From Reagan to Bush
"America, to endure, must change...
Change to preserve America's ideals
-- life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.
Though we march to the music of our time,
our mission is timeless."
-- President Bill Clinton, 1993
A Society in Transition
Shifts in the structure of American society, begun years or even decades earlier, had become apparent by the time the 1980s arrived. The composition of the population and the most important jobs and skills in American society had undergone major changes.
The dominance of service jobs in the economy became undeniable. By the mid-1980s, capping a trend under way for more than half a century, three-fourths of all employees worked in the service sector -- for instance, as retail clerks, office workers, teachers, physicians and other health care professionals, government employees, lawyers, and legal and financial specialists.
Service-sector activity benefited from the availability and increased use of the computer. This was the information age, with hardware and software that could aggregate previously unimagined amounts of data about economic and social trends. The federal government had made significant investments in computer technology in the 1950s and 1960s as part of its military and space programs. In the late 1970s, two young California entrepreneurs, working out of a garage, assembled the first widely marketed computer for home use, named it the Apple -- and ignited a revolution. By the early 1980s, millions of microcomputers had found their way into U.S. businesses and homes, and in 1982, Time magazine dubbed the computer its "Machine of the Year."
Meanwhile, America's "smokestack industries," such as steel and textiles, were in decline. The U.S. automobile industry reeled under competition from such highly efficient Japanese car makers as Toyota, Honda and Nissan -- many of which opened their own factories in the United States. By 1980 Japanese automobile manufacturers controlled a quarter of the American market. Only by the late 1980s and early 1990s did U.S. manufacturers begin to match the cost efficiencies and engineering standards of their Japanese rivals, and start winning back the share of the domestic car market they had ceded to imports over the previous two decades. Although consumers were the beneficiaries of this ferocious competition -- and in other highly competitive industries, as well, such as computers -- the painful struggle to cut costs meant the permanent loss of thousands of jobs in the U.S. auto industry.
Population patterns shifted as well. After the end of the postwar "baby boom," which lasted from approximately 1946 to 1964, the overall rate of population growth declined and the population grew older. Household composition also changed. In 1980 the percentage of family households dropped; a quarter of all groups were now classified as "nonfamily households," in which two or more unrelated persons lived together.
New immigrants changed the character of American society in other ways. The 1965 reform in immigration policy shifted the focus away from Western Europe, and the number of new arrivals from Asia and Latin America increased dramatically. Vietnamese refugees, for example, poured into the United States in the aftermath of the war. In 1980, 808,000 immigrants arrived, the highest number in 60 years, as the country once more became a haven for people from around the world.
In the 1980s, additional groups became active participants in the struggle for equal opportunity. Homosexuals, using many of the tactics of the civil rights movement, sought the same freedom from discrimination that other groups claimed. Often pressure brought results. In 1975, for example, the U.S. Civil Service Commission lifted its ban on employment of homosexuals, and many states enacted anti-discrimination laws. Inevitably, a backlash occurred, and incidents of hostility toward homosexuals surfaced as well.
Then, in 1981, came the discovery of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a devastating disease striking the body's immune system. AIDS is transmitted sexually or through blood; and in the United States it struck homosexual men and intravenous drug users with particular virulence, although the general population proved vulnerable as well. By 1992 more than 150,000 Americans had died of AIDS, with estimates of those carrying the AIDS virus ranging from 300,000 to more than one million. But the AIDS epidemic was by no means limited to the United States, and the effort to treat the disease encompassed physicians and medical researchers throughout the world. One of their earliest successes, largely the result of U.S. and French research, was to isolate the AIDS virus and develop tests to ensure protection of the blood supply.
Conservatism and the Rise of Ronald Reagan
For many Americans, the economic, social and political trends of the previous two decades -- ranging from crime and racial polarization in many urban centers, to the economic downturn and inflation of the Carter years -- engendered a mood of disillusionment. It also strengthened a renewed suspicion of government and its ability to deal effectively with the country's deep-rooted social and political problems.
Conservatives, long out of power at the national level, were well positioned to exploit this new mood. It was a time when many Americans were receptive to their message of limited government, strong national defense and the protection of traditional values against what were seen as the encroachments of a permissive and often chaotic modern society.
This conservative upsurge had many sources. A large group of fundamentalist Christians, who regard the Bible as the direct and inerrant word of God, were particularly concerned about an increase in crime and sexual immorality. One of the most politically effective groups in the early 1980s, called the Moral Majority, was led by a Baptist minister, Jerry Falwell. Another, led by Pat Robertson, built an organization called the Christian Coalition which by the 1990s was a potent force in the Republican Party. Like many such groups, they wanted to return religion to a central place in American life. Television evangelists like Falwell and Robertson developed huge followings.
