Conservatism and Law-and-Order Punishment (1980s–1990s)
The 1970s ended on the dismal notes of crisis and failure. In the wake of the Vietnam War, the Iran hostage affair, Three Mile Island, high unemployment, and crippling inflation, there was little reason left for optimism. For some, the belief that the 1960s had left the nation morally bankrupt only deepened the sense that radical change was needed. To overcome these national problems, nothing less than a political, cultural, and economic reversal seemed appropriate. Ronald Reagan orchestrated such a reversal in 1980, the main theme of which was to quash liberalism in all its forms. Reagan ushered in a “new day” marked by smaller and more conservative government, an ethos of individual responsibility, and a strong national defense. The moral excesses of the countercultural movement also were publicly denounced through campaigns advocating sexual restraint and drug abstinence. Signs and slogans touting “just say no” and “zero tolerance” became a regular part of the conservative landscape.