By this time, a thriving counterculture permeated American society in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British groups took the country by storm. “Hard rock” grew popular, and songs with a political or social commentary, such as those by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, became common. The youth counterculture reached its apex in August 1969 at Woodstock, a three-day music festival in rural New York State attended by almost half-a-million persons. The festival, mythologized in films and record albums, gave its name to the era — The Woodstock Generation (Outline of American History).
A conservative reaction to the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s was inevitable (thank God!). This conservative upsurge had many sources. A large group of evangelical Christiansâ€“some of whom were called The Moral Majority–weree particularly concerned about an increase in immoral behavior. Some of you may remember the laudable, in my opinion, effect of men of God like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on the Republican Party.
Another galvanizing issue for conservatives was one of the most divisive and morally reprehensible issues of the time: abortion. Opposition to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which upheld a woman’s right to an abortion, brought together a wide array of organizations and individuals. They included, but were not limited to, large numbers of Catholics, political conservatives and religious fundamentalists, most of whom regarded abortion under virtually any circumstances as tantamount to murder. They were prepared to organize in support of politicians who agreed with their position — and against those who disagreed with it. Pro-choice and antiabortion demonstrations became a fixture of the political landscape (An Outline of American History).
The figure who drew all these disparate strands together was Ronald Reagan. Reagan, born in Illinois, achieved stardom as an actor in Hollywood movies and television before turning to politics. He first achieved political prominence with a nationwide televised speech in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater. In 1966 Reagan won the governorship of California, owing to a wave of voter reaction against the student rebellion at the University of California-Berkeley, and served until 1975. He narrowly missed winning the Republican nomination for president in 1976 before succeeding in 1980 and going on to win the presidency from Jimmy Carter. Reagan won overwhelming reelection in 1984 against Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale (An Outline of American History).
As one historian explains, President Reagan’s unflagging optimism and his ability to celebrate the achievements and aspirations of the American people persisted throughout his two terms in office. He was a figure of reassurance and stability for many Americans. Despite his propensity for misstatements, Reagan was known as the “Great Communicator,” primarily for his mastery of television. For many, he recalled the prosperity and relative social tranquility of the 1950s — an era dominated by another genial public personality who evoked widespread affection, President Dwight Eisenhower.
President Reagan enjoyed unusually high popularity at the end of his second term in office, but under the terms of the U.S. Constitution he could not run again in 1988. He certainly wanted to do so! His vice president during all eight years of his presidency, George Bush was elected the 41st president of the United States.
Bush campaigned by promising voters a continuation of the prosperity Reagan had brought; he also argued that his expertise could better support a strong defense for the United States than that of the Democratic Party’s candidate, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, claimed that less fortunate Americans were hurting economically and that the government had to help those people while simultaneously bringing the federal debt and defense spending under control. The public was much more engaged, however, by Bush’s economic message: a promise of no new taxes. In the balloting, Bush finished with a 54-to-46-percent popular vote margin.
Because of an ailing economy, Bill Clinton was elected president in 1990. While America experienced, significant prosperity in his two term tenure, we also experienced unprecedented political and moral abuse of the office. It was, as former Education Secretary William Bennett wrote, a time of the â€œDeath of Outrage.â€ The Godly president George Bush, however, in this authorâ€™s opinion, providentially was elected in 2000. And we know the rest of the story. . .