Another galvanizing issue for conservatives was one of the most divisive and emotional issues of the time: abortion. Opposition to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which upheld a woman's right to an abortion in the early months of pregnancy, brought together a wide array of organizations and individuals. They included, but were not limited to, large numbers of Catholics, political conservatives and religious fundamentalists, most of whom regarded abortion under virtually any circumstances as tantamount to murder. They were prepared to organize in support of politicians who agreed with their position -- and against those who disagreed with it. Pro-choice and antiabortion demonstrations became a fixture of the political landscape.
Within the Republican Party, the right wing grew dominant once again. The right had briefly seized control of the Republican Party in 1964 with its presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, then faded from the spotlight. By 1980, however, with the use of modern fund-raising techniques, the right overtook the moderate wing of the party. Drawing on the intellectual firepower of such conservatives as economist Milton Friedman, journalists William F. Buckley and George Will, and research institutions like the Heritage Foundation, the New Right played a significant role in defining the issues of the 1980s.
Like other conservatives, or the "Old Right," the New Right favored strict limits on government intervention in the economy. But the New Right was willing to use state power to encourage its view of family values, restrict homosexual behavior and censor pornography. In general, the New Right also favored tough measures against crime, strong national defense, a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in public schools, opposition to abortion and defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment for women.
The figure who drew all these disparate strands together was Ronald Reagan. Reagan, born in Illinois, achieved stardom as an actor in Hollywood movies and television before turning to politics. He first achieved political prominence with a nationwide televised speech in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater. In 1966 Reagan won the governorship of California, owing to a wave of voter reaction against the student rebellion at the University of California-Berkeley, and served until 1975. He narrowly missed winning the Republican nomination for president in 1976 before succeeding in 1980 and going on to win the presidency from Jimmy Carter. Reagan won overwhelming reelection in 1984 against Carter's vice president, Walter Mondale.
President Reagan's unflagging optimism and his ability to celebrate the achievements and aspirations of the American people persisted throughout his two terms in office. He was a figure of reassurance and stability for many Americans. Despite his propensity for misstatements, Reagan was known as the "Great Communicator," primarily for his mastery of television. For many, he recalled the prosperity and relative social tranquility of the 1950s -- an era dominated by another genial public personality who evoked widespread affection, President Dwight Eisenhower.
Reagan believed that government intruded too deeply into American life. He wanted to cut programs he contended the country did not need by eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse." Throughout his tenure, Reagan also pursued a program of deregulation more thoroughgoing than that begun by Jimmy Carter. Reagan sought to eliminate regulations affecting the consumer, the workplace and the environment that he argued were inefficient, expensive and impeded economic growth.
The Economy in the 1980s
President Reagan's domestic program was rooted in his belief that the nation would prosper if the power of the private economic sector was unleashed. A proponent of "supply side" economics, a theory which holds that a greater supply of goods and services is the swiftest road to economic growth, Reagan sought large tax cuts to promote greater consumer spending, saving and investment. Supply-side economists argued that a tax cut would lead to increased business investment, increased earnings and -- through taxes on these earnings -- increased government revenues. Despite only a slim Republican majority in the Senate and a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats, President Reagan succeeded during his first year in office in enacting the major components of his economic program, including a 25-percent tax cut for individuals to be phased in over three years. The Reagan administration also sought and won significant increases in defense spending to modernize the nation's military and counter what it felt was a continual and growing threat from the Soviet Union.
A recession marked the early years of Reagan's presidency, hitting almost all sections of the country. Real gross national product (GNP) fell by 2.5 percent in 1982, as the unemployment rate rose above 10 percent and almost one-third of America's industrial plants lay idle. Throughout the Midwest, major firms like General Electric and International Harvester released workers. The oil crisis contributed to the decline. As gains in U.S. productivity slowed, economic rivals such as Germany and Japan won a greater share of world trade. American consumption of goods produced by other countries rose sharply.
Farmers also suffered hard times. The number of farmers declined, as production became concentrated in the hands of a smaller number. During the 1970s, American farmers had helped India, China, the Soviet Union and other countries suffering from crop shortages, and had borrowed heavily to buy land and increase production. Then the rise in oil prices raised farm costs and a worldwide economic slump in 1980 reduced the demand for farm products. Farmers had major difficulties making ends meet.
