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The Reagan Revolution in Perspective Previous Next
Digital History ID 3371


In the presidential election of 1984, Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush won in a landslide over Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. Ferraro was the first woman nominated for vice president on a major party ticket. Although Reagan's second term was plagued by the Iran-Contra scandal, he left office after eight years more popular than when he arrived. He could claim the distinction of being the first president to serve two full terms since Dwight Eisenhower.

Ronald Reagan could also point to an extraordinary string of accomplishments. He dampened inflation, restored public confidence in government, and presided over the beginning of the end of the Cold War. He doubled the defense budget, named the first woman to the Supreme Court, launched a strong economic boom, and created a heightened sense of national unity. In addition, his supporters said that he restored vigor to the national economy and psyche, rebuilt America's military might, regained the nation's place as the world's preeminent power, restored American patriotism, and championed traditional family values.

On the other hand, his detractors criticized him for a reckless use of military power and for circumventing Congress in foreign affairs. They accused Reagan of fostering greed and intolerance. His critics also charged that his administration, in its zeal to cut waste from government, ripped the social safety net and skimped on the government's regulatory functions. The administration, they further charged, was insensitive on racial issues.

Reagan's detractors were particularly concerned about his economic legacy. During the Reagan years, the national debt tripled, from $909 billion to almost $2.9 trillion (the interest alone amounted to 14 percent of the federal budget). The deficit soaked up savings, caused interest rates to rise, and forced the federal government to shift more and more responsibilities onto the states. Corporate and individual debt also soared. During the early 1990s, the American people consumed $1 trillion more goods and services than they produced. The United States also became the world's biggest debtor nation, as a result of a weak dollar, a low level of exports, and the need to borrow abroad to finance budget deficits.

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