Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of the ’80s


With the events and personalities of the 1980s now well over two decades in the past, political scientists and historians have begun to critically and systematically examine the leaders, the institutions, and the political culture and events of the era. This course will explore the sociopolitical state of the United States and Britain and the state of international relations and diplomacy from 1979 to 1992. While impossible to summarize, the 1980s were an era of immense political change and inflection with the end of the Cold War and the rise of free-market thinking; the political sphere was dominated by the ideas of President Ronald Reagan and Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Culturally, the music scene was transformed by punk and the birth of hip-hop; and everyday lives of those in the West were radically altered by a host of technological developments—from the Sony Walkman and the ATM to the appearance of MTV and the first personal computers. In the United States, the decade opened with an enormous anti-nuclear protest in New York’s Central Park and closed with mass demonstrations against the government’s slow response to the AIDS crisis. This course will investigate these social and economic trends as they relate to political culture in both the United States and Britain. We will also explore how the 1980s ushered in a new era of conservative politics and postmodern ideas, which created a complex and increasingly material world. We will examine the personal and domestic lives of President Reagan and Prime Minster Thatcher and then look into their unique working relationship on the global stage, as well as probe into their domestic stateside matters. For instance, we will look at President Reagan’s bipartisan work to fundamentally change the tax structure in the United States and examine how he managed unions and the air traffic control strike that changed the way Americans perceive unions. We will also look at Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and attempt to make sense of O’Neill as both a foil and a domestic leader at the time. Finally, we will consider the global political milieu in which Reagan and Thatcher operated and look at the Cold War and the struggles that they both faced to bring democracy to the globe.