The Reagan Revolution: Crash Course US History #43
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The Reagan Revolution: Crash Course US History #43

October 26, 2019

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 and lasers for shooting Soviet missiles out
of the sky. This was a fantastic idea, although it would have violated the 1972 Anti-ballistic
Missile Treaty, but anyway it was technologically impossible to build. The force was not strong
with this idea. Reagan also pressured NATO to put missiles
in Western Europe and the war games that NATO staged in 1983 were so realistic that the
Soviets almost scrambled their planes and launched ICBMs. Now if that had resulted in nuclear war, we
would have a very different story on our hands, but it didn’t. And Regan’s aggressive
nuclear posturing had a couple of positive results. First, it boosted the world wide anti-nuclear
weapons movement, called the FREEZE movement. Second, it turned Reagan into the most successful
nuclear abolitionist in the atomic age. There’s nothing like a reasonably close
brush with nuclear apocalypse to tone down your rhetoric a little. In his second term
Reagan was much more conciliatory towards the Soviets and worked to reduce the number
of warheads. In his first term, according to the historian
Victor Sebastian, “[Reagan] spent nearly as much on defense as Presidents Nixon, Ford,
and Carter combined and much more than both the cost of the Korean and Vietnam wars,”[1]
but in his second, Reagan toned down both the spending and his rhetoric, declaring,
“Our constant and urgent purpose must be a lasting reduction of tensions between us.”[2] Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, Reagan was able
to negotiate the first reduction in nuclear weapons with the new Soviet Premier Mikhail
Gorbachev in 1986. In fact, the two leaders might have tried
to get rid of nuclear weapons altogether, but Reagan’s unwillingness to give up his
Star Wars initiative made that impossible. That was a big deal, but the rest of Reagan’s
foreign policy was somewhat less triumphant. For instance, he sent Marines to Lebanon as
part of a peacekeeping mission, but then withdrew forces after 241 of them were killed by a
car bomb. And Middle Eastern policy played a key role
in the biggest controversy of Reagan’s presidency: the Iran-Contra Scandal. This was truly one of the craziest schemes
ever hatched up by an American presidential administration. Which is really saying something. The Contras were rebels seeking to overthrow
the socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Because they were anti-communists and the
Cold War was in full swing, the Reagan administration wanted to support them. But Congress passed
a law saying that they couldn’t. So two administration officials, John Poindexter
and Oliver North, got creative. They hatched a plan to sell arms to the Iranian government,
still technically our enemies, and then funnelled some of the profits from these illegal arms
sales to the Contras. And Congress would never have to know about
it. Except that they found out. Congressional hearings followed, and we learned
a lot about Ronald Reagan’s penchant for delegating the details of his policy to underlings. In this case, that served him well as he could
plausibly claim that he knew nothing about the clandestine activities of these two rogue
employees. And this gets to the big point of the Reagan
era. I’m not sure that it was really about Reagan. In fact, I’m not sure that any great-man
history is really about the great men that supposedly spearheaded it. Whether or not you think America is better
off from the rise of conservatism we’ve seen since LBJ’s great society. It wasn’t
really, and it still really isn’t about individuals. It’s about us collectively deciding what
we mean when we talk about freedom and equality. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is made with all the help from
these nice people. Who work on this show partly because they care it and partly because, you
know, money. If you want to help us in our mission to keep
Crash Course free for everyone forever, please consider subscribing over at Subbable. A voluntary
subscription platform that allows you to pay whatever you want monthly to make Crash Course
exist. Thanks for watching Crash Course and as they
say in my hometown “It’s morning in America.” What should I say – “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome”?

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Regan was a lackluster idiot with no concern for the actual people of the USA. His concern was to just pander to the religious "right" and the wealthy. You are welcome to change my mind. I'll let you know if you make a case.

  2. Since when is economic inequality a bad thing? It only makes sense that a free nation with more than 12 people would have economic inequality, because free individuals choose for themselves the happiness they pursue. Some people pursue wealth and luxury because that's what makes them happy, while some people pursue other things, like family life, a trade, or philanthropy because that's what makes them happy. Who are you to tell Elon Musk that he shouldn't pursue his dreams of economic success and innovation, or to tell a pastor that his devotion to God is misplaced and his lifestyle isn't worth everything he has invested into it, or to tell a cook at your local soup kitchen that her kindness and charity shouldn't be what makes her happy? One thing I love about America is that it isn't a singular hivemind that only works towards the goal of survival like a colony of ants, and we wouldn't want it to be, because ants don't have very interesting lives.

