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America's History in the Making

Global America

Theme 1

The rise of conservatism has limited the role of the federal government, promoted the market forces driving globalization, and raised issues of morality and religion in the public sphere.

Over the past quarter of a century, political conservatism has gathered momentum as a reaction to the liberal policies of the 1960s and 1970s. As the economy turned downward in the 1970s, the working class began to identify less with the Democratic Party on economic and political issues.

In 1976, the election of Jimmy Carter represented a transitional moment for Democrats. Carter became the first born-again Christian elected president, and his election demonstrated the emerging role of evangelism in politics. Carter also differed from New Deal Democrats in that he was a fiscal conservative who advocated a balanced budget and remained uncommitted to liberal social-welfare programs.

Job loss, a shrinking tax base, and a decline of public services culminated in a crisis in most American cities, which largely impacted minorities. Economic decline intersected with a dissatisfaction with the civil rights movement when the gains promised failed to materialize. During times of unemployment, some white workers resented affirmative action programs for non-whites and women.

Conservatives gained political power by emphasizing the failings of the liberal movement and the fears of mainstream America. Through their critique of liberal values, conservatives persuaded many Americans that the Democrats' system was not working and the federal government should not play a prominent role in forming social policy.

Primary Sources


Text Artifact

Pat Buchanan's "Culture War" Speech

Patrick J. Buchanan, keynote address, 1992 Republican National Convention, 1992; available at www.buchanan.org (accessed April 3, 2007).


Nancy Reagan and "Just Say No"

Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press, NANCY REAGAN SHOWS OFF HER "Just Say No" BUTTON AS SHE STANDS WITH 18 YEAR OLD ASHTON MCFADDEN (1983). Courtesy of AP/Wideworld.

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