Lecture 26: The Tumultuous 70s


I. The narrow victory of Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1968 was an indicator of an American society that had become deeply divided. 

A. In addition to the Civil Rights movement, several other important movements for social change grew powerful.

1. The Anti-War movement, led by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), had more goals than just ending the war in Vietnam—its leaders advocated such things as "participatory democracy" in universities, free speech, environmentalism, women’s rights and rights of other minorities. 

a. Many young Americans, disillusioned by US government policies, experimented with alternative lifestyles, taking psychotropic drugs, living in communes, and losing themselves in rock and roll music.      

2. One of the most important movements to be given extra energy by the activism of the late 1960s was the Women’s Rights movement. 

a. The modern women’s rights movement can be traced to Eleanor Roosevelt’s (FDR’s wife) Commission on the Status of Women report, which highlighted inequalities women faced, endorsed improvements in education, equal employment, child care, and governmental opportunities for women.  

b. Betty Freidan, in her book Feminine Mystique (1963) highlighted the plight of women with full time jobs who also had to do virtually all the domestic duties as well. 

c. With other feminists, Freidan founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966.  

                                                i. Called for equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

 ii. Argued for changes in divorce laws to make settlements more fair to women.

                                                iii. Sought legalization of abortion (most controversial issue)

 iv. 1967, began advocating and Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution extending the same guarantees contained in the 14th Amendment for racial and religious minorities. (Alice Paul had started this idea in 1923)

a’. Passed in Congress in 1972 but failed by early 1980sto get required 38 states necessary for ratification.

b’. Failed to pass as movement limited to middle class women and pro- life groups argued against it.

-- Feared ERA would deny them rights to financial support in case of divorce, or would end special treatment women had received in the way of "protective" courtesies in a male-dominated society. 

                                    d. Gains of the Women’s Rights Movement: 

i. 1972, federal gov’t required colleges receiving federal funds to establish "affirmative action" programs for women to ensure equal opportunity.

                                    ii. Roe v. Wade -- Legalized abortion in 1973.

                                     -- Hitherto states had the right to determine legality of abortion.

iii. Several corporations forced to provide back wages to female employees who had not received equal pay for equal work.

-- Also had to abolish hiring and promotion practices that discriminated against women (Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964)

                                    iv. Women experienced more inclusion in the military

 v. Title IX guaranteed equal access for girls to programs boys benefited from (e.g. sports)

                                     f. Sally Ride -- first female astronaut

g. Geraldine Ferraro -- became first woman to be on a presidential ticket (1984).  

3. Other minorities, particularly Mexican-Americans and Native Americans, also developed strong movements during this period.  

a. Caesar Chavez led the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) and succeeded in gaining improved work conditions for mostly Chicano agricultural workers.

b. La Raza Unida -- locally-based political parties sought to increase the Mexican-American vote in urban areas.

c. Since 1970s a number of Mexican-Americans elected to prominent political positions.  

4. The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in 1968 to advocate on behalf of Indian rights.  

a. AIM seized the Indian Bureau in Washington in 1972 in protest of the desperate conditions on Indian reservations (e.g. unemployment and illiteracy).  

b. 1973, militant Indians led by leaders of AIM and the Oglala Sioux occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota. 

i. Held it for two months and gained national publicity.

                                                            a’. Several Indians dead and 300 arrested.

                                                            b’. Leaders acquitted

c. Eventually led to Indian gain of lost fishing rights and receiving of millions of dollars in payments for lands taken earlier in U.S. history.   

                        5. The modern environmental movement also got its start in the 1960s.  

a. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) exposed poisonous effects of pesticides and sparked national interest in the problems of environmental pollution. 

b. Throughout the 1960s national and local environmental organization grew rapidly. 

c. Against the wishes of President Nixon, the US Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970. 

d. Earth Day, April 22, 1970 is seen as the beginning of the nation’s environmental era.     

e. The Endangered Species Act, 1973, was another landmark in the environmental movement. Under the act, the amount of land and water protected from development increased 300%. A number of species threatened with extinction have recovered--including the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and gray whale.          

f. Eventually, the EPA stood on the front line of the battle for a clean environment. Since 1970, significant progress has been made on reducing automobile emissions and cleaning up polluted rivers and lakes.             

g. The “Superfund” was established in 1980 by President Carter (law aimed at cleaning toxic dumps), resulting in a 46% decrease in the release of selected toxic chemicals down 46%       

II. By the early 1970’s the radicalism and activism of the 1960s had been replaced by more rational and professional approaches to reform. This was due in part to the winding down of the war in Vietnam, but also because of the economic crisis that faced the country. 

