1970 - 1979
Polyester and prevarications ...
And now for something completely different
— Monty Python
“When people talk of the 60s, they’re really mean the early 70s.” For this was the period of social and cultural revolution. The movements that proliferated in the 60s reached Main Street during the first part of the new decade.
The 60's spun out of control. The 70's defined the ugly. Experimentation, mandates for change degenerated as we dragged ourselves through the gutter of self-esteem and human growth movements, bad clothes, worse music, sleazy notions of sexual freedom, characterized by tawdry cocaine dens called discos, degenerate sex clubs, and paperback gurus telling us everything we needed to know about things we didn't need to care about. Tom Wolfe dubbed it the Me Decade. The decade of national self-indulgence.
Those starting a family during the Me Decade did so either through naive optimism or desperation to escape the swift currents of cultural change. Politically, we witnessed the confirmation of many of our charges, domestic and foreign. Watergate proved we shouldn't trust anyone over thirty. The most self-absorbed person of the decade turned out not to be Tim Leary, Werner Erhardt or an unknown long-hair languishing on a commune but the President of the United States, the over-maligned and under-vilified Richard Milhous Nixon. He turned out to be corrupt, but in a way that seriously damaged the establishment he purported to defend. His corruption wasn’t a matter of sex or money. It was a matte of politics process. The CIA turned out to be a rogue elephant, stomping on small nations as though they were part of America's private hunt club. As for government, the best advice came from indicted Nixon aide, Gordon Strachan. “Stay away" from Washington, he warned. And we did. Life was for the individual. The Establishment was Mr. Hyde in a double knit suit with the ethics of a shark. While blacks began joining the mainstream, the women's movement, which had sprung from the hypocrisy of other protest movements, brought changes more revolutionary than anything ever envisioned by Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X or even Stokely Carmichael.
Toward the end of the decade, another significant movement emerged, populated largely by boomers, promulgated by television, characterized by Christian fundamentalism, and called the Fourth Great Awakening. To a generation with hopes blunted by gas shortages, diminished prosperity and Third World levels of inflation, Jesus Freaks made an ironic coda to the alienation they had raised to an art form.
Heading into the period, alienation was at an all time high. And yet another Ivy League professor was touting the correct way to live. What’s more, in a collection of articles serialized in New Yorker, he tried to show “How the Youth Revolution is Trying to Make America Liveable.” As a book it became a phenomenal best seller.
1970: "Four Dead in O-hi-o."
"The Greening of America"
— Charles Reich
Reich argued that in Consciousness III, we would reject the Protestant Work Ethic of Consciousness I, the power grab, competitive corporate statism of Consciousness II in favor of brotherly love, communal lifestyles, a more realistic sexual morality — probably to include long hair and bell bottoms. Reich claimed our industrial, consumer-driven culture contributed to the loss of self, an absence of community, loss of democracy, and general social disorder. And that a liberated consciousness would rise “out of the wasteland of the Corporate State, like flowers pushing up through the concrete pavement.” The previous year in The Making of a Counter Culture, Theodore Roszak articulated a generational anti-technology revolt "at the non-intellective level of personality," the personal having become obsessively political. He perhaps was swayed by flower children, whom, like many others, he mistook for a permanent fixture. British historian Arnold Toynbee merely considered them a “red warning light of doom for Western Civilization.”
Nevertheless, Reich saw and felt the special hunger to create a decent, caring society which would be "notably unaggressive, nonviolent, uninterested in the political game." He gave voice to ideals. We didn't notice that this sort of apolitical approach diverted attention from the political reforms essential to re-creating the world. At the same time journalist David Halberstam took a much tougher stand. “Good-by to all that,” he wrote in McCall’s, “to the Sixties, to all that hope and expectation. It started so well, belief that … all the pieces would come together for a golden era of American social and cultural progress, victory over the darker side of our nature, victory over injustice. It ended in pain, disillusionment, bitterness, our eyes expert in watching televised funerals.”
Despite David Halberstam’s chilly if all too accurate assessment, what is amazing is the extent to which the public embraced some aspects of Reich’s somewhat spaced-out notions for living. Considering the breadth and depth of the backlash, a surprising amount took hold, at least for a while. “Consciousness III postulates the absolute worth of every human being — every self. Consciousness III does not believe in the antagonistic or competitive doctrine of life.” One great example was the growing concern for the world in which we lived.
Save the Planet
— Earth Day
Coming at the time of the fateful Apollo 13 mission, the first Earth Day brought together millions concerned with the effect of rampant industrialization and over-consumption on the environment. The modern ecology movement considered the War part of the same abuse of power by a heedless corporate system that in its quest for profits destroyed the environment as well as people and nations.
Proposed by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and California Republican representative Pete McCloskey, Denis Allen Hayes organized it. “It was Earth,” according the New York Times, “and like Mother’s Day no man in public office could be against it.” Though dominated by Boomers, especially of the movements, E-Day brought together 20 million Americans from all parts of society. Cities, States and Congress passed legislation supporting stronger measures against pollution and in favor of environmental awareness. The Green Revolution had begun. Earth Day appeared for a brief sunny moment to bring a troubled nation solace. At last most of us could agree upon something. Most of us.
Nixon had his own answer to Earth Day. Eight days later, after watching the movie Patton twice, he went on national TV to announce …
The Cambodian Incursion
— America invades a neutral country
Notice the Newspeak. Nixon informed us that a joint US/ARVN operation was going after North Vietnamese sanctuaries inside Cambodia. It may have made military sense, but the nation was outraged. Nixon defended US actions in probably what was the clearest explanation for our presence in Southeast Asia given thus far. “If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.” He offered no answer to our clear violation of international law. Cambodia was a sovereign nation. Instead, he pined, “I would rather be a one-term president and do what I believe was right than to be a two-term president at the cost of seeing America become a second-rate power.”
The invasion was a failure. We didn’t locate the so-called sanctuaries or the much ballyhooed NVA “nerve center.” The operation also failed to make a significant dent in the supply of arms coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The invasion also signaled what was an already well-established fact. This was Nixon’s war now. He may have inherited an untenable situation from LBJ, and North Vietnamese violated Cambodian sovereignty first, but his bellicose and illegal tactics stepped up the fighting even in the face of the slow withdrawal of American troops.
