Reasons Why Liberalism Declined in the Late 1970s

By the beginning of the 80s, 8 million Americans were unemployed.
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Weakening of the liberal agenda in the late 1970s is inextricably tied to some political missteps and American dissatisfaction with presidential leadership. In the '70s, citizens longed for an America that prospered and was a cut above other countries. Liberal leadership that began in the '60s by President Kennedy was not successful. The combination of a struggling economy, social activism and international crises influenced people of both parties to yearn for a change.

1 The Christian Right

In the '70s, television programs and stations dedicated to spreading the word about Christianity encouraged the idea that liberalism had negatively affected American morals and values. Television evangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson discussed issues such as homosexuality and abortion in an effort to persuade Americans that a political change was needed. Falwell and other conservative leaders created a group called the Moral Majority, that worked against the election of liberal political leaders and helped to put Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980.

2 Inflation and Unemployment

In 1976, on the heels of a recession, America counted on newly elected President Carter to improve the economy and reduce inflation. In Carter's first year, inflation increased by 10 percent and budget cuts were made to cover the shortfall. These reductions curtailed spending on social programs, impacting the liberal agenda. Carter’s intent to rid the country of a $27.7 billion deficit was unrealized when in 1980, the deficit rose to $59 billion. A lack of confidence in the Carter administration and a need for economic growth encouraged a turn to conservative leadership.

3 Foreign Policy Issues

Carter’s emphasis on human rights -- something dear to liberals' bleeding hearts -- left some Americans questioning his commitment to national security. He worked with the Soviet Union on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty to reduce nuclear arms but failed to gain support for the pact in the Senate. His intent was to decrease spending on strategic arms and reinvest funds in domestic matters. At the end of his term, 53 Americans were held hostage in Iran, sparking an international crisis that further damaged his credibility as a capable leader. His disapproval rating rose to 77 percent and this contributed to the rise of the Republican Party, which stressed a more conservative image for the country.

4 Reagan Revolution

When Reagan became the Republican candidate for president in 1980, the conservative right spread the word that liberalism was to blame for America’s problems. Reagan emphasized that the country had not improved during Carter’s term and that a change was necessary. He made his case by referencing domestic issues such as the weak economy and foreign issues like the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Unhappy Americans elected Reagan, who served two terms, and George H.W. Bush, also a conservative, who served one.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.