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US political history from the year you were born

  • 1981: First female Supreme Court justice

    Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, and served until her retirement in 2006. In 2009, President Barack Obama honored Justice O’Connor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

  • 1982: Reagan addresses Parliament

    President Ronald Reagan’s address was the first time in which a U.S. president had been granted the honor of speaking to a joint session of the British Parliament. In his appearance, Reagan took Britain’s side in the ongoing Falkland Islands conflict with Argentina.

  • 1983: Defense initiative develops

    The Strategic Defense Initiative, also called the “Star Wars program,” was a proposed attempt to create an antiballistic missile shield to protect the United States in the event of a nuclear attack. It was established in 1984, but in 1987, the American Physical Society found that such technologies were years away from practical use.

  • 1984: First female vice presidential candidate

    New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro became the first female vice presidential candidate when she was announced as the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale. Dianne Feinstein, who was San Francisco’s mayor at the time, was also reportedly considered for the nomination.

  • 1985: Budget restraints enacted

    The Gramm Rudman Hollings Balanced Budget Act was the first legislation to introduce formal spending constraints on the United States’ federal budget, and was created in hopes of reducing the country’s budget deficit. The act was followed by the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act in 1987.

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  • 1986: An affair is revealed

    The Iran-Contra affair—considered to be the biggest political scandal since Watergate—dealt with the fact that senior presidential administrators secretly sold weapons to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Khomeini government in order to send money to the U.S.-funded Contras in Nicaragua. It occurred despite the fact that Congress had prohibited further aid to the Contras.

  • 1987: Nuclear treaty gets signed

    Under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the United States and the Soviet Union were forbidden from fielding cruise missiles, as well as short range and intermediate range land-based ballistic missiles. The legislation was a significant step toward the end of the Cold War. In 2018, President Donald Trump ordered that the U.S. withdraw from the treaty due to alleged Russian noncompliance.

  • 1988: Vice president is elected the 41st president

    The Republican candidate George H. W. Bush’s defeat of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis marked the most recent instance to date in which an American political party won three consecutive presidential terms. Bush was also the first sitting vice president to win the presidency since President Martin Van Buren won the election in 1836.

  • 1989: Bush announces war on drugs

    While the term had been around in previous decades, 1989 marked President Bush’s establishment of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Although spending on law enforcement directed to combat drug abuse was increased under ONDCP leader William Bennett, treatment of drug addiction was less than a third of the office’s budget.

  • 1990: Treaty is signed to destroy chemical weapons

    President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a treaty to eliminate chemical weapon production in the United States and Soviet Union. Following the treaty, each country pledged to destroy 80% of their chemical weapons inventory. However, 13 years later, President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq on the grounds that the country also potentially possessed similar weapons.

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