Cambodia was a non-belligerent nation when Nixon chose to invade it. Although it made clear military sense to attack the NVA supply bases there, Americans were brought up believing our country didn't invade helpless neutral nations. The American public, slow to anger and even slower to turn against its government, began to feel the war was a mistake and that the U.S. ought to withdrawal, even if it meant defeat. The ignominious invasion of sleepy, backward, peasant Cambodia pushed a majority of Americans into the negative on the “mistake” question and on continuing the war.
The event that tipped the balance took place four days into the invasion. Americans were dismayed by this latest news from the War. Demonstrations erupted all across the country. Student strikes spread from major universities to small colleges, which had steadfastly supported the war effort. ROTC buildings became the campus targets for outrage. Possibly 25% of American university students participated, maybe 2 million all together. About 75 campuses closed for the rest of the semester. Protests broke out in most major cities, involving the middle class, workers, people not part of the antiwar movement.
Reacting to such convulsion, Nixon lashed out with such intemperance he gave just enough official approval for a violent counter-reaction. He denounced the anti-war protesters as, “these bums, you know, blowin’ up the campuses.” Agnew followed with talk about “positive polarization” and separating the troublemakers “from our society — with no more regret than we should feel over discarding rotten apples from a barrel.” In California on April 7, Governor Ronald Reagan suggested removing the campus radicals from society. “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.” His aides backtracked, but his sentiment reflected Attorney General John Mitchell’s cogent prediction. “This country is going so far right you are not even going to recognize it.” The right wing counter attack was underway, with deadly consequences.
"Four Dead in 0-hi-o"
— the Kent State Massacre
On May 4, National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, in America’s heartland, fired their M-1 rifles indiscriminately into a crowd of student protestors, wounding nine, killing four. A presidential Commission on Student Unrest called the murders “unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable.” Typical of the ambivalence brought home by the war, most Americans defended the Guardsmen even as they opposed the operation in Cambodia. Subsequent investigations and lawsuits cleared the Guardsmen of the most serious charges despite evidence indicating these actions might have been a deliberate, pre-meditated act. Even Spiro Agnew called it murder.
Most poignant was the tear-racked reaction of Alison Krause’s father. The day before she was gunned down at Kent State, she put flowers in the barrels of the National Guard rifles, saying, ”Flowers are better than bullets.” Naïve, it is true, but hardly cause for murder. Her distraught father was hysterical with grief at the slaying. “My daughter’s not a bum,” he sobbed to the assembled press from the front porch of his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. That scene shook the country.
On May 14, Mississippi police fired into a women’s dorm at all-black Jackson State University during a chaotic night of protest killing 2, wounding nine. Though largely ignored, these additional slayings added to national unrest about the war and Nixon’s lack of concern.
Cambodia and Kent State temporarily reinvigorated a moribund antiwar movement, which in the aftermath of the demonstrations faded away. Within days of the invasion, millions of people took to the streets against this brazen act of international lawlessness and the tragedy of Kent State. Thousands of people: professionals, corporate executives, educators, even 50 Foreign Service Officers lobbied for an immediate end to the War. Henry Kissinger later wrote that “the very fabric of government was falling apart. The Executive Branch was shell-shocked. After all, their children and their friends’ children took part in the demonstrations.” By the end of the week a million people had arrived in Washington, DC to stage the largest protest in American history. Although the nation was horrified by the slayings, 58% of Americans thought the students were mostly to blame. The polarization continued.
In some sort of half-baked campaign of revolutionary revenge, fools in the Weather Underground who featured themselves urban Maoists, continued their fantasies, vowing to “bring the war home.” They bombed fourteen government and military buildings between 1969 and 1974 , when they finally grew up and changed their minds. On March 6 three of these geniuses crossed the wrong wires in a Greenwich Village townhouse and bade the Establishment fond farewell. Two others ran screaming naked from the burning townhouse next door to Dustin Hoffman, who barely managed to get his paintings off the walls and out of the door ahead of the smoke and water. In August four terrorists parked a truck bomb by the Army mathematics research center at the University of Wisconsin killing a grad student, undoubtedly part of some fascist cabal. The problem with the fantasies of these spoiled, immature and addle-brained radicals with their random schemes was that innocent people got killed in the name of their intellectual consistency and political correctness. And all they succeeded in doing is handing the country over to the very people John Mitchell predicted.
Still, Kent State was unforgivable. The nation was moved to mourn. In New York City Mayor John Lindsay ordered the American flag lowered to half-staff over City Hall. This was too much for conservatives to swallow. A resentful Nixon, who’d traveled to the Mall early in the morning to talk to demonstrators and ended up lamely trying to talk sports, sought to strike back at the left.
America, love it or leave it.
— Hard Hat Riot
Organized at the behest of Richard Nixon by construction union official Peter Brennan, the counter-demonstration (an anti antiwar movement) in New York City pitted wrench-wielding construction workers against anti-war demonstrators. As thousands of peaceful demonstrators assembled in front of City Hall on May 8 at noon to hold a vigil for the Kent State casualties, 200 construction workers descended on the crowd as the police stood by.
When a postal worker re-raised the flag, an aide to the major re-lowered it. Incensed, the hard hats rioted. Swarming past the police, over parked cars, chanting, “Kill the Commie bastards” and “All the way with the USA,” they again raised the flag. They singled out long-haired males, who they thought were sissies and female wannabes who had betrayed the tough, patriotic frontier image of what it meant to be a man. They then drove the demonstrators off the plaza in front of City Hall, going through them “like Sherman went through Atlanta,” as someone noted. With order gone, the rioters moved to the close-by campus of Pace College randomly attacking students, injuring seventy-five seriously enough to put them in the hospital. Nixon rewarded Brennan by appointing him Secretary of Labor.
This "riot" was part of Nixon's war on the New Left. Hard hats also attacked antiwar demonstrators in St Louis. After this the Movement sputtered. His attack on the Movement was successful. That’s not to say, as Herbert Marcuse claimed, that the Movement didn’t die but was murdered. The Movement fractured from within, much as the Civil Rights Movement had. The irrational radicalism of factions such as the Weather Underground and indiscriminant feminist attacks on men in the movement seriously weakened the movement. Repression from the Nixon administration and state and local law enforcement delivered the coup de grace. For many it just didn't seem worthwhile anymore. The movement was burned out. The SDS fell apart in 1969. According to Todd Gitlin, it had already “degenerated into a caricature of everything idealists find alienating about politics-as-usual: cynicism, sloganeering, manipulation." When it traded morality for violence, revolution for reform, resistance for protest, it stuck a knife in its own heart.
One movement gained momentum, however.