  3. Too bad he increased the deficit (so much for common sense), wasted money on the Battleships, wasted money on Star Wars (still do not have the technology working 40 years later). Carter was a decent man, and probably the most decent president in recent history. Today the US is rated 11th in freedom…so much for being the land of the free. Economic freedom is good only for the 1%, not the average American. Regan was the biggest disaster to the US of any president, and Trump is a continuation of Republican stupidity. Rich people do not spend more…LOL. The US was best after Roosevelt, who was the one that increased the top tax rate to 90%.Also what mostly damaged the Ussr, was Chernobyl (almost responsible for disaster that would have seriously impacted the world, but did destroy 1000's of sq miles in Ukraine and Belarus), the Chernobyl coverup and the disaster in Afghanistan,

  4. In all fairness the deregulation of insane asylums was a result of the ACLU suing the Reagan administration on the grounds of it being unconstitutional. The ACLU won, blame the Dems for that one!

  5. Ironic. He says that Reagan shouldn’t get much credit for not being hands on, yeah, that’s the presidents and government job.

  6. "Excuse me, I have an announcement to make: Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9/11. Thank you for your time, and goodnight."

  7. It's incredible that a laptop with "This machine kills fascists" is at the foreground of a whole video on a presidential term that supported and installed fascism all over Southern and Central America.

  8. Just wanna point out you said christian conservatives wanted to get women out of the work place. That is not correct at all.

  9. 0:24 "It's a bit odd how much credit he gets for changing America because he was one of the least 'hands on' presidents."
    All Americans need to prosper is for government to get out of the way.

  10. 9:00 "The darling of conservatives but something of a moderate."
    Sound familiar? An anti-establishment candidate that had been a Democrat and in the public eye for several years became president at 70 years old. The left hates him, but it turns out that he governs more as a moderate than anything. A patriotic moderate, sure. But not an extremist.

  11. Already we see bias…"he resented the advancements african americans made"…NO NOPE NO…he resented the government handouts that destroyed black families. This guy is an IDIOT…the computer he is working on would not be here but for american capitalism. Youtube would not be here. He's an idiot. WE need government intervention. The mental health claim is bogus, as all he did was assign it back to states to take care of, and gave money for it. And no undercutting them in afghanistan ended russia.

    Heres the cray cray…and I KNOW you wont investigate this…what did his bush assassination attempt from guy who dined with bush brother the night before…how did that change his policies.

  12. The part at 1:40 where you notes he was big on family policy yet was the only president to be divorced is bogus, who cares about his marital status if he is saying he is going to benefit families and push two partners into a home instead of incentivizing single parents (which more than likely is a major attribute to why there is so much violent young black youths) that is nothing to be snubbed at.

  13. How can anyone talk about inflation rates in the 80s WITHOUT talking about Paul Volcker's disinflationary policy? If anything, Reagan's tax cuts caused a DELAY in Volcker's epic victory over stagflation.

  14. Thank you for pointing out that while Reagan may have talked tough and spent shitloads on defense, he was ultimately a moderate, if not a liberal, in his actual engagement with the USSR…..

  15. Lots of things brought down the soviet union, not the least of which was Chernobyl, and what it revealed about underlying endemic problems with socialism… corruption, dishonesty, and anti-meritocratic hierarchies.

  16. Thinking about it, the American taxpayer IS there to fund the federal government.
    Especially if you want it to serve the Amercian people, let's say to protect it from the Soviets.
    So…that kind of statement shows how Reagan was kind of stupid or hypocritical, really.

  17. 3:50 That's one weird/misleading graph lmao, the y-axis is just one big dollar sign? You can't actually read anything from that graph.

  18. Nice job putting your own personal political views on a video that you know kids are going to watch so they can actually learn!!

  19. FANTASTIC!!! LOVE THE REAGAN STORY! YOU HIT ON TRUTH!!!! THANK YOU FOR INCLUDING THE 1981 UNION STRIKE! THEY ARE TRYING TO WIPE US OUT OF HISTORY!!!!!! THANK YOU. THANK YOU! The only add I would include is this – Reagan knocked down Carter's brilliant sustainable energy policies, arguably called the FIRST GREEN DEAL OF 1979, when he put solar on the rooftops and 17,000 wind turbines in California! Reagan could be called the fall guy in our global disaster as he pulled in foreign oil full score. . . resulting in oil infrastructure, ocean acidification, melting polar ice caps and horrific traffic.

