Ronald Reagan on Reducing the Size of Government

by Wendy Thowdis

Essential Questions  

  • How can the powers of government be divided to best run our nation in this modern era?      
  • What role should the federal government play in shaping our economy?


Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union Message, January 26, 1982, The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara 


Pre-Reading Vocabulary Lesson: Briefly discuss the meaning of the following terms:

  • federalism
  • excise taxes
  • deregulation
  • budget deficit
  • private sector
  • interlocking jurisdictions

Document Analysis: Have students read the above excerpts from Reagan’s State of the Union Message and then, in pairs, answer the following Remember/Understand (Bloom’s Taxonomy) questions.

  • What are the two economic problems Ronald Reagan discusses in the first paragraph that contributed to “a new kind of defeatism” felt by the American people?
  • List five actions Reagan says he has already taken to fix the problems of our nation.
  • What are the “four commonsense fundamentals” Reagan says will be the basis of his new plan?
  • How does Reagan feel about raising taxes?
  • Reagan wants to make our system of federalism work again. Describe what you think he means by this.
  • What is the problem Reagan suggests exists when the federal government controls the “essential services of government”?
  • How does Reagan suggest the power of government will be shared by 1988?
  • How does Reagan believe the private sector will help our nation?

Select from the following options to have the students Apply and Evaluate (Bloom’s Taxonomy).

  • Draw/create a mind-map or flow chart to summarize Reagan’s beliefs about federalism
  • Create a rap or rhyme that will help someone remember the concept of federalism
  • Review this definition of supply-side economics (you can search for your own definition online or supply multiple definitions): Supply-side economics, also known as trickle-down economics, is an economic theory that states that a reduction in taxes will stimulate the economy through increased consumer spending. Over time, the boost to economic growth will generate a larger tax base, which will make up for the revenue lost from the tax cut.
  • Write a paragraph where you agree or disagree with the statement: “Ronald Reagan was a supporter of Supply-side economics.” Was this the best economic theory for the 1980s? Why or why not?
  • Read Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society Speech (1964) (attached) and note his belief about the role the federal government should play to end poverty in the US.
  • Create a Venn diagram to compare the political and economic beliefs of Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Create a fifteen- to twenty-line dialogue between Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B. Johnson that portrays how each felt about the role of the federal government under our federal system. Include at least five specific ideas, concepts, programs, or examples for each president to demonstrate your knowledge.

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