Don’t Iron while the Strike is Hot.
— Women’s Strike for Equality
On a suggestion by Betty Friedan, NOW declared a nationwide commemoration on August 26th of the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Thousands of women boycotted work, housework, or brought the kids to their fathers at his workplace. On the surface, this was a joyous celebration of something long overdue. “It made all women feel beautiful. It made me feel ten feet tall,” said one feminist. Kate Millet told a gathering of 40,000 in New York City, “Today is the beginning of a new movement.” Women’s Liberation had come of age. Indeed, many states would respond with favorable legislation. Twenty-six states still kept women from certain jobs. Twenty states limited women to eight-hour days. Congress would follow suit in 1972 by passing the Equal Rights Amendment and sending it to the states for ratification. Abortion rights soon came before the courts. Even TV responded with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1970, spinning off two years later, “Rhoda” and “Maude.” All shows portrayed women as much more independent and less wedded to men and tradition.
Modern feminism didn’t stop there. Going through several stages, from sexual freedom to the highly destructive radical feminism, which was misguided in the extreme, this movement too went astray. Perhaps more in response to the tenor of the times.
Angry feminists turned on men in the movement with vehemence equal to the Movement’s anti-Establishment rhetoric. All men were the same as far as they were concerned: they were all …
male chauvinist pigs
— “patriarchal male oppression”
Relationships were bourgeois. Marriage was slavery. Sexual intercourse was rape. Beliefs such as these, expressed with a viciousness that gave New Left men a healthy dose of their own medicine. In embracing positions that were blatantly anti-family, such as political lesbianism, feminists crippled their own movement and helped destroy the New Left. No matter.
As radical feminists gained power within the women’s movement, they forced such issues as lesbian rights, bisexuality, women as another colonized people in America. These controversial ideas accelerated a backlash that may well have arisen anyway. Feminists, especially radical feminists, attacked men, whom they considered oppressors, without regard for station in life and blamed them for all things evil: war, racism, poverty, the class structure, you name it.
“Goodbye to All That,” wrote Robin Morgan in an all-feminist issue of Rat, an underground newspaper, “Goodbye, Goodbye forever, counterfeit Left, counterfeit left, male-dominated cracked-glass-mirror reflection of the Amerikan nightmare. Women are the real left.” This after male radicals hooted down feminist speakers at the January 19 counter-inaugural who didn’t want to listen to emerging feminist protest rhetoric. In newspapers such as Off Our Backs and Notes from the First Year that featured articles and position papers such as “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” “The Politics of Housework” and “The Personal is Political,” they championed a society not only dominated by feminist thought, but by women. Not only men reacted negatively, but many women as well. Most women — fundamentalist Christians excluded — wanted political, social and economic equality. After all, ten of thousands of boomer women were entering the workplace. Radical feminist attacks on men and male chauvinism only increased, alienating natural supporters and isolating the movement from the once receptive mainstream. With its wild-eyed attacks on all things male, all things traditional — and by their lame insistence that women were as oppressed as blacks — radical feminism destroyed what was left of protest coherence. It also turned itself into a caricature of the Me Decade, the ultimate in self-indulgent solipsism. As black feminist bell hooks wrote, “Feminists praise self-centeredness and call it liberation.” The Personal is Political had become the personal at the expense of the commonweal. In fact, feminism reached a point where it seemed to ridicule the commonweal.
Now under attack from former allies, many activists found reason to discontinue their protests. Indeed, as reporter Sally Quinn would write in 1992, “many women have come to see the feminist movement as anti-male, anti-child, anti-family, anti-feminine. And therefore it has nothing to do with us.”
The thing was, a whole lot more than feminism had less and less to do with “us.” Radicalism, disenchantment with the slow, bureaucratic and too often unyielding nature of change in America – plus its fundamentally conservative ethic — became a game of Truth or Dare among the Beautiful People. With all the sincerity of a Doris Day epic, Park Avenue salons began to open their rarefied doors to revolutionary radicalism.
— Tom Wolfe
When a baker’s dozen Black Panthers strolled warily through the doors of the Leonard Bernstein’s on January 14, a society matron exclaimed, “These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big — these are real men!” Like she knew. As real men and real radicals they spouted radical cant to the best of their abilities to an attentive audience that included Barbara Walters and Otto Preminger. They were assembled to raise money for the Panther 21. Neither the panthers nor their esteemed hosts or guests had ever put their lives on the line during the Mississippi Freedom Summer, either.
This wasn’t really “elegant slumming,” a criticism Leonard and his wife went to great lengths to deny. Some of the Beautiful People were bound to be concerned and involved. No, this was indolence of the sort that would produce in other quarters the hedonistic excesses that gave the Moral Majority more than a little credibility. In fact, there had been several radical chic fetes; previous events to aid various radicals in late 1969 including Friends of the Earth, Bernadette Devlin, and the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang that was felt to approximate the Black Panthers.
After Ray “Masai” Hewitt, Minister of Education of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense gave his spiel denouncing “that motherfucker Nixon (to general approval) and advocate that as Maoist Revolutionaries they were dedicated to overthrowing the Establishment, by force if necessary, (which he thought it was, and to general skepticism), one of the Beautiful People suggested, ‘He’s a magnificent man, but suppose some simple-minded schmucks take all that business about burning down buildings seriously?’ As an art gallery owner got up to leave, he asked the closest Panther in dead earnest ‘Who do you call to give a party?’”
The revolution died that cold bright chi-chi evening in January. If there ever was a revolution. If there ever were any revolutionaries. And if anyone by that time cared.
The turn away from political movement protest was inevitable. It might have been expected as our adult leaders failed us or were killed, we vested rock stars with the qualities we once saw in them. Given the freedom exhibited by the new cultural phenomenon known as Rock Stars. Musician icons. Not bad in and of itself. After all there was Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Hank Williams and Duke Ellington. The difference though was profound. But we gave the Beatles, Dylan, and a host of others moral authority worlds beyond their abilities to deliver. We made them political experts, cultural sages with predictable results.
"Take a piece of my heart now, baby."
— more dead rock stars
Our assumption of their wisdom, our uncritical adulation underscored their limitations and fueled their excesses. We made them heroes, when they could never have been. Just four and a half years after leaving Austin, TX, Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin — two weeks after Jimi Hendrix drowned in his own vomit. Appearing on the Tonight show he’d been asked to discuss religious significance of his music! He responded, “That’s heavy … I’m stoned, man.” Replied befuddled guest-host, Flip Wilson, “I can dig it.” The following year Jim Morrison died in Paris, a physical and mental burn-out. Other rock stars, such as Duane Allman, died. A few such as Bob Dylan came perilously close. In 1977 the King himself died from years of self-abuse.