But the deep recession throughout 1982 -- combined with falling oil prices -- had one important benefit: it curbed the runaway inflation that had started during the Carter years. Conditions improved for some segments of the economy in late 1983; by early 1984, the economy rebounded and the United States entered one of the longest periods of sustained economic growth since World War II. Japan agreed to impose a voluntary quota on its car exports to the United States. Consumer spending increased in response to the federal tax cut. The stock market climbed as it reflected the optimistic buying spree. Over a five-year period following the start of the recovery, GNP grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent. The annual inflation rate remained between 3 and 5 percent from 1983 to 1987, except in 1986 when it fell to just under 2 percent -- the lowest level in decades. The nation's Gross National Product grew substantially during the 1980s; from 1982 to 1987, the U.S. economy created more than 13 million new jobs.
However, an alarming percentage of this growth was based on deficit spending. Under Reagan the national debt nearly tripled. Furthermore, virtually all the growth in national wealth took place in the highest income group. Many poor and middle-class families actually lost ground, as low- and semi-skilled jobs were eliminated from the economy, or failed to keep pace with the rest of society.
Steadfast in his commitment to lower taxes, Reagan signed the most sweeping federal tax-reform measure in 75 years during his second term. This measure, which had widespread Democratic as well as Republican support, lowered income tax rates, simplified tax brackets and closed loopholes, taking an important step toward taxing low-income Americans more equitably. Still, serious problems remained. The chronically poor failed to benefit as the economy improved. Farmers continued to suffer, and serious droughts in 1986 and 1988 compounded their distress.
The increased military budget -- combined with the tax cuts and the growth in government health spending -- resulted in the federal government spending far more than it received in revenues each year. Some analysts charged that the deficits were part of a deliberate administration strategy to prevent further increases in domestic spending sought by the Democrats. However, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress refused to cut such spending. From $74 thousand million in 1980, the deficit soared to $221 thousand million in 1986 before falling back to $150 thousand million in 1987. A stock market crash in late 1987 dramatized doubts about the stability of the economy.
In foreign policy, President Reagan sought a more assertive role for the nation, and Central America provided an early test. The United States provided El Salvador with a program of economic aid and military training when a guerrilla insurgency was threatening to topple its government. It also actively encouraged the transition to an elected democratic government, but efforts to curb the active right-wing death squads were only partly successful. U.S. support helped stabilize the government, but the level of violence in El Salvador remained undiminished and actually increased in late 1989. A peace agreement was reached, however, in early 1992.
U.S. policy toward Nicaragua was much more controversial. In 1979 revolutionaries calling themselves Sandinistas overthrew the repressive right-wing Somoza regime. The Sandinista government rejected U.S. demands to cut its military ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union and open its political system to democratic reforms. Regional peace efforts ended in failure, and the focus of administration efforts shifted to support for the anti-Sandinista resistance, known as the contras. Following intense political debate over this policy, the Congress ended all military aid to the contras in October 1984, but continued humanitarian assistance. Congress, under administration pressure, reversed itself in the fall of 1986, and approved $100 million in military aid for the contras. However, a lack of success on the battlefield, charges of human rights abuses and the revelation that funds from secret arms sales to Iran had been diverted to the contras undercut political support in Congress for continuing military aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas.
Subsequently, the administration of President George Bush abandoned any effort to secure military aid for the contras. The Bush administration also supported the opposition political coalition, led by Violetta Chamorro, which won an astonishing upset election over the Sandinistas in February 1990.
The Reagan administration was more fortunate in witnessing a return to democracy throughout Latin America, from Guatemala to Argentina. The emergence of democratically elected governments was not limited to Latin America, however; in Asia, the "people power" campaign of Corazon Aquino overthrew the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, and elections in Korea ended decades of military rule.
By contrast, South Africa remained intransigent in the face of the Reagan administration's efforts to encourage an end to racial apartheid through the controversial policy of "constructive engagement." In 1986, frustrated at the lack of progress, the U.S. Congress overrode Reagan's veto and imposed a set of economic sanctions on South Africa. Only in December 1988, in the last weeks of the Reagan administration, did years of patient U.S. mediation contribute to an historic peace settlement and independence for the territory of Namibia in southern Africa.
Despite its outspoken anti-communist rhetoric, the Reagan administration's direct use of military force was relatively restrained. On October 25, 1983, U.S. forces landed on the Caribbean island of Grenada after an urgent appeal for help by neighboring countries. The action followed the assassination of Grenada's leftist prime minister by members of his own Marxist-oriented party. After a brief period of fighting, U.S. troops captured hundreds of Cuban military and construction personnel and seized caches of Soviet-supplied arms. In December 1983, the last American combat troops left Grenada, which held democratic elections a year later.
