The Stalemated Seventies
The Economy Stagnates in the 1970s
Following the economic boom in America during the 1950s and 1960s, the economy of the 1970s was declining. A large part of the decline was caused by more women and teens entering the works force; these groups typically were less skilled and made less money than males. Deteriorating machinery and new regulations also hindered growth. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson's lavish spending on the Vietnam War and on his Great Society also depleted the U.S. Treasury, giving citizens too much money and creating too great a demand for too few products.
As the United States lacked advancement, countries such as Japan and Germany leaped forward in the production of steel, automobiles, and consumer electronics.
Nixon "Vietnamizes" the War
President Nixon brought to the White House his broad knowledge and thoughtful expertise in foreign affairs. He applied himself to putting America's foreign-policy in order. President Nixon's announced policy, called "Vietnamization," was to withdraw the 540,000 U.S. troops in South Vietnam over an extended period. The South Vietnamese, with American money, weapons, training, and advice, would then gradually take over the war.
The Nixon Doctrine proclaimed that the United States would honor its existing defense commitments but in the future, Asians and others would have to fight their own wars without the support of large numbers of American troops.
On November 3, 1969, Nixon delivered a televised speech to the "silent majority," who presumably supported the war; he hoped to gain supporters.
Cambodianizing the Vietnam War
For several years, the North Vietnamese and the VC had been using Cambodia as a springboard for troops, weapons, and supplies. On April 29, 1970, President Nixon widened the war when he ordered American forces to join with the South Vietnamese in cleaning out the enemy in officially neutral Cambodia. The United States fell into turmoil as protests turned violent. Nixon withdrew the troops from Cambodia on June 29, 1970, although the bitterness between the "hawks" and the "doves" increased.
In 1971, the 26th Amendment was passed, lowering the voting age to 18.
In the spring of 1971, mass rallies and marches erupted again all over the country as antiwar sentiment grew.
Nixon's Détente with Beijing (Peking) and Moscow
The two great communist powers, the Soviet Union and China, were clashing bitterly over their rival interpretations of Marxism. Nixon perceived that the Chinese-Soviet tension gave the United States an opportunity to play off one antagonist against the other and to enlist the aid of both in pressuring North Vietnam into peace.
Dr. Henry A. Kissinger reinforced Nixon's thinking. In 1969, Kissinger had begun meeting secretly with North Vietnamese officials in Paris to negotiate an end to the war in Vietnam.
In 1972, Nixon made a visit to China and paved the way for improved relations between the United States and Beijing. In May 1972, Nixon traveled to Moscow, which was ready to deal. Nixon's visits ushered in an era of détente, or relaxed tensions between the Soviet Union and China. The great grain deal of 1972 was a 3-year arrangement by which the United States agreed to sell the Soviets at least $750 million worth of wheat, corn, and other cereals.
More important steps were taken to stem the dangerous race of nuclear arms. The first major achievement, an anti-ballistic missile (AMB) treaty, limited the U.S. and the Soviet Union to two clusters of defensive missiles. The second significant pact, known as SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks), froze the numbers of long-range nuclear missiles for 5 years.
A New Team on the Supreme Bench
Earl Warren was appointed as a Justice to the Supreme Court, making many controversial rulings-
Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) struck down a state law that banned the use of contraceptives, even by married couples, creating a "right to privacy."
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) ruled that all criminals were entitled to legal counsel, even if they were unable to afford it.
Escobedo (1964) and Miranda (1966) ruled that those who were arrested had to the "right to remain silent."
Engel v. Vitale (1962) and School District of Abington Township vs. Schempp (1963) led to the Supreme Court ruling against required prayers and having the Bible in public schools, basing the judgment on the First Amendment, which separated church and state.
Reynolds vs. Sims (1964) ruled that the state legislatures would be required to be reapportioned according to population.
In an attempt to end the liberal rulings, President Nixon set Warren E. Burger to replace the retiring Earl Warren in 1969. With this a success, the Supreme Court had four new Nixon-appointed members by the end of 1971.