It was beginning of an ugly decade. Failed leaders, endless war, excess, narcissism, drugs, disco and hideous clothes — wantonly hideous clothes. Fashion described the self-destructive bent upon which we’d embarked.
— fashion statement
For the first time polyester passed cotton in the textile market, 41% to 40%. With it came cheesy double knits and garishly patterned clothes, stacked heels, ultra wide bell-bottoms, hip huggers and designer blue jeans, all of which played well at the local disco. The fashions of the 70s were tacky — matching the times perfectly. The mini skirt gave way to the midi as women entering the workplace found the shorts, panty-flashy skirts a bit unpractical. Practical, but clunky, on Earth Day in Denmark, Anna Kalso released the pumpkin-colored Earth Shoe. The clunky shoes, designed after the imprint the foot makes in the sand, heel below the toe, went well with the long sideburns and moustaches men began wearing.
What was needed was a dose of the old fashion.
The most repeated line of the decade. Time hailed it as the return to romance.
"Being in love means never having to say you're
— Ali McGraw in Love Story
Parental insensitivity was a vital ingredient of the plot. Ryan O’Neal’s class conscious father, played by Ray Milland, refused to accept his young wife. In the end he apologizes. But Ali McGraw gets the last word. A updated and more sensitive version, of “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
The new sensitive male was still a few years away. Meantime, the macho man of football threw in his cleats.
"Winning isn't everything —
it's the only thing."
— Vince Lombardi
He led — or rather browbeat — the Green Bay Packers into one of football's greatest dynasties, winning six divisional and five NFL titles. But it was his hard-nosed, root hog or die attitude that made him a legend. Stressing the fundamentals of blocking and tackling, he claimed, "Statistics are for losers." Winning and nothing else defined competition. Vince Lombardi personified its narcotic effect on the national psyche. After a brief and restive retirement, he came back the year before he died to give the patsies known as the Washington Redskins its first winning season in 14 years.
1971: Have a nice day
“Close down the Government”
— May Day demonstrations
In response to military action in Laos, the Weather Underground set off a bomb in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol on March 1 (or February 28) check). The bomb destroyed a bathroom and injured no one. Their communiqué said in part:
We have attacked the Capitol because it is, along with the White House and the Pentagon, the worldwide symbol of the government which is now attacking Indochina. To millions of people here and in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, it is a monument to U.S. domination over the planet. The invaders of Laos will not have peace in this country.
Suspecting she knew one or more of the bombers, the FBI detained Leslie Bacon for days grilling her for information. She knew nothing. That was as close as they ever got to arrests. The explosion’s shrill message resounded well beyond the marble hallways. Desecration of this shrine of freedom and hope wasn’t protest. It wasn’t resistance. This was terrorism, and rather stupid terrorism at that. The sympathy candle many Americans reluctantly lit to end the war blew itself out that day.
Beginning April 24 200,000 demonstrators converged on DC for what was to be the antiwar movement’s last gasp, vowing to stop the government for operating. Now full-fledged rejectionists, the protestors began on May 3 blocking traffic. The memory of the bombing never strayed far from the millions who watched the news or read the papers.
Seeking to forestall this action, on May 2 DC police and federal troops swept West Potomac Park where 30,000 protesters were camped. It was a brilliant, though legally dubious (the pretext was rampant drug use), preemptive move. They crammed many of the 7,000 they arrested into a fenced-in retaining pen erected on the Redskins’ practice field next to RFK Stadium. Judges threw out all but 200 cases. Police violated the civil rights willy nilly. Almost all had committed no crime. A little over a month later Nixon revived the Subversive Activities Control Board, dormant for twenty years. Terrorism had created more repression.
Nixon needn’t have bothered. Although radical sentiment still had some meaning, the divisions among the remains of the New Left and black activists were profound. Reprisals by the Nixon administration too effective. Random groups of demonstrators fleeing from head-smashing Civil Disturbance Units along K Street and smashing an occasional window looked more like juvenile delinquents than political dissidents.
Vietnam Veterans Against the War joined these demonstrations. Founded in 1967, the VVAW had by this time become the most influential antiwar group. People who loathed the antiwar movement would listen to these men and women who’d been there. Months earlier dozens of vets testified before Congress that the Mai Lai Massacre had not been an aberration, as it was labeled. On Aril 27, in perhaps the saddest day the entire war, over one thousand Vietnam vets threw their battle medals onto the steps of the Capitol. Numb from years of demonstrations and violence, the country was nevertheless moved by the sight of ex-GIs expressing their sense of betrayal. Yet as members of the Peoples Coalition for Peace and Justice and the radical May Day Tribe blocked traffic and slashed tires, many citizens cried out at the demonstrators, “You’re alienating me.” They’d already agreed the war had to stop, but rejected the movement’s unreasonable nihilism — and with good reason.
"The History of U.S. Decision-Making Process in
— the Pentagon Papers
Resistance had taken on subtler and more effective forms. There were now insiders who ardently opposed the war, who had embraced some or all of the antiwar reformist ideology. Their actions had devastating consequences.
On June 13, the New York Times began publishing excerpts of this study of the war in Vietnam commissioned in 1967 by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The Washington Post and other papers followed in close order. The revelations about American policy and duplicity in the war in shocked the nation. Historian John Morton Blum, claimed the papers, "revealed a depressing record of mistaken assumptions, prevarication, and flawed judgments" that cost tens of thousands of American lives. Although the study covered only the years 1964-68, Nixon believed that Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, the former Defense Department employees who leaked the documents, were in league with the Democrats to discredit him (it was the Me Decade after all). He sought to block further publication. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of freedom of the press. To stop further leaks, the paranoid president authorized aide Egil Krogh to set up the plumbers. This secret White House black-bag team included former CIA operative E. Howard Hunt and former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy, both of whom would soon go to jail for Watergate crimes. Hoping to discredit Ellsberg, the plumbers broke into his psychiatrist's office. They found nothing and succeeded only in destroying the criminal case against Ellsberg.