But military efforts in Lebanon, where the United States was attempting to bolster a weak, but moderate, pro-Western government, ended tragically, when 241 U.S. Marines were killed in a terrorist bombing in October 1983. In April 1986, U.S. Navy and Air Force planes struck targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, in retaliation for Libyan-instigated terrorist attacks on U.S. military personnel in Europe.
In the Persian Gulf, the earlier breakdown in U.S.-Iranian relations and the Iran-Iraq war set the stage for U.S. naval activities in the region. Initially, the United States responded to a request from Kuwait for protection of its tanker fleet; but eventually the United States, along with naval vessels from Western Europe, kept vital shipping lanes open by escorting convoys of tankers and other neutral vessels traveling up and down the Gulf.
U.S. - Soviet Relations
In relations with the Soviet Union, President Reagan's declared policy was one of peace through strength. Rooted in the Cold War tradition, he was determined to stand firm in dealing with the country he termed the "evil empire." Two events increased U.S.-Soviet tensions: the suppression of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland in December 1981, and the destruction of an off-course civilian airliner, Korean Airlines Flight 007, by a Soviet jet fighter on September 1, 1983. The United States also condemned the continuing Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and provided aid to the mujahidin resistance there.
In Reagan's first term, his administration spent unprecedented sums for a massive defense buildup, including the placement of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe to counter Soviet deployments of similar missiles. And on March 23, 1983, in one of the most hotly debated policy decisions of his presidency, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research program to explore advanced technologies, such as lasers and high-energy projectiles, to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles. Although many scientists questioned the technological feasibility of SDI and economists pointed to the extraordinary sums of money involved, the administration pressed ahead with the project.
After reelection in 1984, Reagan softened his rigid position on arms control. For its part, Moscow was amenable to agreement, in part because the Soviet economy was incapable of sustaining the level of expenditures necessary to compete with the U.S. defense build-up. In November 1985, Reagan held a summit meeting with the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Geneva. They agreed in principle to seek 50-percent reductions in strategic offensive nuclear arms as well as an interim agreement on intermediate-range nuclear forces. In December 1987, President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty providing for the destruction of a whole category of nuclear weapons.
The Space Shuttle
If the Strategic Defense Initiative was problematical for the Reagan administration, other efforts in space were more promising. In 1981 the U.S. launched the space shuttle Columbia -- the first reusable manned spacecraft. Between 1981 and 1985, the shuttle demonstrated extraordinary versatility, with astronauts conducting experiments, taking photographs, and launching, retrieving and repairing satellites while in orbit. But in January 1986, tragedy struck: the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff, instantly killing six astronauts and a schoolteacher who was to have been the first ordinary citizen in space. Space shuttle missions were postponed indefinitely while NASA set out to redesign the shuttle for safety. By the time the United States successfully launched the shuttle Discovery in late 1988, there had been over 300 changes in the shuttle's launch systems and computer software.
Iran - Contra and Black Monday
The Reagan administration's most serious foreign policy problem surfaced near the end of the president's second term. In 1987 Americans learned that the administration had secretly sold arms to Iran in an attempt to win freedom for American hostages held in Lebanon by radical organizations controlled by Iran's Khomeini government. Investigation also revealed that funds from the arms sales had been diverted to the Nicaraguan contras during a period when Congress had prohibited such military aid.
The ensuing Iran-contra hearings before a joint House-Senate committee examined issues of possible illegality as well as the broader question of defining American foreign policy interests in the Middle East and Central America. In a larger sense, the Iran-contra hearings, like the celebrated Senate Watergate hearings 14 years earlier, addressed fundamental questions about the government's accountability to the public, and the proper balance between the executive and legislative branches of government.
The United States suffered an economic setback on October 19, 1987, so-called "Black Monday," when the value of stocks tumbled 22 percent -- immediately bringing back memories of the fabled stock market crash of 1929, which had been followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s. The causes of the crash included anxiety about U.S. international trade and federal-budget deficits, concern about the high level of corporate and personal debt, and a new stock market innovation known as "program trading" in which computers automatically ordered the buying or selling of a large volume of shares when certain circumstances occurred.
Nevertheless, the nation recovered in a remarkably short time. Although many Americans turned from the stock market to safer forms of investment, a recession did not materialize. In fact, economic growth continued, with the unemployment rate dropping to a 14-year low of 5.2 percent in June 1988.
The Presidency of George Bush (senior)
President Reagan enjoyed unusually high popularity at the end of his second term in office, but under the terms of the U.S. Constitution he could not run again in 1988. His political heir, the vice president during all eight years of his presidency, George Bush, benefited greatly from Reagan's popularity and was elected the 41st president of the United States.
