With the populist Progressive movement peaking, former President Theodore Roosevelt opposes the laissez-faire policies of his successor, William Taft. The conflict splits the Republican Party, and Roosevelt runs for president on the "Bull Moose" ticket with Progressive support. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, a strenuous foe of monopolies, wins the presidency, and his party takes both legislative houses.
At home, President Wilson strengthens antitrust rules; overseas, as World War I erupts, he anchors the United States in neutrality. But the sinking of the "Lusitania" in 1915 strains the policy and sparks anti-German sentiment. The Progressive movement wanes after Theodore Roosevelt declines to run for president in 1916. Wilson gains reelection over Republican Supreme Court justice Charles Hughes.
Tensions with Germany reach a breaking point, and in April 1917 the United States enters the war, soon contributing to Allied successes. At war's end the country is torn between involvement in the League of Nations or a return to isolationism. In 1920 Republican presidential candidate Warren Harding calls for a "return to normalcy" and renewed isolation. He roundly defeats Democrat James Cox.
Harding dies in office in 1923; Vice President Calvin Coolidge finishes his term. Buoyed by the nation's prosperity, Coolidge is elected the next year over Democrat John Davis and Progressive leader Robert La Follette, a strong third on a populist, interventionist platform. But the victorious Republicans advocate minimal intervention, tax cuts, and continued nonparticipation in the League of Nations.
After Coolidge surprisingly declines to run again, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover leads the Republicans to victory over New York Governor Al Smith, a Catholic and opponent of Prohibition who fares poorly in the Democratic Southern states. Hoover extols "rugged individualism" and paints his opponents as foes of private enterprise, but the stock exchange crash shatters his standing.
As the economy lurches into depression, President Hoover soften his stance to support loans to businesses and public works funding. These measures fail to forestall panic; Hoover's credibility plummets. New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt wins the Democratic nomination promising a "new deal" and broad new regulation. He soundly defeats Hoover; the Democrats win large majorities in both houses.
President Roosevelt launches a legislative whirlwind that results in massive intervention in labor markets, housing, agriculture, transportation, and banking. This First New Deal stops the nation's panic, stabilizes the economy, and puts armies of the unemployed to work on large and small public projects. The programs are controversial and unprecedented, but opposition is splintered and weak.
The Second New Deal wave of legislation establishes Social Security and sets a lasting framework for social policy. Regulation continues to take shape, and public works programs are expanded. President Roosevelt is overwhelmingly reelected in 1936 over Republican Alfred Landon. But he endures a setback in 1937 when Southern Democrats join Republicans in opposing further reforms.
Republican opposition revives to make gains in midterm elections, but Roosevelt still dominates political life: In 1940 he defeats Wendell Wilkie to earn his third term of office. The political crisis in Europe spurs concerns about defense. As war erupts, the U.S. is neutral at first, but soon sends arms to Britain. Administrative reform in 1939 reorganizes and strengthens the executive branch.
Roosevelt promotes "Four Freedoms" -- freedom of speech and of religion, freedom from want and from fear. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor propels the U.S. into World War II. A range of government agencies spring up to monitor and direct the war effort. The 1944 election occurs as the Allies push Germany into defeat. Roosevelt defeats New York Governor Thomas Dewey to earn a fourth term of office.
Roosevelt dies in 1945; Harry Truman takes office. U.S. atomic bombs force Japan's surrender. Wartime agencies are abolished, defense reorganized. The Central Intelligence Agency is founded. In the '48 elections, Southern Democrats oppose Truman's civil rights initiatives and support South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond's rebel campaign. Even so, Truman beats Republican candidate Thomas Dewey.
The Korean and Cold Wars stoke anticommunism and Republican gains in Congress. The 22nd Amendment limits presidents to two terms. In 1952 Gen. Dwight Eisenhower wins the Republican presidential nomination in a fierce battle, while the Democrats draft Governor Adlai Stevenson, a cautious but eloquent liberal. Eisenhower sweeps the election on a conservative platform. He immediately visits Korea.
First the McCarthy anticommunist witch-hunt, then the start of the civil rights movement mark the first Eisenhower administration. He is handily reelected in 1956, again defeating Stevenson, but the Democrats retake both houses of Congress. Civil rights legislation and unrest in the South take center stage. In 1959 Alaska and Hawaii become the 49th and 50th states.
Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy, of a powerful Massachusetts political family, narrowly defeats Vice President Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. His youth and stirring rhetoric change the tone of national politics, but his legislative initiatives achieve little success. Cold War conflict plays out in newly communist Cuba with a failed U.S. intervention and a showdown over Soviet missiles.
Kennedy's assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963, plunges the country into shock. Vice President Lyndon Johnson of Texas takes office and is soon campaigning for election in the 1964 race. Republicans nominate Barry Goldwater, an Arizona senator from the party's right wing. Johnson defeats Goldwater in a landslide; Democrats retain control of Congress.