A. The war in Vietnam, along with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program caused significant inflation in the US. The amount of money in circulation grew dramatically while production stayed flat—resulting in higher wages and prices, but also higher unemployment. This condition is known as stagflation. Foreign governments holding dollars decided that gold would be a better investment and began exchanging their dollars for gold on a large scale in 1969. 

1. Nixon tried to solve the problem by reducing government spending and increasing taxes. He also encouraged the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates.  

a. Instead of improving, the economy grew worse--unemployment climbed to 6% in 1970 and inflation reached 12% by 1971. 

                                                i. Between 1969 and 1981, the cost of living in the US tripled. 

2. Because of this failure, Nixon asked for and got the unprecedented (in peacetime) power to regulate prices and wages. In 1971, Nixon announced a 90-day price and wage freeze

3. Nixon also abandoned a key component of the Bretton Woods system by taking the US off the gold standard—dollars could no longer be exchanged for gold. This introduced the floating exchange rate system that the world is on today. 

4. At end of 90 days, he established mandatory guidelines for wage and price increases, then in 1973, Nixon turned to voluntary wage and price controls except on health care, food, and construction.           

5. When inflation increased rapidly, Nixon cut back on government expenditures, refusing to spend funds already appropriated by Congress (impounding). 

B. There seemed to be nothing the government could do to improve the economy. In addition to huge budget deficits caused by social spending and the war in Vietnam, US industry had lost its competitive edge, and the US began running a trade deficit as well. 

1. Then the situation got even worse-- in 1973 the Yom Kippur War resulted in bitterness among Arabs toward Western nations for their support of Israel. 

2.  Arab states established an oil boycott to push the Western nations into forcing Israel to withdraw from lands controlled since the "Six Day War" of 1967.  

3. Kissinger negotiated withdrawal of Israel west of the Suez Canal and the Arabs lifted their boycott. 

4. OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries-- including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran), raised the price of oil from about $3 to $11.65/ barrel in an attempt to force U.S. to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and support other Arab demands.  

a. U.S. gas prices doubled and inflation shot above 10%.

b. Nixon refused to ration gasoline and an acute gasoline shortage ensued.  

C. The economic crisis would continue throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. Inflation hovered around 11% throughout the decade and unemployment was around 8%. A serious recession in 1982 finally arrested the problem of inflation. Reagan reduced taxes and cut government spending on social and environmental programs, reducing the amount of dollars being pumped in to the economy for non-productive spending. He then used deficit spending on a massive scale in a huge military buildup to stimulate manufacturing and technological development. A broad re-tooling of American industry slowly produced the conditions for the economic boom of the 1990s and restored the competitiveness of US industry. 

III. US foreign affairs in the 1970s was marked by a shift toward the traditional European idea of balance of power. The relationship between the US and Soviet Union, based on MAD (mutually assured destruction) proved to be very stable. 

A. Most significant was a shift in U.S. policy toward communism—under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the US finally acknowledged that there was not a single communist bloc, but rather, that China and the Soviet Union had serious differences of interest.

1. This led to the possibility of a global balance of power system—with a strong US, Europe, Japan, China, and Soviet Union, Nixon said in 1971, the world would be a safer place. 

2. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger traveled to China and the Soviet Union for secret sessions to plan summit meetings with the communists.       

3. Then, in February 1972, Nixon and Kissinger went to China to meet with Mao Zedong and his associates.  

a. The U.S. finally agreed to support China’s admission to the United Nations and to pursue economic and cultural exchanges. 

b. China was officially recognized by the U.S. in 1979.  

4. Shortly after his China visit, Nixon traveled to the Soviet Union. The US and Soviets signed  a deal on grain (the US agreed to sell the Soviets $750 million in wheat, corn and other grains over a 3 year period) and agreed to nuclear arms reductions negotiations. 

a. SALT I (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty), which limited the number of missiles each side could have, was signed in May 1972.         