Bush campaigned by promising voters a continuation of the prosperity Reagan had brought; he also argued that his expertise could better support a strong defense for the United States than that of the Democratic Party's candidate, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, claimed that less fortunate Americans were hurting economically and that the government had to help those people while simultaneously bringing the federal debt and defense spending under control. The public was much more engaged, however, by Bush's economic message: a promise of no new taxes. In the balloting, Bush finished with a 54-to-46-percent popular vote margin.
During his first year in office, Bush followed a conservative fiscal program, pursuing policies on taxes, spending and debt that were faithful to the Reagan administration's economic program. Yet, with an outsized budget deficit and a deficit-reduction law requiring that it be pared, Bush found himself locked into a program permitting few if any new budget items while requiring spending cuts. Thus, administration policies that would cost Washington the least progressed the furthest. On environmental protection and education -- issues in which private industry and local and state government pay most of the bills -- Bush introduced changes in policy. In November 1990, Bush signed sweeping legislation to impose new federal standards on urban smog, automobile exhaust, toxic air pollution and acid rain, but most of the costs were assigned to industrial polluters. He signed legislation ensuring physical access for the disabled, but the costs were transferred to business. The president also launched a campaign to encourage volunteerism for social beneficence, which he called, in a memorable phrase, "a thousand points of light."
Budgets and Deficits
Bush administration efforts to gain control over the federal budget deficit, however, were more problematic. One source of the difficulty was the savings and loan crisis. Fraud, mismanagement, lax regulation and economic downturns in certain regions of the United States in the early and mid-1980s led to widespread insolvencies among savings-and-loan institutions. Of more than 3,100 such institutions that existed in the late 1970s, only 2,453 remained as of June 30, 1990. By 1993 the total cost of selling and closing down failed thrifts -- whose deposits were guaranteed by the government -- was staggering: between $300 and $500 thousand million.
In January 1990 President Bush presented his budget proposal to Congress. Democrats argued that administration budget projections were far too optimistic, and that meeting the deficit reduction law would require tax increases and sharper cuts in defense spending. The budget negotiations dragged on, and by June -- in spite of his campaign promise -- President Bush told congressional leaders that changing circumstances in the national economy meant that tax increases would have to be part of any overall budget package.
Despite the budget agreement, the combination of economic recession, losses from the savings and loan industry rescue operation, and escalating health-care costs for Medicare and Medicaid offset all the deficit reduction measures and produced a shortfall in 1991 at least as large as the previous year's.
End to the Cold War
Superpower relations in the late 1980s were driven by political turmoil in Eastern Europe. The United States and the world watched as popular uprisings for democratic reforms resulted in the fall of communist governments throughout the region.
Despite a successful 1989 summit meeting between Bush and Gorbachev in Malta, few would have predicted the extraordinary achievements to be made in U.S.-Soviet relations in 1990. In his January State of the Union message, President Bush announced his intention to cut U.S. troops stationed in Europe to 195,000. In February, the Bush administration held discussions with the Soviets on arms control as well as the unification of East and West Germany. Within seven months, after numerous bilateral and multilateral discussions, the Soviet Union had renounced its wartime rights and accepted a unified Germany with full membership in NATO. The Treaty on the Final Settlement with respect to Germany was signed in Moscow on September 12.
President Bush and the heads of state of 21 other countries signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) on November 19, 1990, at a three-day summit meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CFE Treaty was one of the most complex and ambitious arms agreements ever concluded, covering thousands of tanks, aircraft and artillery pieces deployed by NATO and the countries of the former Warsaw Pact from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains.
Then, on July 31, 1991, the United States reached its last major arms agreement with the Soviet Union when Presidents Bush and Gorbachev signed the long-negotiated Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in Moscow, which mandated cuts of 30 to 40 percent in the nuclear arsenals of both sides. But even these cuts were dwarfed by President Bush's agreement with Boris Yeltsin, president of the new Russian Federation, to eliminate all multiple-warhead missiles completely by the year 2003. In combination, the two agreements would reduce the number of nuclear warheads by two-thirds, from approximately 21,000 to between 6,000 to 7,000. The disposal of nuclear materials, and the ever-present concerns of nuclear proliferation superseded the threat of nuclear conflict between Washington and Moscow.
The Cold War was indeed over.
The Gulf War
The euphoria caused by the drawing down of the Cold War was dramatically overshadowed by the August 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Iraqi control of Kuwait and the danger it posed to Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states threatened a vital U.S. interest, because the United States, and the West in general, remained dependent on this region for much of its oil supplies.