  20. Well, I arrived in the Promised Loan on January Second, 1987, when his Presidency was winding down…still the greatest country in the world, and I am anonymous in that – UNANIMOUS, ANONYMOUS, SAME THANG, K!

  21. I've come to the conclusion over many presidential terms and which appears to be appropriate here – presidents get way more credit and blame for things that happen during their terms. But unfortunately most people lay all good and bad on the current president…so good luck with your attempt to moderate your audience and their view of reality.

  22. Trump does resemble Reagan in many ways.
    Sadly we experienced more freedom in the 1980's than we do today. Society has become less free and that should scare us all.

  23. Thanks for being honest, but…"sometimes I think we are just so cowardly, like we are the cowardly-est country on earth." Just like that, you lost all credibility with every real American. LAND OF THE FREEEEEEE AND HOOOOOOME OF THE BRAAAAAAAAVE! Nice try hiding it with humor.

  24. when has freedom meant protection of government? It never meant that, like never ever, freedom in america always meant independence of the individual from the government, that has been always clear. Stop distorting facts. Slavery was stopped by the capitalist market, literally the only system without slavery. Cut taxes for the rich? No, cut taxes from the people that pay it, and funny enough it worked quite well economically. Since when woman working is a democrats value? The soviet union was an evil country that killed millions of people. And its a lie to say poverty increased in reagans, it was 14% at 1981 when reagan entered, and was at 12.8% in 1989 when he left from office. About the debt, that is true, government never was able to spend responsibly, but that was not a presidents fault, that literally one of many of the fatal flaws of public admnistration. Im talking becuse im a brazillian and we have a huge problem becuse of centrilized government and america is the last stand against this growth, every other western country has fallen to government burocracy and ineficiency.

  25. People may have continued to have reproductive choice but not because Ray Gun didn't try to remove it. His "Gag Rule" was put in place by Bush the First.

  26. Shame that this video doesn't mention that Reagan was the first hands off POTUS because he put Wall Street Execs in financial positions, Oil execs in the energy positions and Arms execs in defence positions in his administration and let them handle everything.

  27. It’s pretty clear this guy never served in the military, law enforcement or any occupation that would show him why America is actually the home of the brave Not Cowardly

  28. take power from state give it to the wealthy yeah that's freedom for you .scum who goes to the trash of history like many.

  29. Reagan is destroying middle class, which is the found-stone of US democracy. That's why blue and red opinions get bipolar and today's president of the US goes extreme.

  30. REMEMBER REAGAN Never had a Republican Congress and we ALL KNOW Congress sets spending. Reagan’s policies brought in Much higher Revenue with lower tax rates because of a BOOMING Economy.
    Reagan wanted and NEEDED higher Military spending after Carter cut the military in Preparation to surrender to the USSR. So to get the votes for his military rebuilding( which WON the Cold War…. thanks Mr President) the Democrats wanted their pork barrel projects in return for their votes on military spending( there goes the spending above and beyond the revenue). This guy is misleading and lying in a cute way. Reagan put us back to the Clear and only SUPERPOWER on the Earth…..
    Clinton started us down the slope of mediocrity, Bush 43 didn’t help and Obama damned near ripped the Heart out of America.

  31. It's weird that nowadays Carter is remembered as one of the least-awful American presidents, whereas Reagan… well…

  32. What I listened to did not represent the era I lived through as a voting adult. The slant is decidedly left slanted and there in is repulsive. I suggest a careful Re-examination of your word choices, as they betray your left leaning ideology.

  33. Reagan sold CRACK in Los Angeles for @1.5 BILLION to fund the Contras while his wife ran around telling children to "Just say NO"
    Reagan was a DRUG DEALER, NOT a HERO

  34. Ronald was the biggest crack dealer in America in the world and just like any good hustler had a good front and that was Nancy’s “Just say No” the front door, while pushing crack out the back door.l

  35. 9:11 It is true that Reagan worked with Democrats much more than the two parties work together today. But the Democratic party of the 1980s was also far, far more conservative than the Democratic party of today. They weren't pushing for same-sex marriage. Most of them would have never even known what transgenderism even is, let alone push for Equality acts or taxpayer funded transitions. You didn't have literal socialists have a serious shot at the presidency. Back then, being the more progressive of the two parties meant you liked labor unions, believed in higher taxes, and maybe supported some then-new employee protection laws that in 2019 even most Republicans take for granted.

  36. My Fellow Americans I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever
    We begin the bombing in 5 minutes. If you have a president who makes joke instead of haveing there government be a joke. You are doing well.

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