"Amid ideology and political reality" : the Reagan administration's welfare reform experience : an honors thesis (HONRS 499)

Thumbnail Image
Tomes, Elliott C.
Berg, Timothy D.
Issue Date
Thesis (B.?.)
Honors College
Other Identifiers

In light of Ronald Reagan's recent death, a debate has ensued over the former President's legacy. As his attempt at drastic welfare reform has been placed in historical context, Reagan has been widely viewed as instrumental in dismantling the vast welfare system constructed during Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs. However, his critics suggest this policymaking was insensitive to the urban poor in this country. Most recent scholars now insist that, despite early legislative victories, Reagan's attack on the welfare state was grossly exaggerated. His attitude and ideological approach toward social welfare policy could accurately be described as frank and fundamentally unchanged during his three decades as a political figure, but his political application of these principles shifted significantly over the course of his two-term Presidency.This research will demonstrate how and why this shift in policy occurred, as well as why the shift was politically and socially necessary. By first analyzing the evolution of Reagan's welfare rhetoric and ideology, one can better understand the approach he used throughout his two terms as President. This institutional experience illustrates how the administration's maturing approach to social welfare policy plainly reflects the realities of the American political process at the Federal level. Specifically, the system forced Reagan's virulent ideology to be tempered and eventually compromised by circumstance and pragmatism. As a result, Reagan's "revolution" of social welfare programs did not actually occur. Congressional attitudes and the advice of his appointed staff perpetuated a departure from ideological grounds, forcing Reagan to rethink the practicality of such rigid doctrine.