For the disillusioned and the nihilistic, it was becoming to opine “The system is breaking down.” It wasn’t. But it was showing a certain creakiness at the joints. A decade of rapid and occasionally unwise social and political change plus an out of control war had produced deleterious effects. Leaders by this time were governed by the bogus notion that to maintain their integrity they had to enforce a strict program of “Law and Order,” especially against black radicals. Such inflexibility seemed to confirm the dire predictions by producing more chaos.
A Time to Die
In September made desperate by stifling, overcrowded and unhealthful living conditions, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, 60% of whom were black and Latino, sought change through the grievance system. When prison officials blew them off, 1,000 of the inmates rioted and took hostages. They released 11 injured guards and held 39 others to exchange for negotiations. Governor Nelson Rockefeller refused to negotiate and when one of the released guards died from his injuries, ordered 1,500 state troopers and police to assault the prison. Ten prisoners and twenty-nine hostages died in the wild shooting spree. No prisoners had firearms. The indiscriminate police action killed all thirty nine. Eighty-nine others were wounded. Subsequent investigatory panels blamed the authorities for America’s bloodiest prison riot, where conditions proved far below acceptable levels even for the hardest of hard-line penal authorities. Over twenty-five years later, the state of New York settled the inmates’ law suits for multiple millions of dollars.
The Weather Underground detonated a bomb in a state government building in Albany to show solidarity with Attica prisoners.
Attica appeared to confirm the worst suspicions of both sides of our deeply divided nation. The riot and subsequent massacre proved the society was falling apart either from permissive excess or excessive repression. Either way, violence had become endemic in America.
"A little of the old ultra-violence."
— A Clockwork Orange
This brilliant and chilling movie depicted the dark side of the future plagued by dystopic urban landscapes overrun by gangs. Although set in millennial London, the violence that so appalled audiences was already commonplace in parts of urban America, right down to the roving gangs of murderous thrill-seeking adolescents.
Self-realization in Kubrick’s vision was to be obtained through the Ludovico Technique, a none-too-subtle swipe at B. F. Skinner’s notion of conditioning. A good way to drive away free will. Here was a better way.
Smile, Big Brother’s watching you. More precisely, Big Brother’s little brother.
Have a nice day
Herbert Marcusé called it nonterroristic totalitarianism. Big Brother’s insidious new 70s look. It was through just such devices that mass advertising, mass marketing, and mass entertainment promulgated the suffocating uniformity of modern technological society. The insipid phrase pretended to promote the general well being when it really represented resignation. If we can't live up to our ideals, at least we can enjoy the day. The vapid yellow doily masked the true face of Big Brother. Mass society threatened to "nice" us into submission. Everything done would be for our own good. Our faces on credit cards. Accessible private databases that knew more about individual Americans than we ourselves knew. All of it important to efficiency and order. Even a personal identity card — our driver's license and social security card.
Resistance to sameness was indeed possible. One need only look within oneself to discover wild diversity all around. The counterculture did come up with some valuable suggestions. Among them was the solid American value of individualism. When David Crosby sang of “letting your freak flag fly,” he sang to the heady few. When Ruth Gordon sang, she struck a chord for the many.
A love affair between a repressed young man and free-spirited women on the verge of 80.
If you wanna be free, be free
— Harold and Maude
Here was a movie that defined many of the yearnings of the counterculture. You can be anything you want.
The movie offered a more positive way of coping compared to the conditioning of A Clockwork Orange. Self-indulgence to the point of excess whether it be violence or hedonism. Societies tend to lose their moral boundaries during wartime. That plus the corruption and repression coming from the Nixon Administration produced some rather extreme ideas.
If it feels good, do it — counterculture sentiment
The personal is political, as the saying went. Unfortunately the personal began to replace the political. As we moved from radical politics to the sexual revolution, personal fulfillment, the old causes began to fade. Women's Liberation and Ecology had the legs the others lacked. Partly out of frustration, partly inevitably, partly due to the arrival of Quaaludes and other downs on the drug scene, lots of boomers shifted toward the hedonistic aspects of the counterculture and carried them into mainstream America.
"If you can't be with the one you love,
love the one you're with.
— Steven Stills
The bouncy tune from Steven Still first solo album that came out in 1970 became a hit. The sprightly sentiment made sense at the time, capturing as it did the last threads of free-spirited innocence left over from the patchwork quilt of the sixties.
The problem came when the adult middle class flirted with the sexual revolution. It was one thing for unmarried, unattached, uncommitted young people to glory in the spirit of personal freedom and experimentation. To a large degree it was quite healthy. But when society as a whole began to frolic in the meadows of license, you got swinging, the practice of married people having more or less open affairs and wife swapping parties that were frankly and all to openly decadent.
Caught hugging the corner, Nixon’s National Security advisor on the cusp of fame and celebrity was asked why he wasn’t taking part in the sexual revolution. His response was a classic.
"I'm a secret swinger."
The shy Harvard professor was in the process of transforming himself from the lumpy figure in the corner of a Georgetown salon during power cocktails into globe-spanning Super K. Carrying out Nixon's orders, he secretly negotiated rapprochement with Red China, leading to the presidential visit the following year. The Arab nations came to trust his word, which helped détente in the Middle East. His amoral, value-free approach to geo-politics angered many conservatives who saw the world in the stark terms of good and evil. Averred Henry, "Nations don't have permanent enemies, only permanent interests."
Compare his amoral foreign policy with the amorality of the new morality.
The new morality was no morality. The line between revolution and nihilism blurred until it became all but indistinguishable from chaos. The suicidal jump from the trippy idles of Harold and Maude to the “give a fuck” philosophy of Gonzo journalism was breathless.
Hunter S. Thompson held that mainstream society was so hopelessly corrupt that the only way to address it was fully loaded. We might just as well party hearty. His hip, hyperbolic gonzo...
"As your attorney, I advise you to drive 100 miles
— Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
...journalism raised the good Dr. Thompson to demi-godhood. He wrote of splitting a cap of black acid with John Chancellor, terrorizing Pennsylvania Avenue with Chuck Colson, and showing up at a sheriff's convention in Vegas loaded with drugs and attitude. His Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 probably told more truth about the maimed state of the nation than any other journalistic work. His early comparison of Richard Nixon to Adolph Hitler struck most as extreme, until Nixon’s true venomous hatred began to uncoil. But no one else so accurately captured the zeitgeist of heedless excess in the face of heedless lawlessness.
With a man like Nixon in the White House it was no wonder that unusual crimes began to creep onto the national TV screen. From White House dirty tricks to this breathtaking hijacking, the 70s began to unleash a cultural dark side with one weird crime after another.
