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Ronald Reagan


Domestic Policy: 1981–1989

Summary Domestic Policy: 1981–1989

On March 30, 1981, Reagan was shot underneath his arm by a man outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. The would-be assassin was John Hinckley, a mentally disturbed young man from Colorado. Ironically, Hinckley hadn't shot Reagan for political reasons or even for personal ones. Rather, he tried to assassinate Reagan in order to impress actress Jodie Foster, who had recently starred in the popular film Taxi Driver. Reagan was rushed to the hospital where he managed to meekly tell the surgeons on duty, "Please tell me you're Republicans" before being put under the knife. He managed to pull through quickly and returned to the Oval Office even more popular than ever.

Shortly after the assassination attempt, Reagan faced another crisis, albeit one not so personal in nature. In August 1981, 13,000 air-traffic controllers went on strike. Although these workers were members of their own employment union to protect their rights, they were also highly skilled workers in high demand on the payroll of the US Government. Because these workers were so badly needed, President Reagan ordered the air-traffic controllers to end the strike and return to work. When they refused, Reagan fired all of them, hired scabs to replace them, and "busted" their union. For a time, the airline industry faced severe economic hardships.

Reagan's conservative agenda was not particularly helpful to black Americans and women. The Reagan administration opposed abortion and, as mentioned previously, cut many programs to assist mothers, children, and minorities. Reagan's own administration and a large majority of those he appointed to other government positions were primarily white males. Reagan did appoint Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court during his tenure in office in an attempt to increase his popularity with female voters, but this single act hardly made up for his previous years of neglect.

Many Americans were also displeased with Reagan's denial of the drug abuse problems in the country and with the AIDS epidemic that was spreading rapidly throughout the US. President Reagan viewed these problems with a moralistic lens; he figured that these problems reflected what he believed was the overall decline of American morals rather than a social problem that government could help solve.

During the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, the country was in a deep recession. Energy prices peaked, inflation was high, and many Americans were out of work. As a result, Americans wanted change. President Reagan entered his presidency with clear goals to make those changes. Tired of decades of liberal social policy, Reagan wanted to reduce both the size and role of government in the United States. His domestic policy agenda focused on cutting taxes, balancing the budget, withdrawing support from social welfare programs, and returning some powers to the state governments. Reagan believed that if the US could accomplish these goals, the federal government could save billions of dollars and stimulate the economy at the same time.

Reagan's economic policies were based on the works of economist Arthur Laffer who argued that cutting taxes for the businesses and wealthier quarter of American citizens would encourage spending and put more money into the economy as a whole. The money in turn would then eventually "trickle down" or find its way into the middle and poorer classes of Americans making everyone better off. Reagan reasoned that if these tax cuts at the top of society could trickle down and make everyone richer, the government could stop many of its social welfare programs involving transfers of payments to the poor. Laffer's theory was generally referred to as supply-side economic theory or, more colloquially, Reaganomics, because Reagan promoted the policies.

Ronald Reagan: Popular pages