5. Nixon’s visit ushered in an era of relaxed tensions called détente. Detente was successful overall as tensions were temporarily reduced and the US got Soviet and Chinese help in ending the war in Vietnam, but it did not end the arms race.  

a. The relaxed tensions between the US and Soviets occasionally tightened over the decade, but detente lasted until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As a result of that invasion, President Carter stopped most food and high technology trade with the Soviets.  

b. Of course, following Carter, President Ronald Reagan would renew and expand the arms race to the point that the Soviets could not keep up, forcing them to abandon their control over Eastern Europe and much of Central Asia. 

IV. No account of  American History in the 1970s would be complete without a look at the Watergate Crisis, the biggest presidential scandal in American history and the only one that resulted in the resignation of an American president. 

A. President Richard Nixon sought to secretly attack political opponents. In 1971, Nixon's men gathered list of 200 individuals and 18 organizations that the administration regarded as enemies. This list included many prominent Democrats and liberal Hollywood personalities. 

1. Nixon asked FBI to spy on these individuals and try to discredit them and ordered the IRS (the American tax collection agency) to harass them with tax audits.  

2.  Nixon also asked the FBI to conduct as secret, illegal, crackdown on numerous anti-war activists, but the FBI refused.   

B. Nixon was especially worried about the outcome of the 1972 elections because the Republican party failed to regain control of either House in congressional elections of 1970. 

1. Nixon's Attorney General set up CREEP (the Committee to Re-elect the President) and began a massive illegal fundraising campaign.  

a. money was set aside in a special fund to pay for "dirty tricks" operations against Nixon’s Democratic opponents.        

2. After the New York Times published the "Pentagon Papers," which revealed that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution had been based on a lie (and generally discredited the President Johnson and the US military’s handling of the war in Vietnam, CREEP’s “special investigations unit,” broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s (Defense Dept. analyst who leaked "Pentagon Papers.") psychiatrist but found nothing embarrassing.  

3. The Watergate Break-In took place in the summer 1972. 

a. Burglars hired by CREEP were caught breaking into Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C.  

b. Nixon and his aids denied any involvement in the break-in and embarked on a massive coverup while the public initially believed them.    

4. Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, young Washington Post journalists, investigated and discovered that two of the Watergate burglars and a White House aide involved in the burglary were employees of CREEP.  

5. They also discovered that Nixon secretly authorized payment of more than $460,000 in CREEP funds to keep the Watergate burglars quiet about White House involvement.  

6. In 1973, the Watergate trial and Senate hearings revealed that Nixon and other White House officials had covered up their involvement & pressured defendants "to plead guilty and remain silent."  

a.  Nixon announced the resignations of his three closest aides who were involved in Watergate.   

7. Then it came to light that Nixon had audio tapes of every conversation in his office. The US Senate and US Special Prosecutor ordered Nixon to surrender tapes of conversations that might pertain to the Watergate break-in.        

8. Nixon refused and claimed executive privilege and stating release of the tapes would endanger national security.      

9. Nixon eventually released some heavily edited transcripts of the audio tapes, leaving out key conversations.  

10. When Nixon refused to release unedited tapes, special prosecutor took case to Supreme Court which ruled unanimously that President Nixon had to release the tapes.  

B. On July 30,  a Congressional committee voted to recommend impeachment of President Nixon on three counts:  

1. Obstructing justice by trying to cover up the role of the White House in the Watergate burglary.

                        2. Violating the rights of U.S. citizens by using the FBI, CIA, and IRS to

                        harass critics.

3. Defying congressional authority by refusing to turn over the tapes.        

C. On August 5, Nixon handed over the tapes which revealed a White House cover up

            -- Impeachment charges seemed certain. 

D. Then to avoid impeachment, Nixon resigned as President (August 7, 1974) Gerald Ford was sworn in as President the following day. A month later, Ford issued to Nixon a Presidential Pardon for any crimes he may have committed while president. 

1. Naturally, many Americans were outraged that Nixon escaped justice. 

2. 31 Nixon administration officials were convicted and went to prison for Watergate-related offenses. 

3. The pardon probably cost Gerald Ford the presidential election of 1976.   

E. Needless to say, the American experience in Vietnam along with the Watergate scandal produced a great deal of skepticism about government  and politics in the US. Though some of the trust has been restored, the level of participation in politics—especially elections—has never recovered to pre-Watergate levels.