The Ford and Carter Years:
What Accounted for the Changes in American Attitudes during the 1970s?
STUDENTS WILL BE ABLE TO
1. Evaluate the [residency of Gerald Ford
2. Assess the domestic policies of Jimmy Carter
3. Analyze how American society Changed in the 1970s
On July 4, 1976, the United States celebrated its bicentennial, or two hundredth anniversary. By the end of the decade, however, the celebratory mood had evaporated in the face of a series of crises that tested the nation’s spirits. President Jimmy Carter took note of what he called the nation’s crisis of confidence- saying
“The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two thirds of the people do not even vote. The productivity of workers is actually dropping… There is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools… This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”
- President Jimmy Carter, “Crisis of Confidence” speech 1979
(YouTube clip” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aOMNgxRF2M )
WHY IT MATTERS:
In 1982, historian Peter Carroll published a history of the 1970s entitled It Seemed like Nothing Happened. Compared to the turbulent 1960s, indeed, the 1970s appeared mostly uneventful. Yet, the decade witnessed significant social, economic, and cultural changes. These changes contributed to a growing sense among Americans that something had gone wrong, that the nation had gotten off the right track. This sense of disquiet is even now a part of the nation’s political dialogue.
TASK 1: CREATE A RUBRIC. BELOW IS A RUBRIC WITH JOB DESCRIPTIONS FOR THE PRESIDENT- CREATE A RUBRIC/CRITERIA ON WHAT WOULD MAKE A GOOD OR BAD PRESIDENT BASED ON THOSE JOB DESCRIPTIONS (1 IS THE LOWEST 3 IS THE HIGHEST). FOR NOW LEAVE THE REASONING BLANK
ROLE/JOB 1 2 3 REASONING
GUARDIAN OF THE ECONOMY
• LOST ALL MONEY
• HIGH TAXES
• POOR GET POORER
• HAND ON/OFF (WHICHEVER YOU THINK IS WORSE)
• PRICES RISE STAGFLATION
• TAX CUTS
• HELPS POOR
• ECONOMY BOOMING
• HANDS ON/ HANDS OFF (WHICHEVER YOU THINK IS BETTER)
• PRICES ARE AFFORDABLE
COMMANDER & CHIEF
CHIEF OF STATE
FORD FACES POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC WOES
Gerald Ford brought a long record of public service to the Presidency. A star football player at the University of Michigan, Ford enlisted in the United States Navy and fought in World War II. Following the war, Ford successfully ran for a seat in the US Congress, where he served for 25 years, rising to the position of House Minority Leader in 1965. Democrats as well as Republicans supported Ford’s nomination for Vice President because he had a stellar reputation for hard work, integrity, and dependability.
Ford stepped into a delicate situation when he became President after Richard Nixon’s resignation. Watergate had scarred the public’s faith in government. Furthermore, the nation struggled with the most severe economic problems it had faced since the depression. Ford wrestled with these problems but not very successfully. He left office with the economy still suffering and the public’s distrust of government still high
Ford Pardons Nixon.
Ford Moved quickly to try and restore confidence in government. He selected Nelson Rockefeller, a former governor of New York State, to serve as his Vice President. He also promised to continue the foreign policy approaches of the Nixon administration.
Whatever support he gained from these steps was lost when Ford announced that he had pardoned, or officially forgiven Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed as President. Though the pardon was meant to heal the nation’s wounds, in some ways it achieved just the opposite effect. Ford’s critics accused him of having made a secret deal, promising Nixon the pardon in exchange for the vice president nomination. Though Ford strongly denied this, his popularity declined dramatically.
The Congressional election results of 1974 indicated the public’s disapproval of the pardon and the impact of Watergate in general. The Republicans lost 48 seats in the House of Representatives, including Ford’s longtime district in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
WATCH FORD PARDON NIXON Sept 8, 1974: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mL0j_CN7dpw
Stagflation Plagues the Nation
President Ford Might have overcome this backlash if not for the troubled economy. Inflation hit double digits in 1974 and early 1975. To fight skyrocketing prices, Ford promoted a mostly voluntary plan known as WIN, of Whip Inflation Now. Unfortunately, WIN was a clear failure. Instead of improving the economy took a turn for the worse. Factories closed down, consumer demand for goods dropped sharply, and the rate of unemployment rose steadily. Ford’s popularity plummeted.
