Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush: Two Term Presidents with Major Impacts
Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were all two term Presidents in the last 30 years and although their policies and the time periods in which they presided were different, each man had a significant impact as President of the United States. It will be argued that Reagan was a reconstructive President and “savior”, helping to restore faith to the Presidency as an institution after the shortcomings of his predecessors. Clinton will be remembered as the Democrat who shifted his party’s politics more toward the center of the political spectrum and was able to ascend to the Presidency as a Democrat in an era dominated by Republicans. Bush will be remembered as a controversial President due to the 2000 Election, the War in Iraq, and his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Ronald Reagan took office in 1980 during a time of great uncertainty in America. Paul Kennedy, a highly regarded historian from Yale, proclaimed in his book The Rise and Fall of Great Empires, that Britain was the last empire to expire from imperial overstretch and America would be the next in line to suffer that fate. One of the largest problems facing the United States during this era was the issue of stagflation: simultaneously rising inflation and unemployment. Politicians and economists alike were perplexed by this situation; the conventional wisdom at the time was that there could either be stagnation or inflation in an economy, but never both at the same time. Such a scenario was started when an oil embargo engineered by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973-1974 caused huge increase in energy prices in the United States. This rapid rise in energy prices sent ripples through the U.S. economy and helped to trigger a recession in 1974-1975—“skyrocketing energy costs combined with stubbornly entrenched inflationary expectations initially generated by Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam War-era guns-and-butter policy to push the annual rate of inflation into double digits.” In the spring of 1975, the unemployment rate reached 9 percent, its highest level since 1941. In addition to experiencing economic woes, the U.S. people suffered from lack of confidence in their leaders and more alarmingly, a lack of confidence in their future. This scenario is fairly easy to understand when one considers the Presidential failures leading up to the Reagan Presidency. Lyndon B. Johnson tarnished the reputation of the United States and his legacy by getting the United States involved in the Vietnam War (he was the first President to lose a war in U.S. history), Richard Nixon was forced to resign because of his involvement in the Watergate Scandal, Gerald Ford was “befuddled” by his responsibilities, and Jimmy Carter seemed overwhelmed. In his famous “Crisis of Confidence” speech, Carter proclaimed, “a majority of our people believe that the next four years will be worse than the past five years.” Reagan can be described as the “savior”; he was able to change this trend of incapable U.S. Presidents and in doing so, he brought back pride and optimism to the American people. According to Robert Collins in his book Transforming America, Politics and Culture During the Reagan Years, Reagan’s legacy will lie in his role as a “reconstructive President”—one who, “reformulates the nation’s political agenda altogether, to galvanize support for the release of governmental power on new terms, and move the nation past the old problems, eyeing a different set of possibilities altogether.” It can be argued that Reagan successfully lived up to this title by accomplishing a series of major triumphs that revolutionized the U.S. during his two terms in office. Reagan’s first great accomplishment was the way in which he was able to end the cycle of stagflation through a series of economic policies known as Reaganomics. Reaganomics, also known...
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