society programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Social Security. Reagan inevitably shrunk the actual size of government which please those who were upon the new conservatism. The United States could be seen as progressing because, “...its citizens have become better fed, better clothed, better housed, and better transported...All this has been the product of the initiative and drive of individuals cooperating through the free market.” (Document 2). This new conservatism was being seen as a good thing for America and getting the recognition for the progress the United States was seeing during this time period. Jerry Falwell, television evangelist wrote, “These same young people have been reared under influence of a government that has taught them socialism and welfarism.” (Document 4). This statement is saying that government has contributed as well to the rise of a new conservatism because of the opposition people felt towards some of their choices. With societies growing opposition of a big government, and Reagan abolishing welfare programs and cutting government spending, a new conservatism would begin to rise.

With an increasing negative view towards a big government, and a growing opposition of women's rights, a new conservatism began to rise between 1960 and 1989. By opposing a big government, people were also starting to worry where all the money being spent was coming from, and also where it was going. This led to major debt in the United States, which would lead to an increase in taxes and and increase in unemployment rates. It’s important to know why a new conservatism rose because of the difference between one who's a conservative and one who isn’t. Conservatives want small government, but then the individual would have a ton of responsibilities, while a Republican would rather a big government, but would then have more taxes. There are pros and cons to each side and it’s important to know the difference. The new conservatism that rose was because of the large group of people who had similar views that differed from what people thought before.

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