D. B. Cooper
— a skyjacker
This hijacker began a folk hero and an urban legend. Bespectacled and middle-aged (and perhaps in disguise), this man hijacked a Northwest Orient plane on November 24 and demanded $200,000 or he would blow up the plane. After landing in Seattle and releasing 36 hostages and picking up the ransom, the plane takes off for Reno, Nevada, whereupon D.B. Cooper parachuted out the back of the plane.
Almost the perfect crime. He was never caught. Many months later children discover some of the marked money along the Columbia River. Cooper and the rest slipped away. Authorities reasoned he had frozen to death during the descent through freezing rain and both he and the money blew out to sea. Or something.
What's Goin' On
— Marvin Gaye
This concept album, one of two he produced in the early 70's, captured best the spirit of the times. His R&B detractors accused him of selling out to the hippies. But at heart Marvin Gaye was always socially conscious, even if sex was his thing, and he covered the gamut of issues plaguing black America from the war, to drugs, to the already frightening tendency towards self-destruction in the inner cities.
The other major entertainment medium produced its own peculiar and popular form of social commentary. A TV show about a man with the contempt for just about everything.
— All in the Family
Archie Bunker was America's lovable bigot, calling his hippie son-in-law meathead, and his "oppressed" but loving wife a dingbat, while railing against the colored and social change. Whether it was healthy to trivialize such deep social trauma was debated for a time and forgotten. The real and healthy point was that many Americans saw part of themselves portrayed by this unruly family of working class Detroiters caught up in a world changing so fast they could only hang on and hope for the best. Although the ironies of Archie's faith in mythical golden days of America's past when "girls were girls and men were men" might occasionally have been lost on the audience, this was the first TV show to bring social controversy to the surreal world of the sitcom.
1972: a third-rate burglary
On May 15 in the parking lot of a suburban Maryland shopping center, the next misfit loner to blast his way into history pointed his pistol at George Corley Wallace, who was running again for president. Arthur Bremer, an out-of-work busboy, shot the bantam weight governor, paralyzing him from the waist down and taking him out of the race. Just as he recorded in his diary about driving fast, stalking presidential candidates seemed to excite him as well. “Speed limit — 70 m.p.h. I did over 90 once or twice
“…danger gave me an erection."
— Arthur Bremer
Wallace had become the point man for the alienated blue collar voter, men and women who felt greatly put upon by the social reforms. LBJ’s speechwriter Horace Busby foresaw this as far back as 1964. “America’s real majority is suffering minority complex of neglect,” he warned. “They have become the real foes of Negro rights, foreign aid, etc., because … they feel forgotten.” And they turned to George Wallace.
Ironically, the assassination attempt gave the racist governor of Alabama something he lacked: legitimacy, even respectability as an establishment politician. Bremer stalked Nixon all over the country hoping to cure his own impotence by killing the incumbent. Security proved too tight; he couldn’t get close enough. So he settled on Wallace, shooting him four times, wounding a Secret Service agent, a bodyguard and a campaign worker — and thereby insuring Nixon’s re-election, whose Southern Strategy meant to capitalize on Wallace’s growing constituency. Those angry Wallace voters turned to him, not the Democratic Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern. To the judge at his sentencing Bremer said, “Looking back on my life, I would have liked it if society had protected me from myself.”
Mercifully, successful political shootings ended with Wallace. Unfortunately, the politics of assassination was about to give way to the politics of scandal.
"I won't comment on a third-rate burglary."
— Ron Ziegler
Nixon called the Watergate break-in “a crappy little thing that didn’t work.” But as this crappy affair unfolded it became clear that it sank all they way to the well-hidden sewer of our political culture.
Nixon's own twisted mind would eventually undo him. He set his operatives to the task of wire tapping conversations, opening mail, conducting black bag jobs against those he considered his enemies. His Attorney General John Mitchell claimed the government had the right to wiretap “domestic subversives” without court approval. From 1969 to 1970 alone wiretaps increased 100%. The Cubans who got caught breaking into the Democratic National headquarters in the Watergate had connections to the CIA and the White House. The trail led to one unavoidable conclusion. The president violated his oath of office and subverted the Constitution not through carelessness or ineptness, but through criminal deviousness. We should never believe he suffered for his crimes more than the country he was sworn to serve.
June 17, Frank Wills, a night watchman at the Watergate office building, discovered tape on the lock of a door, starting off a seminal and final event of the Sixties era. We should take heart. Had Watergate somehow happened amid the chaos of 1968, the country might not have survived. In 1972, it had a negligible impact despite the pre-election discoveries by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the systemic program of political espionage and sabotage that included dirty tricks, forgery, disinformation, burglaries and wiretaps. Directed from the White House, Nixon’s operatives destroyed the Democratic presidential candidates he feared, especially Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, while aiding the nomination of the weakest candidate they could find. In doing so, they rigged the election on a scale not seen since the stolen election of 1876.
Richard Nixon cruised to a triumphant landslide over a forlorn George McGovern, who dropped his first vice-presidential running mate, Thomas Eagleton, when his shock treatments for depression became known. Nixon carried 49 states and received 521 electoral votes. The hapless McGovern, who carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, promised a precipitous withdrawal from Vietnam and a host of already discredited liberal programs. Voters found him wimpy and Liberace-like. CREEP, Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, spread the word that a vote of the liberal senator was a vote for “Acid, Abortion and Amnesty.”
Nixon had an October Surprise in line just in case his illegal tactics failed. On October 26, less than two weeks before the election, radio Hanoi announced a preliminary agreement on a peace plan. In Washington, the national security advisor told the Washington press corps …
Peace is at Hand
— Henry Kissinger
Campaign ploy? Undoubtedly. The country was so desperate for Peace with Honor, peace of any kind, that it greeted Nixon’s latest cynical manipulation with euphoria. Despite Kissinger's declaration, peace was not at hand. Their were vast differences between the US and North Vietnam. Even more important, South Vietnam was bristling with objections to the preliminary agreement. Quite naturally the plan fell through shortly after the election. In December Nixon announced a resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam “until such time as a settlement is arrived at.” The new round of bombing was the heaviest in the history of warfare. The air campaign continued until the Paris Peace Accords were signed and the war was Vietnamized.
— a prominent antiwar activist
In July Jane Fonda had shown up in Hanoi. Wearing a coolie hat, she made a photo opportunity sitting in an anti-aircraft gun and went on Hanoi radio to address the GI’s, “I implore you, I beg you to reconsider what you are doing.”
