The 1988 election seemed to show politics sinking to new lows. Television advertisements and media exposes now dominated political campaigns. The race for the Democratic nomination had hardly begun before the

Conservatives celebrate the inauguration of George H. W. Bush, January 1989.

front-runner, Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, withdrew after a newspaper reported that he had spent the night at his Washington town house with a woman other than his wife. Both parties ran negative campaigns. Democrats ridiculed the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, for factual and linguistic mistakes. Republicans spread unfounded rumors that Michael Dukakis’s wife had burned an American flag during the 1960s. The low point of the campaign came in a Republican television ad depicting the threatening image of Willie Horton, a black murderer and rapist who had been furloughed from prison during Dukakis’s term as governor of Massachusetts. Rarely in the modern era had a major party appealed so blatantly to racial fears. Before his death in 1991, Lee Atwater, who masterminded Bush’s campaign, apologized for the Horton ad.

Although he did not match Reagan’s landslide victory of 1984, Bush achieved a substantial majority, winning 54 percent of the popular vote. Democratic success in retaining control of Congress suggested that an electoral base existed for a comeback. But this would only occur if the party fashioned a new appeal to replace traditional liberalism, which had been eclipsed by the triumph of conservatism.


1. Which of Nixon’s domestic policies did other conservatives oppose, and why?

2. How did the Burger Court modify but not overturn the rights revolution of the 1960s?

3. What were the main features of Nixon’s policy of “realism” in dealing with China and the Soviet Union?

4. Describe the basic events and the larger significance of the Watergate scandal.

5. What were the major causes for the decline of the U.S. economy in the 1970s?

6. Compare Carter’s and Reagan’s explanations for the severe recession of the late 1970s.

7. Identify the groups and their agendas that combined to create the new conservative base in the 1970s and 1980s.

8. What impact did Ronald Reagan have on the American political scene?

9. Why was there growth in economic inequality in the 1980s?


1. How did conservatives introduce competing definitions of freedom into the fights for women’s rights, especially into the struggle over the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion?

2. What impact did the Reagan Revolution have on the meanings of American freedom?

3. Explain how its supporters defended Reaganomics as a promotion of human liberty.

4. Assess the decisions of the Burger Court on the issue of affirmative action.

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