Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Hi, I'm John Green, this is Crash Course U.S. history, and today we're going to talk

  • about the guy who arguably did the most to shape the world that I live in. NO, Stan not

  • Carrottop. No, not Cumberbatch although he did do the most to shape the Tumblr that I

  • live in. I'm talking about The Great Communicator: Ronald Reagan.

  • Reagan is a fascinating president because he was, in lots of ways, straightforward.

  • His presidency was called the Reagan Revolution but it's a bit odd that he gets so much

  • credit for changing America because he was one of the least hands-on of all presidents

  • and as you know here at Crash Course we don't really indulge in great man history. So we're

  • going to talk about Reagan but we're also going to talk about the forces that predated

  • his presidency that led to the so-called Reagan Revolution.

  • Mr. Green? Mr Green? I remember some of this stuff. It's like almost interesting.

  • I'm glad to be almost interesting me from the past. Someday maybe you'll be almost

  • interesting. Intro

  • The Reagan era began, unsurprisingly, with his election to the Presidency in 1980. Now,

  • anyone could have beaten Jimmy Carter, but Reagan succeeded largely by pulling together

  • many strands of conservatism. Reagan emphasized his belief in "states

  • rights" and he condemned "welfare cheats." He also condemned busing and affirmative action.

  • And he won the support of religious conservatives, including the newly formed Moral Majority,

  • by standing for family values, even though in fact he was the first U.S. president to

  • have been divorced. Also, he once acted with a monkey. And there's

  • nothing "family values" about that. Stan just informed me that Ronald Reagan did

  • not in fact act with a monkey. He acted with a chimp. I apologize to all the primate rights

  • people out there. Good lord! Now Reagan also appealed to the so-called

  • white backlash, working class white people who resented the advances that African Americans

  • had made during the 1960s and the 1970s. And economic conservatives liked his anti-union,

  • low taxes, free market positions, and anti-government crusaders and libertarians liked his assertion

  • that government was not the solution to problems, but was itself the problem.

  • Then there were the Cold War hawks who liked his militant anti-Soviet rhetoric and his

  • desire to spend more on the military. Now that's a big coalition but it turned

  • out to be just barely a majority coalition. Still Reagan won in 1980.

  • He even carried the traditionally Democratic states of Illinois and New York proving that

  • Jimmy Carter truly was profoundly unelectable. A lot of Reagan's policy ideas weren't

  • all that popular at the time, but he truly was a great communicator.

  • I mean Reagan's was a former actor and he knew how to talk to people without them feeling

  • condescended to. Reagan's most famous campaign advertisement

  • proclaimed that it was "morning in America" again, and that relentless optimism (I mean

  • at least if you're a morning person) was a welcome contrast to Jimmy Carter being like

  • "you should wear sweaters inside to save fuel." Sorry Jimmy this is America!

  • Ronald Reagan used the word "freedom" more than any other president in American

  • history, but it's interesting to think about what he meant by the word "freedom."

  • Because as we've seen in American history freedom has meant lots of things to lots of

  • people. Is freedom, freedom from government tyranny?

  • Or is freedom government protection from hunger and homelessness and military attacks?

  • Do governments ultimately restrict freedom or provide it?

  • Now there's no question that the federal government that Ronald Reagan inherited would

  • have been absolutely foreign to the people who founded this country.

  • I mean Social Security, Federal Income Taxes, the National Endowment for the Arts.

  • But some people would argue that the America of 1980 was much more free for more Americans

  • than say the America of 1790 when after all slavery was legal.

  • And in fact in the early 19th century many slave owners said that the government was

  • taking away their freedom to own slaves. Ultimately, the question for how we should

  • imagine freedom and how we should allow for it, is at the center of American history.

  • And a big part of Ronald Reagan's vision of freedom was economic freedom, which he

  • laid out in his Economic Bill of Rights. It would curtain union power, reduce federal

  • regulation of industry and the environment, and most of all lower taxes.

  • All these ideas were a big part of the Reagan Revolution. But as we know much of what he

  • proposed had been brewing for years during the rise of conservatism.

  • So what aspects this Economic Bill of Rights actually ended up happening? Well, his main

  • accomplishment was lowering taxes: in 1981 Reagan persuaded Congress to lower the top

  • tax rate from 70% to 50%. In 1986, Congress went even further with the

  • Tax Reform Act that lowered the top income tax rate to 28%.

  • Oh, it's time for the mystery document! The rules here are simple...

  • I read the mystery document, I either get the author of it correct or I get shocked.

  • Alright here we go. Can I just take a preliminary guess and say that it's going to be Reagan?

  • "I will not accept the excuse that the Federal Government has grown so big and powerful that

  • it is beyond the control of any President, any administration or Congress. We are going

  • to put an end to the notion that the American taxpayer exists to fund the Federal Government.

  • The Federal Government exists to serve the American people and to be accountable to the

  • American people. On January 20, we are going to re-establish that truth.

  • Also on that date we are going to initiate action to get substantial relief for our taxpaying

  • citizens and to put people back to work. [...] We will simply apply to our government the common

  • sense that we use in our daily lives."

  • It is Reagan!

  • Stan is telling me that I'm not going to get the check mark unless I guess the correct

  • speech?

  • Well he talked about January 20th, so obviously it's not his inaugural address.