President Bush strongly condemned the Iraqi action and called for Iraq's immediate and unconditional withdrawal. An emergency session of the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to condemn Iraq, urge a cease-fire and demand the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
Later in August, Iraq announced the annexation of Kuwait, ordered the closing of all embassies in that country, and began taking U.S. and British citizens in Kuwait hostage. On August 8, President Bush went on national television to announce the deployment of U.S. troops to the Middle East. The president then worked to assemble one of the most extraordinary military and political coalitions of modern times, with military forces from Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as the Middle East.
In the days and weeks following the invasion, the U.N. Security Council passed 12 resolutions condemning the Iraqi invasion and imposing wide-ranging economic sanctions on Iraq. The 12th resolution, issued on November 29, approved the use of force by U.N. member states if Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991. The new U.S.-Soviet relationship provided the necessary condition for the U.N. action to stem the Iraqi invasion. Without the new entente between the two countries, the United Nations would never have authorized military action against Iraq.
Members of Congress had publicly called on President Bush and the international community to exhaust all means for resolving the Gulf crisis peacefully. But the underlying issue was constitutional: the U.S. Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to declare war. Yet in the second half of the 20th century, the United States has repeatedly become involved in armed conflicts without such a congressional mandate, most notably in Vietnam. Some members of Congress declared that Bush must get congressional backing before going to war. Others argued, however, that Congress really wanted a voice in where, when and under what conditions the United States goes to war -- not the responsibility of declaring war itself.
On January 12, 1991, three days before the U.N. deadline, Congress granted President Bush the authority he sought in the most explicit and sweeping war-making power given a president in nearly half a century.
War broke out less than 24 hours after the U.N. deadline. The United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait succeeded in liberating Kuwait with a devastating, U.S.-led air campaign that lasted slightly more than a month. It was followed by a massive invasion of Kuwait and Iraq by armored and airborne infantry forces. With their superior speed, mobility and firepower, the allied forces overwhelmed the Iraqi forces in a land campaign lasting only 100 hours.
The United States and its allies achieved their military goal, but the victory was incomplete. Saddam Hussein remained in power, savagely repressing the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, both of whom had risen in rebellion after the war. Hundreds of oil-well fires, deliberately set by the Iraqis, took until November 1991 to extinguish. Saddam's regime also attempted to thwart United Nations inspectors who, operating in accordance with Security Council resolutions, worked to locate and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear facilities and huge stocks of chemical weapons.
Indirectly, however, the Gulf War enabled the United States to persuade the Arab states, Israel and a Palestinian delegation to begin direct negotiations aimed at resolving the complex and interlocked issues that could eventually lead to a lasting peace in the region. The talks began in Madrid, Spain, on October 30, 1991. In turn, they set the stage for the secret negotiations in Norway that led to the historic agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, signed at the White House on September 13, 1993.
Panama and NAFTA
The president also received broad bipartisan congressional backing for the brief U.S. invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, that deposed dictator General Manuel Antonio Noriega. In the 1980s, addiction to crack cocaine reached epidemic proportions, and President Bush put the "war on drugs" at the center of his domestic agenda. The United States had compelling evidence that Noriega was involved in drug smuggling operations and by means of the invasion sought to bring Noriega to justice. But there were other reasons. One of Bush's aims was to replace Noriega with a government headed by Guillermo Endara, who had won a presidential election that Noriega subsequently annulled. Bush also told reporters that he ordered U.S. troops to Panama to safeguard the lives of American citizens, to help restore democracy and to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal treaties. Noriega eventually turned himself over to U.S. authorities, and he was later tried and convicted in U.S. federal court in Miami, Florida, of drug trafficking and racketeering.
The Bush administration marked progress on the economic front with the negotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, which became the focus of an intense ratification debate in the Clinton administration. Labor unions charged that NAFTA would encourage the export of U.S. jobs, and environmentalists expressed concern that the agreement provided incentives to industries to relocate to regions having lax controls on industrial pollution. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations, however, argued that NAFTA would permit a greater flow of goods and services at lower cost, and would make industry in all three countries more competitive in the global marketplace. NAFTA, which was approved by the Congress after a vigorous national debate in late 1993, is viewed by many as a testing ground for future trade agreements, which could eventually lead to free trade throughout the Western Hemisphere.
