The Stalemated Seventies
Sources of Stagnation
The growth of the American economy slowed down in the 1970s. More women and teens were entering the works force; these groups typically made less money than males. Deteriorating machinery and new regulations also hindered growth. The Vietnam War and on the Great Society program also contributed to inflation.
Countries like Japan and Germany started to dominate industries that had traditionally been led by the Americans (steel, automobiles, and consumer electronics).
Nixon "Vietnamizes" the War
President Nixon brought knowledge and expertise in foreign affairs to the presidency. Nixon started a policy called "Vietnamization," which was to withdraw 540,000 U.S. troops from South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese, with American money, weapons, training, and advice, would then gradually take over the war. Nixon did not want to end the war; he wanted to win it by other means.
Nixon Doctrine: the United States would honor its existing defense commitments but in the future, Asians and other countries 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
Cambodia, which was officially neutral in the war, bordered South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese had been using Cambodia as a springboard for troops, weapons, and supplies. On April 29, 1970, President Nixon ordered American forces to attack the enemy in Cambodia. Protests erupted at Kent State University, in which the National Guard shot 4 students. 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.
Pentagon Papers: a leaked, top-secret Pentagon study that documented the deceptions of the previous presidential administrations, in regards to the Vietnam War.
Nixon's Détente with Beijing (Peking) and Moscow
The two great communist powers, the Soviet Union and China, disagreed over their interpretations of Marxism. Nixon and his national security advisor, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, used the Chinese-Soviet tension to play off one country against the other. Nixon and Kissinger wanted to get the Soviet Union and China to pressure North Vietnam into peace.
In 1972, Nixon visited China and paved the way for improved relations between the United States and Beijing. In May 1972, Nixon traveled to Moscow and negotiated détente, or relaxed tensions between the Soviet Union and China. The United States agreed to sell the Soviets at least $750 million worth of wheat, corn, and other cereals. Two agreements also slowed the arms race between America and the Soviets: 1) An anti-ballistic missile (AMB) treaty limited the U.S. and the Soviet Union to two clusters of defensive missiles. 2) 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 in 1953 and he made 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." (Miranda warning)
Engel v. Vitale (1962) and School District of Abington Township vs. Schempp (1963) ruled that public schools could not require prayers or Bible reading.
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. 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 to establish quotas for hiring 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 this decision, calling it "reverse discrimination."
Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These agencies gave the federal government more control over businesses.
In 1962, Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring exposed the harmful effects of pesticides.
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 (devaluing the dollar). This ended the "Bretton Woods" system of international currency stabilization, which was the agreement that each country would tie its monetary exchange rate to gold.
Nixon's southern strategy helped him win the Southern vote. This strategy consisted of opposing civil rights for African-Americans.
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.
Nixon ordered a two-week bombing campaign of North Vietnam in an attempt to force the North Vietnamese to the peace table.
On January 23, 1973, North Vietnamese negotiators agreed to a cease-fire agreement. This agreement was really just a disguised American retreat.
The Secret Bombing of Cambodia and the War Powers Act
Despite 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 bombings in June 1973.
Cambodia was 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. It required the president to tell Congress within 48 hours about all commitments of U.S. troops to foreign conflicts. A new feeling of "New Isolationism" that discouraged U.S. troops from being used in other countries' wars began to take hold.
The Arab Oil Embargo and the Energy Crisis
During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Syria and Egypt tried to regain the territory that they had lost to Israel during the Six-Day War. American support helped Israel win the war, but it caused the Arab nations (OPEC) to impose an oil embargo on the United States. To conserve oil, a speed limit of 55 MPH was imposed. An oil pipeline in Alaska was approved in 1974 and other forms of energy were researched.
The embargo caused an economic recession in America and several other countries.
OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) lifted the embargo in 1974, but it quadrupled the price of oil.
Watergate and the Unmaking of a President
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 Democrats' rooms. After the Watergate Scandal, it was discovered that the Nixon administration was involved in many other cases of corruption and "dirty tricks."
Many prominent members of the President's administration resigned. Vice President Spiro Agnew was also forced to resign for taking bribes. Congress replaced Agnew with Gerald Ford.
A select Senate committee, headed by Senator Sam Erving, led an investigation into the corruption. Nixon claimed no knowledge of the illegal activities, but John Dean III, a former White House lawyer, testified about how Nixon tried to cover up the Watergate Scandal.
On October 20, 1973 ("Saturday Night Massacre"), Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the prosecutor of the Watergate Scandal case who had issued a subpoena of the tapes. The attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned because they did not want to fire Cox.
When conversations involving the Watergate Scandal were discovered on tapes, President Nixon refused to hand them over to Congress, despite denying any participation in the scandal. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that President Nixon had to submit all tapes to Congress. On August 5, 1974, Nixon released the three tapes that held the most damaging information. One of the tapes ("smoking gun" tape) proved that Nixon had played an active part of the attempted cover-up of the Watergate Scandal.
On August 8, 1974, Nixon resigned due to pressures from his own party.
The First Unelected President
Gerald Ford became the first unelected president.
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 invaded South Vietnam. President Ford request aid for South Vietnam, but was rejected by Congress. South Vietnam quickly fell. The last Americans were evacuated on April 29, 1975.
The estimated cost to America was $188 billion, with 56,000 dead and 300,000 wounded. America 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.
Feminist Victories and Defeats
In 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments, prohibiting sex discrimination in any federally assisted educational program. Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) amendment to the Constitution, although it was never ratified by enough states. This amendment would have prohibited laws that discriminated based on sex.
In Roe vs. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court invalidated laws banning abortion.
The Seventies in Black and White
In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled in Milliken v. Bradley that desegregation plans could not require students to move across school-district lines. This reinforced the "white flight".
In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in University of California v. Bakke that Allan Bakke that universities could not favor applicants based on the quality of race. The Supreme Court's only black justice, Thurgood Marshall, warned that the denial of racial preferences might erase the progress gained by the civil rights movement.
In United States vs. Wheeler (1978), the Supreme Court ruled that Native American tribes had limited sovereignty.
The Bicentennial Campaign
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.
Carter was inexperienced in dealing with the politics of Washington.
Carter's Humanitarian Diplomacy
President Carter mediated peace talks between Israel and Egypt. On September 17, 1978, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel signed peace accords at Camp David. Israel agreed to withdraw from territory it had gained in the 1967 war as long as Egypt respected Israel's territories.
President Carter pledged to return the Panama Canal to Panama by the year 2000 and resume full diplomatic relations with China in 1979.
Economic and Energy Woes
The rate of inflation had been steadily rising, and by 1979, it was at 13%. Americans learned that they were no longer economically isolated from the world.
To reduce America's costly dependence on foreign oil, Carter called for legislation to improve energy conservation. The legislation didn't get much public support.
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 and caused another oil crisis.
In July 1979, Carter retreated to Camp David and met with hundreds of advisors to come up with a solution to America's problems. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his malaise speech in which he chastised the American people for their obsession of material goods, stunning the nation. A few days later, he fired four cabinet secretaries.
Foreign Affairs and the Iranian Imbroglio
In 1979, Carter signed the SALT II agreements with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, but the U.S. senate refused to ratify it.
On December 27, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which ended up turning into the Soviet Union's version of Vietnam. Because Afghanistan bordered Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan posed a threat to America's 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.
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.
To resolve the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Carter first tried economic sanctions on Iran; this did not work. He then tried a commando rescue mission, but that had to be aborted.
The hostage crisis dragged on for most of Carter's term, and the hostages were not released until January 20, 1981 - the inauguration day of Ronald Reagan.