  • It's either the acceptance speech he gave at the convention or like the speech that

  • he gave after he was elected. But I don't think.... convention? Yes!

  • So the idea that to lower taxes is the best way to spur economic growth is called supply

  • side-economics, trickle down economics or, if you're George HW Bush running against

  • Reagan in the 1980 primaries, voodoo economics.

  • Sadly, this does not involve zombies or putting pins in dolls. Instead, it's about high

  • interest rates to combat inflation coupled with cutting taxes, especially for wealthy

  • Those rich people then spend more and invest more in private enterprise which creates new

  • jobs.

  • Also, the thinking goes that lower taxes will encourage people to work harder since they

  • will be able to keep more of their money.

  • Did this work? Eh. Now we're getting into the part of history where it depends on your

  • political perspective.

  • Initially, the high interest rates definitely provoked a recession in 1981 and 1982. Which

  • was not ideal.

  • But, inflation did drop from 13.5% in 1981 to 3.5% in 1988 and after 1982 the economy

  • began expanding.

  • And the rest of the Reagan era saw consistent increases in gross domestic product; however,

  • not everyone benefited from that expansion. While the stock market boomed, wages didn't

  • rise very much. And in fact, haven't risen since.

  • Now one of the central ideas of supply-side economics is that you have lower tax rates

  • and you also cut government spending. Because, you know, the government has less money.

  • Which, yeah, it did not happen. The government is always good at cutting taxes but never

  • good at cutting spending.

  • The Reagan era did see cuts to some programs, but the really expensive items: Social Security,

  • Medicare, Medicaid, they remained largely intact.

  • And instead of cutting the overall amount of spending it actually went up considerably

  • because of the defense spending binge that saw the national debt balloon to 2.7 trillion

  • dollars.

  • But Reagan totally did deliver on his anti-union rhetoric. In August 1981, when the unionized

  • air traffic controllers went out on strike, violating federal law in the process, Reagan

  • fired more than 11 thousand controllers who refused to return to work..

  • So as I mentioned before, the 80's were a pretty great decade for Wall Street generally,

  • which is why Oliver Stone made a movie about it that immortalized the line "Greed is

  • Good."

  • In the 1980s it became easier to make money buying and merging companies than actually

  • like running them profitably. But fortunately we later dealt with that problem..... ugh.

  • We never fix the problems, we only fix the things that are fine.

  • One of the reasons that American history is so important to me is that I want us as a

  • country to like summon the courage to deal seriously with our problems. Sometimes I think

  • that we're just so cowardly like we're the cowardliest country on Earth... alright

  • the French.

  • Right, but like the merger of RJ Reynolds Tobacco, maker of Winston cigarettes, and

  • Nabisco, which gave us Oreos, not only created a cancer and heart disease dream team, it

  • also generated nearly $1 billion for the lawyers and bankers who put the deal together.

  • But if you were like most of us in the 80's watching Dallas and Dynasty, working at your

  • regular job, inexplicably having a carpeted bathroom, than you probably didn't share

  • in that abundance.

  • The 80's saw a rising economic inequality, although not nearly as dramatic as we see

  • today. By the mid 1990s the richest 1% controlled 40% of the nation's wealth, double the share

  • from 20 years before.

  • Meanwhile the income of middle class families stagnated and that of the poorest 20% began

  • to decline.

  • And one often overlooked aspect of de-regulation was the closing of hospitals for the mentally

  • ill. Now, some of these institutions were hellish, but rapid closure of all of these

  • facilities without replacement services meant that many patients were left to live on the

  • street. Homelessness increased dramatically.

  • Now of course Reagan is considered the darling of conservatives today, but by current standards

  • he was something of a moderate.

  • I mean yes, he cut taxes, and he cut funding for programs that helped the poor like food

  • stamps and school lunches.

  • But during his second term he worked effectively with the democratic congress. There's no

  • bipartisanship today.

  • Also, he left the big New Deal and Great Society programs largely intact.

  • I mean he was too old to believe in cutting Medicare. He was like "all of my friends

  • are on this."

  • And the 80s also didn't see the fulfillment of the desires of the Christian Right. I mean

  • divorce rates went up, abortion continued to be legal, women didn't leave the workforce.

  • In fact, Reagan appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court. Are you kidding? We

  • didn't have a woman in the Supreme Court until the 1980s? This is the craziest country

  • ever.

  • Even affirmative action persisted, and Nancy Reagan's urging of Americans to "Just

  • Say No" to drugs didn't convince anybody.

  • And then we have Ronald Reagan's reputation as the man who ended the Cold War. The thinking

  • here goes that Reagan spent so much money on defense that the Soviet Union bankrupted

  • itself trying to compete.

  • And there may be a case to be made there but we don't want to remove agency from the

  • people who protested the oppression of life behind the Iron Curtain.

  • So while you can argue that the Reagan administration helped create good conditions for the change

  • that happened, the people who made the change, made it. Alright. Let's go to the ThoughtBubble.

  • In his first term Ronald Reagan took a really hard line against the Soviet Union. He called

  • it an Evil Empire and even once joked that the U.S. would "begin bombing in 5 minutes."

  • That was ill advised. Reagan also sponsored the largest military buildup in U.S history

  • including the MX missile.

  • The highlight was his proposed Strategic Defense Initiative aka Star Wars: space-based missiles