1. Listen to the YouTube clip. What concerns Ford?
2. Create a Resume for Ford to become President- use Microsoft Resume Wizard
3. What started to make Ford unpopular?
4. How did President Ford’s WIN program try to address inflation, and how successful was it?
A WASHINGTON “OUTSIDER” BECOMES PRESIDENT
Prior to the mod-1970s, few Americans outside Georgia had ever heard of Jimmy Carter, a onetime governor of that state. But on Election Day 1976, Americans elected Carter President of the United States. He won a slim popular majority, receiving slightly more than 50 percent of the vote to Ford’s 48%. In the Electoral College, Carter won 297 votes compared to 240 for Ford.
Carter’s rise was the result of several factors. Most important was the turmoil of the 1960s and Watergate, which created a backlash against professional politicians. Carter seized this opportunity by casting himself as a fresh face, with no ties to Washington, DC. A Born-again Christian who taught Sunday school, Carter won the support of many Christian fundamentalists, people who believe in a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible as the foundation of the Christian faith. This group became increasingly involved in politics in the 1970s.
Carter Pays a Price for Inexperience
From the beginning of his presidency, Jimmy Carter sought to portray himself as a “citizen” President. He became the first President since William Henry Harrison to walk all the way from the Capitol to the White House during the inaugural parade. He held town meetings, wore casual clothes, and carried his own suitcase.
However, Carter’s inexperience, which helped him get elected, hurt him during the early days of his presidency. As an outsiders, he did not have close ties with the Democratic leadership in Congress. He submitted numerous bills to Congress, but few of them passed without major changed by his own party.
Just one day after his inauguration, Carter fulfilled one of his campaign pledges by granting amnesty, or political pardons, to Americans who had evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. Carter hoped this act would help the nation move beyond the divisions caused by that war. Yet the war remained an emotional issue, and many Americans criticized the President for forgiving those who had refused to fight. Republican Senator Barry Goldwater called the amnesty “the most disgraceful thing that a President had ever done.”
Problems Sap the Nation’s Confidence
Like Ford, Carter contended with the energy crisis and severe inflation. Inflation ate away at people’s savings, raised the price of necessities, and made American goods more costly abroad. The US automobile industry, long a symbol of the nation’s economic power, became a symbol of its ills. Japanese car companies vastly expanded their sales in the United States by selling better built and more fuel efficient cars a reasonable prices. The situation grew so bad that Chrysler, one the three major American automobile companies needed a federal loan to survive.
At the center of the nation’s economic ills lay the ongoing energy crisis. In 1973, a gallon of gas cost about 40 cents. By the end of the decade, it cost close to $1.20. To make matters worse, the winter of 1976 to 1977 was an especially bitter one in parts of the United States, increasing the need for heating oil. Fuel shortages caused factory closings and business losses.
Carter responsed to the oil crisis by calling on Americans to conserve and asking Congress to raise taxes on crude oil, which he hoped would encourage conservation. However, the bill that finally passed in the Senate had few of the President’s ideas in it. Critics saw this as one more example of Carter’s poor leadership skills.
Carter did implement several domestic policies that his successors would build on during the 1980s to fight inflation, Carter nominated Paul Volker to head the Federal Reserve Board. Under Volcker’s lead, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates. In the long term, this policy helped to bring an end to the inflation that had plagued the nation for so long.
What challenges did President Carter face?
Create a resume for President Carter leading up to the Presidency
Changing Values Stir Unease
Social and cultural changes that had begun in the 1950s and 1960s continued unabated in the 1970s. As a result, by the end of the decade, the United States was a very different society from the one it had been a generation earlier. These differences gave rise to an ongoing debate about the nation’s values.