The 1992 Presidential Election
As the 1992 presidential election approached, Americans found themselves in a world transformed in ways almost unimaginable four years earlier. The familiar landmarks of the Cold War -- from the Berlin Wall to intercontinental missiles and bombers on constant high alert -- were gone. Eastern Europe was independent, the Soviet Union had dissolved, Germany was united, Arabs and Israelis were engaged in direct negotiations, and the threat of nuclear conflict was greatly diminished. It was as though one great history volume had closed and another had opened.
Yet at home, Americans were less sanguine -- and faced some deep and familiar problems. Once the celebrations and parades following the Gulf War ended, the United States found itself in its deepest recession since the early 1980s. Many of the job losses were occurring among white-collar workers in middle management positions, not solely among blue-collar workers in the manufacturing sector who had been hit hardest in earlier years. Even when the economy began recovering in 1992, its growth was virtually imperceptible until late in the year, and many regions of the country remained mired in recession. Moreover, the federal deficit continued to mount, propelled most strikingly by rising expenditures for health care. Many Americans exhibited profound pessimism about their future, believing that their country was headed in the wrong direction.
Despite an early challenge by conservative journalist Patrick Buchanan, President Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle easily won renomination by the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, defeated a crowded field of candidates to win his party's nomination. As his vice presidential nominee, he selected Senator Al Gore of Tennessee, generally acknowledged as one of the Congress's most knowledgeable and eloquent advocates of environmental protection.
But the country's deep unease over the direction of the economy also sparked the emergence of a remarkable independent candidate -- wealthy Texas entrepreneur H. Ross Perot. Perot, who earned a fortune in computers and data processing, tapped into a deep wellspring of frustration over the inability of Washington to deal effectively with economic issues, principally the federal deficit, and his volunteers succeeded in collecting enough signatures to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. Although Perot squandered even a remote chance of winning the election by dropping out of the presidential contest in July only to reenter in the fall, his presence ensured that economic issues remained at the center of the national debate.
Every U.S. presidential election campaign is an amalgam of issues, images and personality; and despite the intense focus on the country's economic future, the 1992 contest was no exception. The Bush reelection effort was built around a set of ideas traditionally used by incumbents: experience and trust. It was in some ways a battle of generations. George Bush, 68, probably the last president to have served in World War II, faced a young challenger in Bill Clinton who, at age 46, had never served in the military and had participated in protests against the Vietnam War. In emphasizing his experience as president and commander-in-chief, Bush also drew attention to what he characterized as Clinton's lack of judgment and character.
For his part, Bill Clinton organized his campaign around another of the oldest and most powerful themes in electoral politics: change. As a youth, Clinton had once met President Kennedy, and in his own campaign 30 years later, much of his rhetoric challenging Americans to accept change consciously echoed that of Kennedy in his 1960 campaign.
As governor of Arkansas for 12 years, Clinton could point to his experience in wrestling with the very issues of economic growth, education and health care that were, according to public opinion polls, among President Bush's chief vulnerabilities. Where Bush offered an economic program based on lower taxes and cuts in government spending, Clinton proposed higher taxes on the wealthy and increased spending on investments in education, transportation and communications that, he believed, would boost the nation's productivity and growth and thereby lower the deficit. Similarly, Clinton's health care proposals to control costs called for much heavier involvement by the federal government than Bush's.
Clinton successfully hammered home the theme of change throughout the campaign, as well as in a round of three televised debates with President Bush and Ross Perot in October. On November 3, Bill Clinton won election as the 42nd president of the United States, despite receiving only 43 percent of the popular vote.
From its origins as a set of obscure colonies hugging the Atlantic coast, the United States has undergone a remarkable transformation into what political analyst Ben Wattenberg has called "the first universal nation," a population of almost 250 million people representing virtually every nationality and ethnic group on the globe. It is also a nation where the pace and extent of change -- economic, technological, cultural, demographic and social -- is unceasing. The United States is often the harbinger of the modernization and change that inevitably sweep up other nations and societies in an increasingly interdependent, interconnected world.
Yet the United States also maintains a sense of continuity, a set of core values that can be traced to its founding. They include a faith in individual freedom and democratic government, and a commitment to economic opportunity and progress for all. The continuing task of the United States will be to ensure that its values of freedom, democracy and opportunity -- the legacy of a rich and turbulent history -- are protected and flourish as the nation, and the world, approach the doorway of a new century.
A Nation of Immigrants
By the time American independence was declared in 1776, two-fifths of all settlers were of non-English origin. The first U.S. census, taken in 1790, revealed a population of just under four million people, with about 10,000 new settlers arriving each year. When the U.S. government began keeping records of arriving passengers in 1820, the majority of immigrants were from Northern Europe; by the end of the 19th century, they came largely from Southern and Eastern Europe. Today, the majority arrive from Latin America and Asia. Their reasons for coming, however -- opportunity and freedom -- remain unchanged.
