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america pathways present

Explain the influence of conservatives during the Reagan years, both in social issues and in changes in the Supreme Court


One of the pervasive fear of the American public leaving the 1970s was that "all was not well with America."   There was a tangible feeling of chaos and that America had lost its way from establishing control over its own destiny and its place in the world.  Unemployment, double digit inflation, as well as loss of social coherency contributed to these fears.  When the American Embassy in Iran fell victim to terrorists and hostages were held for over four hundred days, the feeling was that America, itself, was taken hostage.

The Conservative influence, led by Ronald Reagan, articulated a vision of a "new America."  Attempting to make sense of what was completely nonsense, Regan and the Conservatives presented Americans with a unifying purpose.  Quoting John Winthrop, Reagan and the Conservatives argued that America was "the shining city upon a hill" that would be a beacon to all.  Patterned in this idea was the notion of a smaller role of government, deregulation of industry, lower taxes, and enhancing American businesses.  The role of the federal government was diminished while "states rights" became a familiar refrain.  This also was represented by a sense of moral clarity where "right" and "wrong" were evident and clearly demonstrable.  The Conservative movement in America emphasized a movement away from the cities and to the suburbs, as economic growth was stimulated with such a "pro- business" approach.  Internationally, the Republican party believed in the strength of the American military in facing down the Soviet Union on the issue of nuclear proliferation and defense.

These ideas were felt in American society and the Supreme Court.  The composition of the Court became populated with justices who favored a strict, traditional, and conservative approach to the interpretation of the Constitution.  Justices like Scalia and Rehnquist became the leaders of the Court.  Such thinkers did not favor the activistic approach of the high court in the 1960's and 1970s.  The court took a role of not wanting to intervene in social issues to cause social change.  Majority of the decisions rendered were taken under the guise of restraint, as well as rulings that favored business growth and deregulation of industries.  Socially, the growth of the religious fundamentalist had been not seen to the level as it was during the Reagan years.  Televangelists and the rise of the Religious Right became predominant.  The concept of "sin" and "righteousness" was spoken with a great deal of brazen and direct emphasis.  This movement sought to increase the death penalty for capital crimes and reverse the Roe v. Wade decision. While the court did not overturn the case, it sought to stand clear of making law by redirecting the issue to the states, consistent with Republican beliefs.  Echoing the faith in business and money, American society became one where the acquisition of material wealth was defined as success.  This is the era that gave the "Yuppie" (Young Urban Professional) and the phrase "Greed is good" to the national dialogue.  Finally, the growth of an emerging class of wealthy individuals, who sought to move to the suburbs and consolidate their wealth was matched by a decay of urban centers, left neglected under the Republican mantra of "less government" and "lower taxes," which contributed to a slashing of federally funded social programs.

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