Demography Affects Politics
The migration of Americans to the Sunbelt and the continued growth of the suburbs, both of which had begun in the post- World War II years, continues during the 1970s. As northern industries suffered, many blue collar workers and their families moved from the Rusty Belt States of the Northeast and Midwest to the Sunbelt of the South and West. They sought work in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma and in the defense plants of Southern California, the Southwest, and the Northwest. These trends changed the face of the United States.
The election of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter demonstrated the growing political power of the Sunbelt. Earlier in the century, Presidents tended to come from the large northern industrial states, such as New York and Ohio. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, President tended to come from the Sunbelt.
The influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asia represented a different kind of demographic change. Even before the 1970s, hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans had migrated to the United States. This migration, especially from Mexico and other Latin American countries, continues to be strong in the 1970s. The growing power of the Latino vote did not escape the notice of politicians. Richard Nixon was the first presidential candidate to seriously court the Spanish speaking vote.
The “Me” Generation” Comes of Age
During the 1960s, radicals had challenged many of society’s traditional values. They questioned restrictions on premarital sex and drug use. They sported causal clothing and long hairstyles that many of their parents’ generation found improper. Yet the counterculture remained a relatively isolated phenomenon during the 1960s. By the end of the 1970s, in contrast, these behaviors had become more common. Nationwide, the divorce rate had more than doubled between 1965 and 1979, and twice as many children were born out of wedlock. To some Americans, the new ways were a sign of troubled times.
Some critics called the 1970s the “me decade” because many Americans appeared to be absorbed with improving themselves. This trend was reflected in the rose of movements like Transcendental Meditation (TM), a practice based in Eastern religious ideas. Those who practice TM sought to find inner relaxation and vitality by chanting their personal mantras for about half an hour twice a day.
The seventies also witnessed an increasing interest in personal fitness and health. Millions began to job for exercise and to eat natural, or less processed, foods. In 1970, just over 100 men and women ran in the New York City Marathon. Ten years later, more than 14,000 ran in the race. Body building took off too, largely due to the influence of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A charismatic personality, Schwarzenegger went on to become one of Hollywood’s most popular actors and later, governor of California.
Conservative Reassert Traditional Values.
The 1970s witnessed a resurgence of fundamental Christianity, partly as a response to the shift in values. To some commentators, it seemed as if the nation was experiencing another Great Awakening, like the great religious movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although the total number of Americans who attend church on a regular basis did not change much, the number of men and women who belonged to evangelical churches rose rapidly. One in five Americans considered himself or herself a religious fundamentalist by 1980.
Ministers used the media to gain a broader audience. Those who preached on television- known as televangelists- such as Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, and Marion “Pat” Robertson, reached millions of viewers. Falwell’s daily radio broadcasts were carried by 280 radio stations, and his weekly television show broadcast was to 1.5 million viewers.
Religious conservatives firmly opposed many of the social changes begun in the 1960s that had gone mainstream in the 1970s. They opposed the Supreme Court’s rulings that legalized abortion and restricted prayer in school. Falwell formed a prominent Christian organization known as the Moral Majority in 1979.
During the 1970s, religious conservatives began forming alliance with other conservatives. They worked with economic conservatives, who sought to cut taxes and government spending, as well as supporters of a stronger foreign policy, who favored increasing defense spending. Together, they began forging a new political majority. By 1980, Ronald Reagan, another politician outsider, would use this alliance to win elections to the White House.
1. What accounted for the changes in American attitudes during the 1970s? Support with facts from the reading
2. Suppose that you are Gerald Ford applying for the position of Vice President in the mid 1970s. Research Ford’s background and skills. Then, list the qualifications that you should highlight to try to get the position.
3. Should Gerald Ford have pardoned Nixon?
4. What arguments would you expect people to give for and against President Carter’s decision to grant amnesty to Americans who evaded the draft?
5. How do you think Watergate affected social trends in the 1970s? Explain