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 as supply-side economics, was a policy which “argued that economic growth can be most effectively created by lowering barriers for people to produce (supply) goods and services, such as adjusting income tax and capital gains tax rates, and by allowing greater flexibility by reducing regulation. Consumers benefitted from a greater supply of goods and services at lower prices.
As a part of his policy, Reagan demanded massive tax cuts to spur growth, large cuts in government spending, and huge increases in military spending. Reaganomics did help to rein in inflation, and although the policies may have caused a short recession from 1981-1982, the long-term prosperity that followed proved Reagan right. Samuel Hayes of the Harvard Business School proclaimed, “I credit the ’80s for giving a foundation to the economy of the ’90s. Another major accomplishment of the Reagan era was Reagan’s ability to end the Cold War on Western terms—“It was Reagan who undertook the multifaceted military, economic, diplomatic, and rhetorical offensive that rocked the Kremlin back on its heels. ”
He negotiated the first major arms reduction in the history of the Cold War. It was Reagan’s unwavering leadership that was responsible for the way in which the Cold War ended. As Collins put it, “It is impossible to realistically imagine the Cold War ending as it did, when it did, absent Ronald Reagan. While Reagan was largely viewed as hero during his Presidency, there were some areas in which he was constantly criticized. Reagan was blasted for ignoring many of the social problems in America. Some argued that Reagan was only out to help the wealthy and that he could care less about the poor people in America. There may have been some truth to this argument. During the Reagan years, racial problems, poverty, and homelessness all grew. Reagan’s largest fault was his inability to reduce the budget deficit as he promised; the deficit actually tripled during his time in office.
It can be argued, however, that the budget was eventually reduced because Reagan’s Cold War victory allowed for a period of peace and lower military spending. Overall, Reagan was the reconstructive President who was a “savior” for the United States. Reagan was known as “the Great Communicator,” but as Reagan put it, “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things. ” Even though he may have failed in some areas (specifically in the area of social problems), his accomplishments greatly outweighed any shortcomings.
A quote from Reagan’s farewell address summed up his impact rather nicely—“My friends: We did it…We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all. And so, good-bye. ” Unlike Reagan, Bill Clinton will not be remembered so much for what he accomplished in office, but for how he shifted Democratic politics more towards the center of the political spectrum during the 1990’s. Clinton won the 1992 election by running as a New Democrat, basically a subset of the Democratic Party that took a more moderate political position.
Despite this fact, he appeared to be a typical liberal at the beginning of his first term. Clinton employed an affirmative action cabinet. In addition he unsuccessfully tried to pass a health care reform. The bill turned out to be a disaster; it was too big and included too much regulation. When he was elected, Clinton had promised to shrink government, but his health care reform bill was clearly not in line with this promise. Soon after the health care reform failure, Clinton reverted to his New Democratic ideals. He proved to be tough on crime and he cut government spending.
Federal spending increased at the slowest pace since 1960 under the Clinton administration. Clinton was able to win reelection in 1996 because of his Triangulation politics: sensitive, moderate alternatives to the politics of the left and the right. As a part of Triangulation, Clinton promised middle class tax cuts and balanced budgets. Clinton delivered on his promise. In fact, there was a budget surplus by 1998. Clinton proclaimed to the American people, “We are all Eisenhower Republicans nowadays,” asserting that his administration was legitimizing the politics of the other major political party.
Clinton’s foreign policy was centered on the idea of free trade and pushing other countries towards privatization. He was able to push the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress even though most Democrats still opposed it because they thought it would mean the migration of many U. S. jobs to Mexico. Clinton obviously made a huge error in judgment with his involvement in a sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Overall, I think that in the future, the sex scandal will be downplayed.
I believe that historians will remember Clinton for how he shifted Democratic politics more towards the center of the political spectrum and was able to be a two term President sandwiched in an era from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush that was largely dominated by Republicans. This may seem rather elementary, but I think the most appropriate way to describe George W. Bush is as the “controversial” President. It all started with the 2000 Presidential Election, an election that was initially known as the “Seinfeld election” because at first, it was about nothing; that is until it was time to count the votes.
Al Gore defeated Bush in the popular vote by a margin of 48. 4% to 47. 9%, and led in the Electoral College with only Florida left undecided. Whoever won Florida would win the election, but it was too close to call. Fox News declared Bush the winner and all of the other networks followed suit, but Fox later rescinded their story stating that it was still too close to call. Eventually (almost one month later) the Supreme Court ordered the end of the recount by a 5 to 4 vote; Bush was the winner in the state of Florida by 537 votes and as a result, he was the winner of the 2000 Presidential Election.
One source of controversy was the fact that many Jewish Floridians in four districts, a group that would normally vote for the Democratic candidate in an overwhelming fashion, placed a large number of votes for Pat Buchanan, who was a Republican who ran on the Reform Party ticket. The thinking was that since punch cards were used in these areas, some Floridians may have accidentally voted for Buchanan when they meant to vote for Gore. Moving away from the 2000 Election, Bush also caused a lot of controversy with his policies on foreign affairs.
His swift reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were welcomed by most Americans, but his subsequent war in Iraq spurs controversy to this day. After the attacks of the World Trade Centers, Bush declared that “freedom is under attack” and that “any nation which harbors terrorism will be considered a terrorist regime. ” Bush was claiming the right to use preemptive attacks when the government considered it necessary.
Even though the war in Iraq and the idea of preemptive strikes were denounced by many worldwide, it fit in nicely with Bush’s foreign policy stance of unilateralism—basically where the U. S. onducts its affairs on its own. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina—or to put it more accurately, his lack of response—also stirred a great deal of controversy among U. S. citizens. The novel Zeitoun by Dave Eggers describes the horrors that the citizens of New Orleans had to endure after Katrina and the terrible job the government did at handling the situation. Many agree that September 11th will probably be the most remembered event of the 2000s and Bush responded extremely well in the immediate aftermath; however, I believe that historians will view Bush as a President that stirred up controversy and completely split the American people.
Bush’s legacy will be defined by a controversial election, his desire to get the U. S. involved in Iraq, and his incompetence in handling the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina. We have witnessed three very different two term Presidents in the last 30 years. Reagan can be described as the reconstructive President and the “savior”, after he helped to end the Cold War on Western terms, stopped the vicious cycle of stagflation, and brought back a sense of optimism and morale to the American people.
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. Even though all three Presidents differed in their policies and they time period in which they ruled, each one had a significant impact on the United States.