Outrage at these acts of near-treason was more than understandable. She’d won an Oscar in April for Best Actress for her role as a prostitute in Klute. Whoring poorly thought through ideas in the country killing American soldiers by the hundreds wasn’t likely to win her the Congressional Medal of Honor. She earned the hatred she received.
Eventually, she apologized to Vietnam Veterans and to the country. She confessed that her tactics, as those of the antiwar movement in general, were shrill and misguided. But, she insisted, the Movement had been right all along about the War. Not that anyone especially cared.
Jane Fonda was wrong. Her mistake wasn’t her tactics. It should have been that simple. Her analysis of the war was wrong, idiotically so. Her mistakes, and the many transgressions of the antiwar movement, flowed from that. The real focus of antiwar protest should have stayed on the policy makers, most of them civilian, and their non-government co-conspirators and apologists. Attacking the grunt in the field or even the bulk of the military brass, who were trying to do their duty, amounted to stupidity as monumental as her ingratitude in journeying to North Vietnam shortly after winning an Oscar. The mind boggles.
Hanoi Jane, gratuitous insults against Vietnam Viets such as spitting on them in airports, was symptomatic. Placing the NLF on the moral high ground, was the ironic mirror image of a mistaken American war policy.
America was not the world’s bad guy. Protest thought was wildly awry. The consequences were dire. Painting the world in black and white gave terrorists of the world a boost in stature they never deserved. The logic was full of errors. America is wrong in Vietnam. Those opposed to her are good, therefore terrorists must be good.
— Palestinian terrorists
Pre-dawn, September 5, the Olympic Village at Munich, Germany: Eight Palestinian terrorists stormed the quarters of the Israeli Olympic team. Their goal was to hold Israel Olympians hostage to secure the release of 200 of their comrades in Israeli jails. The wrestling coach and a weight lifter held the door closed while six others escaped. The two were killed; nine more were taken hostage, forcing the Munich games into suspension. In the rescue attempt all captives were killed along with five terrorists and a West German policeman. With this act Arab terrorists forced themselves into our awareness like never before.
All this at the Olympic Games, once considered sacrosanct. The place of lesser gods and immortal feats. The Games resumed after a memorial service. Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut won the world’s heart. But the man of the hour was an American swimmer.
"I just pretended a beautiful blond
was waiting at the end of each lap."
— Mark Spitz
The handsome swimmer won seven gold medals, four individual and three team. He was the first Olympian ever to achieve such a feat. He was a poster boy for about six months, and his comeback in the butterfly at age 45 for the 96 Olympics failed. His accomplishments will last much longer. Cognitive dissonance thundered over the events, which provided a melancholy interlude, and not much more.
The plight of the Palestinian people should have caused outrage among Americans. We tend though to see the world in stark terms of black and white, good and evil. If the Israelis were good, and in those days they held the moral high ground, the Palestinians must be bad. The 1948 UN mandate creating the Jewish state displaced thousands, ultimately taking away their country. Terrorist violence may have come from desperation. But explanation is not justification. While this wanton act and the dozens of airline hijackings grabbed the world by the throat and made it pay attention, the terrorists lost the world’s support before they ever had a chance to make their case.
Many European leftists bought the same monolithic analysis as Jane Fonda. Many were committed communists, many more were leftist reformers who lost all sense of proportion. They willfully, often gleefully joined the growing international terrorist network. From the IRA to the Red Brigades to the Shining path to the Tupamaros and back to the best known of them all:
The Baader-Meinhof Group
— West German terrorists
After a gun battle in downtown Frankfurt, police captured Andreas Baader. The narcissistic leader of the most feared terrorist band of the day, a band that once included one Ramirez Ilich Sanchez, aka Carlos the Jackal, wound up in jail two weeks ahead of his revolutionary co-conspirator, Ulrike Meinhof. He was 29, she 37. Both got life without parole. Neither lived long enough to suffer much. Hearing Baader had died, Meinhof committed suicide. Or, so the highly suspicious story goes.
Terrorism was a long way from dead. With the Soviet Union as a patron who sought power through chaos, and with enough grievances to last yet another millenium, it wasn’t going away any time soon. Back home in the states, our radical left managed to spin off such a pathetic bunch of losers into terrorist cells that not much damage occurred. They managed to ignite themselves rather than society. Our damage was spiritual. Coming to grips with the growing cult of dissatisfaction proved difficult.
In March black leaders met in convention in Gary, Indiana, to discuss the national Black Political Agenda. Widely reported and heavily attended, this was the last time blacks showed anything close to the unity of purpose of the Civil Rights Movement. The Black Nationalist tide crested here with demands for reparations in the form of cash to correct generations of enforced poverty and ignorance, and land to become The Republic of New Africa, which would be open to all black people. A National Black Assembly would oversee the construction of this black Israel out of the American Palestine. The Agenda also supported “the struggle of Palestine for self-determination.”
National Black Political Agenda
— Black Nationalism
Barely masking its anger — the Agenda accused America of “world-wide military imperialism,” it advocated several thoughtful and many ludicrous remedies to our painful racial problems. “We need a permanent political movement that addresses itself to the basic control and reshaping of American institutions that currently exploit Black America and threaten the whole society.” The Agenda also demanded political and economic empowerment as well as a national plebiscite of black to determine if they wanted to become independent or “wish to remain under the captive sovereignty of the United States.”
In June a jury acquitted Angela Davis of complicity in the murder of a Marin County, California, judge in 1970. Using her guns, black terrorists from Soledad Prison seized a judge from the courthouse as they attempted an escape. Angela Davis went on the lam for two months after the battle in which three of the Soledad Brothers were also killed. She spent 16 months in jail. Herbert Marcuse claimed she was his most brilliant student and a promising scholar. She also entertained connections with the Black Panthers and SNCC.
The University of California, refused to re-hire her. Her Marxism and radical connection were too much for the institution. But Angela Davis quickly found work in academia, where she remains to this day. Her fate — not her radicalism — underscored the wrong-headedness of the National Black Political Agenda. America’s complicated society welcomed many blacks, finally. Political empowerment from the Civil Rights Acts of 64 and the Voting Rights Act of 65 began to show. Thousands of black men and women won elections all over the country. More important hundreds of thousands of blacks entered the middle class and the great shopping mall of goods and opportunities.
Like whites for previous generations, many blacks were seduced by material prosperity. The hope for revolutionary transformation was never great, or wise to begin with. It faced a bleak future. Besides, there had been revolutionary change in American race relations — brought to you courtesy of free market capitalism. Racism was for business.
