Ronald Reagan and National Politics

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the priorities of the Democratic Party began to shift away from white working and middle class voters- many of them socially conservative, Christian and religiously observant (The Roosevelt Coalition), to a set of emerging constituencies seeking rights and privileges previously reserved to white men.  These groups included African-Americans, women’s rights activists, proponents of ethnic diversity, advocates of gender and sexual freedom and self-expressive individualism. This movement was referred to as identity politics. What resulted was an exacerbation of the cultural wars that started in the Sixties.

The cultural conflicts were accompanied by a decline in the national economy. By the 1970s, many white Americans, who had taken their own political primacy for granted, felt that they were losing influence, left to face the negative consequences of deindustrialization – adverse economic trends including the decline in manufacturing employment, the erosion of wages by foreign competition and the implosion of trade unionism – alone. These voters became the supporters of what became to be known as the Reagan Revolution, a set of policies that rejected the idea that central government served the citizens’ interest best, but rather believed that government is bad by nature and that the country works best when it is turned over to individual actors.

Ronald Reagan, who began his political career in California Republican politics in the late 1940s and early 1950s, enthusiastically adopted this new Republican platform in the 1970s, which led to his election as the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. Reagan promised to champion individual Americans, getting government and the taxes it swallowed, off people’s backs.