Nixon on the Home Front
Nixon expanded the Great Society programs by increasing funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). He also created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), giving benefits to the poor aged, blind, and disabled.
Nixon's Philadelphia Plan of 1969 required construction-trade unions working on the federal pay roll to establish "goals and timetables" for black employees. This plan changed the definition of "affirmative action" to include preferable treatment on groups, not individuals; the Supreme Court's ruling on Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971) upheld this. Whites protested to this decision, calling it "reverse discrimination."
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) were created.
In 1962, Rachel Carson boosted the environmental movement with her book Silent Spring, which exposed the disastrous effects of pesticides. By 1950, Los Angeles had an Air Pollution Control Office.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 both aimed at protecting and preserving the environment.
Worried about inflation, Nixon imposed a 90-day wage freeze and then took the nation off the gold standard, thus ending the "Bretton Woods" system of international currency stabilization, which had functioned for more than a quarter of a century after WWII.
The Nixon Landslide of 1972
In the spring of 1972, the North Vietnamese burst through the demilitarized zone separating the two Vietnams. Nixon ordered massive bombing attacks on strategic centers, halting the North Vietnamese offensive.
Senator George McGovern won the 1972 Democratic nomination. He based his campaign on pulling out of Vietnam in 90 days. President Nixon, though, won the election of 1972 in a landslide.
Bombing North Vietnam to the Peace Table
Nixon launched the heaviest assault of the war when he ordered a two-week bombing of North Vietnam in an attempt to force the North Vietnamese to the conference table. It worked and on January 23, 1973, North Vietnamese negotiators agreed to a cease-fire agreement. The shaky "peace" was in reality little more than a thinly disguised American retreat.
On June 17, 1972, five men working for the Republican Committee for the Re-election of the President were caught breaking into the Watergate Hotel and bugging rooms.
Following was a great scandal in which many prominent members of the president's administration resigned. Lengthy hearings proceeded, headed by Senator Sam Erving. John Dean III testified of all the corruption, illegal activities, and scandal.
The Great Tape Controversy
When conversations involving the Watergate scandal were discovered on tapes, President Nixon quickly refused to hand them over to Congress, despite denying any participation in the scandal. In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign due to tax evasion. In accordance with the newly-passed 25th Amendment (1967), Nixon submitted to Congress, for approval as the new vice president, Gerald Ford.
On October 20, 1973 ("Saturday Night Massacre"), Archibald Cox, the prosecutor of the Watergate scandal case who had issued a subpoena of the tapes, was fired. Both the attorney general and deputy general resigned because they, themselves did not want to fire Cox.
The Secret Bombing of Cambodia and the War Powers Act
Despite federal assurances to the American public that Cambodia's neutrality was being respected, it was discovered that secret bombing raids on North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia had taken place since March of 1969; this caused the public to question trust of the government. Nixon ended the bombing in June 1973.
However, Cambodia was soon taken over by the cruel dictator Pol Pot, who later committed genocide of over 2 million people over a span of a few years.
In November 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act, requiring the president to report all commitments of U.S. troops to foreign exchanges within 48 hours. A new feeling of "New Isolationism" that discouraged U.S. troops in other countries began to take hold, yet Nixon stood strong.
The Arab Oil Embargo and the Energy Crisis
Following U.S. support of Israel during Israel's war against Syria and Egypt to regain territory lost during the Six-Day War, the Arab nations imposed an oil embargo, strictly limiting oil in the United States. A speed limit of 55 MPH was imposed, the oil pipeline in Alaska was approved in 1974 despite environmentalists' cries, and other forms of energy were researched.
OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) lifted the embargo in 1974, yet it then quadrupled the price of oil.
The Unmaking of a President
On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that President Nixon had to submit all tapes to Congress. Late in July 1974, the House approved its first article of impeachment for obstruction of justice. On August 5, 1974, Nixon released the three tapes that held the most damaging information-the same three tapes that had been "missing." On August 8 of the same year, Nixon resigned, realizing that he would be convicted if impeached, and with resignation, he could at least keep the privileges of a president.