Once elected, Johnson calls for a "Great Society" in which poverty is eradicated and welfare enhanced. A flurry of legislation sees the creation of Medicare and government intervention to improve schooling, housing, environmental quality, and civil rights. Republican gains in midterm elections slow but do not halt Johnson's momentum. The escalating Vietnam War, though, casts a dark shadow.
Opposition to the Vietnam War reaches a boiling point, and urban race riots and a youth protest movement erupt. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy plunge the 1968 election into turmoil. Facing dissent in his party, President Johnson withdraws from the race. Vice President Hubert Humphrey suffers a narrow defeat to Richard Nixon. Democrats retain both houses of Congress.
President Nixon calls for a "New American Revolution" but his policies hardly break from the past. He uses interventionist tools to wrestle inflation and signs major environmental laws. The Vietnam War carries on, as do violent, sometimes deadly protests. Nixon's centrist policies and the weakness of his Democratic opponent, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, earn him a landslide reelection.
Scandal rocks U.S. politics as the 1972 Watergate break-in to Democratic offices is conclusively tied to the Nixon campaign and to the president personally. A year of investigations and hearings, during which Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns in an unrelated scandal, results in impeachment proceedings against Nixon. He resigns in August 1974; replacement Vice President Gerald Ford takes office.
Ford's centrist administration is weakened by the Nixon legacy of and buffeted by inflation and the energy crisis. In the '76 primaries, he beats back a strong challenge from former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Little-known Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia emerges from the Democratic pack. His humble, outsider appeal refreshes voters weary of war and scandal, and he wins in a close election.
Keynesian measures and appeals for voluntary wage and price restraint prove ineffective in curbing stagflation and the energy crisis. Carter's forthright statement of a "crisis of confidence" fuels a sense of weak leadership. The Iranian revolution results in the siege of the U.S. embassy and a protracted hostage crisis, which will mar Carter's last year in office.
Carter fends off Senator Edward Kennedy's challenge for the 1980 Democratic bid. Republicans select Ronald Reagan, who surges to victory. The Reagan coalition gathers business interests with newly active groups: the Christian right, neo-conservatives, and working-class "Reagan Democrats." Once in office, Reagan signals a total rethinking of government, which he calls the problem, not the solution.
The Reagan revolution takes hold. Tight monetary policy beats back inflation. Massive tax cuts mean deficits will grow, but government spending is also slashed in most areas outside defense. Reagan advocates limited government and transfer of programs back to the states. His charismatic leadership earns him a landslide 1984 reelection over Walter Mondale, as Republicans also take the Senate.
Democrats retake the Senate in midterm elections. Scandals, growing inequalities, and a stock market plunge begin to darken the Reagan record, but the shift from interventionism is profound and will endure. In the 1988 presidential race, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis is nominated from a crowded Democratic field, only to suffer harsh defeat by Vice President George Bush.
The Bush administration sees American vindication overseas, with the fall of the Iron Curtain and quick victory in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. But the economy deteriorates, and the president appears out of touch. Centrist "New Democrat" Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas is the surprise 1992 Democratic leader. A political "natural," he defeats Bush and independent Ross Perot in a famous victory.
Despite a Democrat-controlled Congress, Clinton at first flounders. His ambitious health care reform fails. Republicans regroup around a "Contract with America" that promises reduced government; they triumph in contentious 1994 midterm elections. A tense budget showdown shuts down government offices, but Clinton gains poise and outflanks the Republicans by balancing the budget in a growing economy.
A resurgent Bill Clinton handily defeats Kansas Senator Robert Dole in the 1996 election. Clinton has proclaimed the "era of big government is over." The economic boom bolsters his popularity, but Republican control of Congress limits his powers. A 1998 sex scandal results in impeachment proceedings. He survives, but his legacy is tainted and his party unable to capitalize on his economic record.
The 2000 race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush is extremely close. Gore wins the popular vote, but Bush becomes president after the Supreme Court rules he has won in disputed Florida. Democrats gain control of the Senate when a Republican defects. The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon catapult the country into a "War on Terror."
Bush's War on Terror widens into a campaign against Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. A showdown with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction begins to dominate the political landscape. Critics argue that Bush is using foreign threats to cover an aggressive conservative domestic agenda. After November 2002 midterm elections, Republicans control both houses of Congress.
Claiming weapons of mass destruction as a threat, Bush gains support from a majority of U.S. citizens for war on Iraq. World anti-American sentiment grows, however, and amid postwar turmoil, Iraqi anti-U.S. attitudes persist. Bush limits the U.N.'s role in Iraq's occupation, but restarts Palestinian peace efforts and adds support to fight AIDS in Africa. Economic woes hamper his domestic agenda.
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