Third-Party and Independent Candidates
The United States is often thought of as a two-party system. In practical effect it is: either a Democrat or a Republican has occupied the White House every year since 1852. At the same time, however, the country has produced a plethora of third and minor parties over the years. For example, 58 parties were represented on at least one state ballot during the 1992 presidential elections. Among these were such obscure parties as the Apathy, the Looking Back, the New Mexico Prohibition, the Tish Independent Citizens and the Vermont Taxpayers.
In general, third parties organize around a single issue or set of issues. They tend to fare best when they have a charismatic leader. With the presidency out of reach, most seek a platform to publicize their political and social concerns.
Theodore Roosevelt. The most successful third party candidate of this century was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, the former president. His Progressive or Bull Moose Party won 27.4 percent of the vote in the 1912 election. The progressive wing of the Republican Party, having grown disenchanted with President William Howard Taft, whom Roosevelt had hand-picked as his successor, urged Roosevelt to seek the party nomination in 1912. This he did, defeating Taft in a number of primaries. Taft controlled the party machinery, however, and secured the nomination.
Roosevelt's supporters then broke away and formed the Progressive Party. Declaring himself as fit as a bull moose (hence the party's popular name), Roosevelt campaigned on a platform of regulating "big business," women's suffrage, a graduated income tax, the Panama Canal and conservation. His effort was sufficient to defeat Taft. By splitting the Republican vote, however, he helped ensure the election of the Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Socialists. The Socialist Party also reached its high point in 1912, attaining 6 percent of the popular vote. Perennial candidate Eugene Debs won over 900,000 votes that year, advocating collective ownership of the transportation and communication industries, shorter working hours and public works projects to spur employment. Jailed for sedition during World War I, Debs campaigned from his cell in 1920, but neither he nor his successors ever duplicated the results of 1912.
Robert LaFollette. Another Progressive was Senator Robert LaFollette, who won 16.6 percent of the vote in the 1924 election. Long a champion of farmers and industrial workers, and an ardent foe of big business, LaFollette was a prime mover in the recreation of the Progressive movement following World War I. Backed by the farm and labor vote, as well as by Socialists and remnants of Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party, LaFollette ran on a platform of nationalizing railroads and the country's natural resources. He also strongly supported increased taxation on the wealthy and the right of collective bargaining. Despite a strong showing in certain regions, he carried only his home state of Wisconsin.
Henry Wallace. The Progressive Party reinvented itself in 1948 with the nomination of Henry Wallace, a former secretary of agriculture and vice president under Franklin Roosevelt. Briefly Harry Truman's secretary of commerce, he was fired for opposing Truman's firm stand against the Soviet Union. Wallace's 1948 platform opposed the Cold War, the Marshall Plan and big business. He also campaigned to end discrimination against blacks and women, backed a minimum wage and called for the elimination of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His failure to repudiate the U.S. Communist Party, which had endorsed him, undermined his popularity and he wound up with just over 2.4 percent of the popular vote.
Dixiecrats. The same percentage was attained by the States Rights or Dixiecrat Party, led by South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond. Like the Progressives, the Dixiecrats broke away from the Democrats in 1948. Their opposition, however, stemmed not from Truman's Cold War policies, but his civil rights platform. Although defined in terms of "states rights," the party's main goal was continuing racial segregation and the "Jim Crow" laws which sustained it.
George Wallace. The racial and social upheavals of the 1960s helped bring George Wallace, another segregationist Southern governor, to national attention. Wallace built a following through his colorful attacks against civil rights, liberals and the federal government. Founding the American Independent Party in 1968, he ran his campaign from the statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama, winning 13.5 percent of the overall presidential vote.
H. Ross Perot. Every third party seeks to capitalize on popular dissatisfaction with the major parties and the federal government. At few times in recent history, however, has this sentiment been as strong as it was during the 1992 election. A hugely wealthy Texas businessman, Perot possessed a knack for getting his message of economic common sense and fiscal responsibility across to a wide spectrum of American people.
Lampooning the nation's leaders and reducing his economic message to easily understood formulae, Perot found little difficulty gaining media attention. His campaign organization, United We Stand, was staffed primarily by volunteers and backed by his personal fortune. Far from resenting his wealth, many admired Perot's business success and the freedom it brought him from soliciting campaign funds from special interests.
Perot withdrew from the race in July. Re-entering it a month before the election, he won over 19 million votes, by far the largest number ever tallied by a third party candidate and second only to Roosevelt's 1912 showing as a percentage of the total.