The First Unelected President
Gerald Ford became the first unelected president; his name had been submitted by Nixon as a vice-presidential candidate. All other previous vice presidents that had ascended to presidency had at least been supported as running mates of the president that had been elected.
President Ford's popularity and respect sank when he issued a full pardon of Nixon, thus setting off accusations of a "buddy deal."
In July 1975, Ford signed the Helsinki accords, which recognized Soviet boundaries and helped to ease tensions between the two nations.
Defeat in Vietnam
Early in 1975, the North Vietnamese made their full invasion of South Vietnam. President Ford request aid for South Vietnam, but was rejected by Congress. South Vietnam quickly fell. The last of Americans were evacuated on April 29, 1975.
The United States had fought the North Vietnamese to a standstill and had then withdrawn its troops in 1973, leaving the South Vietnamese to fight their own war. The estimated cost to America was $188 billion, with 56,000 dead and 300,000 wounded. America had lost more than a war; it had lost face in the eyes of foreigners, lost its own self-esteem, lost confidence in its military power, and lost much of the economic strength that had made possible its global leadership after WWII.
The Bicentennial Campaign and the Carter Victory
In the election of 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter beat Republican Gerald Ford to win the presidency. Carter promised to never lie to the American public.
In 1978, President Carter convinced Congress to pass an $18 billion tax cut. Despite this, the economy continued to tumble.
Although early in his presidency he was relatively popular, the popularity of President Carter soon dropped as world events took a turn for the worse.
Carter's Humanitarian Diplomacy
Carter championed for human rights, and in Rhodesia (known today as Zimbabwe) and South Africa, he championed for black rights.
On September 17, 1978, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel signed peace accords at Camp David. Mediated by Carter after relations had strained, this was a great success. Israel agreed to withdraw from territory gained in the 1967 war as long as Egypt respected Israel's territories.
In Africa, though, many communist revolutions were taking place; although not all were successful, the revolutions did cause disheartenment and spread fear.
President Carter pledged to return the Panama Canal to Panama by the year 2000 and resume full diplomatic relations with China in 1979.
Carter Tackles the Ailing Economy
Inflation had been steadily rising, and by 1979, it was at 13%. Americans learned that they could no longer hide behind their ocean moats and live happily.
Carter diagnosed America's problems as stemming primarily from the nation's costly dependence on foreign oil. He called for legislation to improve energy conservation, without much public support.
Carter's Energy Woes
In 1979, Iran's shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, who had been installed by America in 1953 and had ruled Iran as a dictator, was overthrown and succeeded by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Iranian fundamentalists were very opposed Western customs, and because of this, Iran stopped exporting oil; OPEC also raised oil prices, thus causing another oil crisis.
In July 1979, Carter retreated to Camp David and met with hundreds of advisors to contemplate a solution to America's problems. On July 15, 1979, Carter chastised the American people for their obsession of material woes ("If it's cold, turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater."), stunning the nation. A few days later, he fired four cabinet secretaries and tightened the circle around his advisors.
Foreign Affairs and the Iranian Imbroglio
In 1979, Carter signed the SALT II agreements with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, but the U.S. senate refused to ratify it.
On November 4, 1979, a group of anti-American Muslim militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took hostages, demanding that the U.S. return the exiled shah who had arrived in the U.S. two weeks earlier for cancer treatments.
On December 27, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which ended up turning into the Soviet Union's own Vietnam. Because of the invasion of Afghanistan however, the Soviet Union posed a threat to America's precious oil supplies. President Carter placed an embargo on the Soviet Union and boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. He also proposed a "Rapid Deployment Force" that could quickly respond to crises anywhere in the world.
The Iranian Hostage Humiliation
During the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the American hostages languished in cruel captivity while news reports showed images of Iranian mobs burning the American flag and spitting on effigies of Uncle Sam. Carter first tried economic sanctions to force the release of the hostages, but this failed. He then tried a commando rescue mission, but that had to be aborted. When two military aircraft collided, eight of the would-be rescuers were killed.
The stalemate hostage situation dragged on for most of Carter's term, and the hostages were never released until January 20, 1981-the inauguration day of Ronald Reagan.