Headlines of the late 20th Century
Miller: Neither Gerald Ford, nor Jimmy Carter -- who took office as
President in 1977 -- could reverse America's economic decline. Carter warned
that there were limits to growth, that Americans had to reduce their
Carter: Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you,
about a problem that's unprecedented in our history.
It was a sober time. In 1979, a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in
Pennsylvania threatened the meltdown of the plant, and raised fears about the
catastrophic potential of all nuclear power.
At the end of the Jimmy Carter presidency, 52 Americans had been taken hostage
by Iranian terrorists.
Carter: The United States of America will not yield to
They were released in 1981, the day Ronald Reagan took office.
By the time Reagan became President, the country's economic problems seemed to
Reagan: The interest on the public debt this year we know will
be over 90 billion....
Reagan and the Republican Congress moved quickly to institute tax cuts and cut
government programs. Still, economic recession continued. Unemployment was 10%
Man on news: We haven't seen the bottom. It hasn't bottomed
President Reagan increased the defense budget dramatically, attacking the
Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire."
Reagan: To ignore the facts of history and the aggressive
impulses of an evil empire....
Reagan called for a supercharged American effort to defeat the enemy.
The Soviet Union, however, was beginning its own transformation with Mikhail
Gorbachev, a president committed to democratic reforms. In 1989, the Berlin
Wall, long the symbol of the Cold War, collapsed. And along with it, in several
years, the Soviet Union.
The first cases of AIDS appeared in America in 1981. By 1988, the disease
threatened to become an epidemic. The AIDS quilt expressed the grief of
thousands of Americans for the epidemic's victims.
In the 1980s, concern about the environment grew, especially in response to
the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. More than 10
million barrels of oil contaminated hundreds of miles of shoreline, and
shattered the local ecosystem.
In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, spending six days
in orbit. She was among the many women whose place in society had changed
dramatically in the last quarter of the 20th century.
This was a period of fabulous technological achievement. By the mid-1980s the
launching of a Space Shuttle was a regular event, until the tragic explosion of
the Challenger in 1986.
In the biological sciences, recombinant DNA technology, the first step in
cloning, was developed.
In the early 1980s, the first personal computer hit the market, and the first
clumsy connections with the Internet were made in 1982.
Ronald Reagan restored the confidence of America. And his economic policy, the
trickle-down theory, created a whole new class of millionaires. Those who had
money spent it, and spent it lavishly. The 1980s came to be seen as the "Me
Generation," decadent with excess.
Ivan Boesky: One of the great things about this nation is that
we can seek profit. And I'm proud of that. And if you can gain profit, that's
But the gap between rich and poor, whites and people of color, city and suburb,
continued to grow. And so did conservatism in politics and in culture. George
Bush was elected President in 1988, inheriting both the optimism of the Reagan
years and the problems in the American economy.
By 1992, the federal deficit was $4 trillion.
Woman: We need jobs. This is not going to work.
In early 1991, an aroused nation united behind President Bush when he attacked
the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, when Hussein invaded Kuwait. The Persian
Gulf War was an overwhelming demonstration of American technological might.
The long siege of economic troubles had deep roots. Fueled by racism, they
ignited the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
In November 1992, William Jefferson Clinton was elected President, despite
rumors of personal scandal that would plague his presidency, and culminate in
his impeachment in December, 1998.
Yet during his eight years as President, the country experienced an unrivaled
economic boom. The stock market climbed to an all-time high, and was still
climbing at the end of the century. America had become a service economy, with
its biggest exports entertainment, information technologies, and its own
By the year 1998, over 40 million households had their own personal computers.
More than 11 million had more than three televisions. And 44 million Americans
The complexion of the country continued to change. In 1998, 72% of the
population was white, 12% African American, 11% Hispanic, and 4% Asian.
New technologies transformed virtually every aspect of life, even our own
genetic makeup. By the year 2000, the Human Genome Project was nearing
completion of the mapping of the entire human DNA code, offering startling
possibilities for altering the design of life itself.
In the year 2000, America stood poised to take on the challenges of the Third
Clinton: The torch is passed to a new century of young