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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Discuss the culture wars and political conflicts of the Reagan era
  • Describe the Religious Right’s response to the issues of the Reagan era

Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 suggested to conservatives that the days of liberalism were over and the liberal establishment might be dismantled. Many looked forward to the discontinuation of policies like affirmative action. Conservative Christians sought to outlaw abortion and stop the movement for gay and lesbian rights. Republicans, and some moderate Democrats, demanded a return to “traditional” family values, a rhetorical ploy to suggest that male authority over women and children constituted a natural order that women’s rights and the New Left had subverted since the 1960s. As the conservative message regarding the evils of government permeated society, distrust of the federal government grew, inspiring some to form organizations and communities that sought complete freedom from government control.

Creating conservative policy

Ronald Reagan’s popularity and effectiveness as a leader drew from his reputation as a man who fought for what he believed in. He was a very articulate spokesperson for a variety of political ideas based on conservative principles and perspectives. Much of the intellectual meat of the Reagan Revolution came from conservative think tanks (policy or advocacy groups) that specifically sought to shape American political and social dialogues. The Heritage Foundation    , one such group, soon became the intellectual arm of the conservative movement.

Launched in 1973 with a $250,000 contribution from Joseph Coors (of Coors Brewing Company) and support from a variety of corporations and conservative foundations, the Heritage Foundation sought to counteract what conservatives believed to be Richard Nixon’s acceptance of a liberal consensus on too many issues. In producing its policy position papers and political recommendations to conservative candidates and politicians, it helped contribute to a sanitization of U.S. history and a nostalgic glorification of what it deemed to be traditional values, seemingly threatened by the expansion of political and personal freedoms. The foundation had lent considerable support and encouragement to the conservative dialogues that helped carry Ronald Reagan into office in 1980. Just a year later, it produced a document entitled Mandate for Leadership that catalogued some two thousand specific recommendations on how to shrink the size and reach of the federal government and implement a more consistent conservative agenda. The newly elected Reagan administration looked favorably on the recommendations and recruited several of the paper’s authors to serve in the White House.

Conservative christians and family values

Among the strongest supporters of Ronald Reagan’s campaign for president were members of the Religious Right, including Christian groups like the Moral Majority , 61 percent of whom voted for him. By 1980, evangelical Christians had become an important political and social force in the United States ( [link] ). Some thirteen hundred radio stations in the country were owned and operated by evangelicals. Christian television programs, such as Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club and Jim Bakker’s The PTL (Praise the Lord) Club , proved enormously popular and raised millions of dollars from viewer contributions. For some, evangelism was a business, but most conservative Christians were true believers who were convinced that premarital and extramarital sex, abortion, drug use, homosexuality, and “irreligious” forms of popular and high culture were responsible for a perceived decline in traditional family values that threatened American society.

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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