Chapter 38

Challenges to the Postwar Order

1973-1980

 

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.

 

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).

 

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.

 

The Turn Toward the Market

"Neoconservatives" grew in numbers as a result of the economic downturn. They fought for free-market capitalism and a return to traditional familial roles.

 

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.



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