Cultural ferment at home mirrored the international ferment. American popular culture depended on things that can be sold for profit, like movies, music, books — or sex. The sexual revolution of the 60s hit the mainstream in ways never imagined. Responsibility, commitment, basic morality gave way in the market place to situation ethic, ethical relativism.
— A New Life Style for Couples
Authors Nena O’Neill and George O’Neill dreamt up the ridiculous notion that you can be married, raise a family and still maintain an active dating life. Rigorous conformity always produces rebellion. In the context of the 50s, they made one healthy point. In our parents’ world conformist pressure ruled out having close friends of the opposite sex. A platonic relationship was suspect and unseemly. It just wasn’t socially acceptable, consequently everyone suffered.
“Open marriage means an honest and open relationship between two people, based on the equal freedom and identity of both partners. It involves a verbal, intellectual and emotional commitment to the right of each to grow as an individual within the marriage.”
Had the O’Neill’s limited their suggestions to more equitable arrangements through expanding individual opportunities and widening the circle of acceptable friends, they would have done the world a great service. They didn’t. In pure sixties fashion, they went overboard — way overboard.
When they came up for air, they were in the land of license. Never mind the adults who followed these cult-like rules: In a way they deserved the unhappiness they produced. “We are not recommending outside sex, but we are not saying that it should be avoided, either.” How’s that again? “In an open marriage, in which each partner is secure in his own identity and trusts in the other, new possibilities for additional relationships exist, and open (as opposed to limited) love can expand to include others.” Oh.
This tract amounted to a 269 justification for extra-marital affairs. Did these people ever hear of the word discretion? Their children suffered immeasurably. Just ask any late boomer or early Gen-Xer what it was like growing up in the 70s with hip parents who smoked dope and fucked around.
In their alcoholic embrace of sexual convenience, the O’Neill’s, myriad other pop philosophers like Robert Looking our for Number One Ringer, and their legions of middle-aged followers destroyed the rigorous standards of the very world they were trying to improve. The point of the Sixties was to make America a moral place. Disillusionment made lame revolutionaries of some, witless hedonists of others. In the end, no one gained. The children lost the most to the parental quest for new bodies. One flawed set of morals was plundered to create a new one with even deeper flaws.
A Gourmet Guide to Love Making
— The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort
Somewhere along the line we developed a fetish for how-to books. This manual and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, explained by David R. Reuben marked the beginning of a tidal wave of self-help, self-improvement books addressing every conceivable aspect of our lives — and then some. Leave it to us boomers to reduce life's greatest pleasure to an easy-to-read instruction manual, complete with diagrams and pictures.
With corruption ranging from the Oval Office to the family room in 1972, one might legitimately ask the hiding place of decency. Had society fallen completely into the slithering pit of decadence? With drug stores selling anything from skin books showing the pink, to dildos and rolling papers, the conclusion might be inescapable. Not quite. Hollywood came to the rescue. This was a movie for family, loyalty, honor and self-sacrifice as well. But it came from a very strange place. A tough guy was about to show us all about integrity, American style.
"I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."
— Marlon Brando in The Godfather
Leave it to Francis Coppola to turn the Mafia into a symbol of family values. The Godfather Trilogy created an American archetype. The first two ranked among the best American movies ever, restoring, as they did, personal honor, respect and violent self-assertion to the pantheon of our national character. The movie’s opening line: “I believe in America.”
An even better movie that year than The Godfather, this adventure film, based on James Dickey’s novel of violence, became the Easy Rider to the hordes of back-packers that were leaving their crash pad for the great outdoors. Camping, natural foods were about to come into their own (Celestial Seasonings Tea began business this year). But there was danger in them thar woods.
"Weee ..... weee ... wee."
— Ned Beatty in Deliverance
The revival of interest in the out-of-doors caught on big among boomers as a way to preserve the youth we suspected was slipping away. Camping was part of the back to nature movement and offered a refreshing alternative to revolution. The indelicate scenes of a de-pantsed New Beatty and a scraggly, ridge-running pervert not only sent chills up our class conscious spines, it gave a new meaning to the tune we sang as kids ... and made them wonder at the Supreme Court’s June decision to ban the death penalty.
If you go out in the woods today, you're in for
a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today, you'd better go in disguise.
Cause every bear that ever there was
is gathered there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their pic-nic!
Relax, you could always stay home and play with this latest new-fangled invention. More so than murderous rednecks, here was the true shape of things to come. And you could hold it in your hand.
— the calculator
The first rumble of the high tech avalanche that was about to bury us in ever-changing technology came in the form of the hand-held, pocket calculator. Imagine where we wouldn't be today had it stopped there. The mid-priced models went for $300.
1973: Out of gas
You have to wonder about the role of technology even in political scandal? Would Watergate have played out the way it did without the televised Watergate hearings? If the Watergate burglars had not sought to replace defective bugs. Had the president not taped himself breaking the law. The answer seems obvious. The affair took place on television, not in rooms stuffy with blue cigar smoke, or even walnut-oiled attorney’s offices.
Watergate consumed most of this year and the next. It was already such a big deal the country barely acknowledged the Paris Accords ending our involvement in Vietnam. This came just seven days after the most expensive inaugural celebration in our history. Nixon and Agnew began their second term, protected by troops and National Guardsmen to ward off 100,000 protesters. Dissent was not the problem these men needed fear.
In Vietnam, a truce began at 8:00 AM the 28th. The United States agreed to withdrawal its remaining troops. In return, the North Vietnamese agreed to repatriate American POWs. By Christmas only 50 GIs remained in country, embassy guards. Fighting continued between the North and South, but for the first time since 1965, Americans were not fighting, or dying.
There were no celebrations.
Neither was there all that much ado about America’s participation in the September 11 coup in Chile led by Augusto Pinochet which overthrew the democratically elected Marxist president Salvadore Allende. With the nations’ and indeed the Nixon administration refused to countenance Allende’s socialist reforms. All understandable — except here was yet another example of America imperiously denying the right of national self-determination in Latin America.
We were too preoccupied to notice, or care. In November Nixon sought to use television to appeal directly to the hearts and minds of the American people. He still had a better than even chance. Even though it had gotten down to cases. In a nationally televised question and answer session from Disney World, a cynical play to middle America, he felt compelled to give us this sort of reassurance. “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well …
“I am not a crook."
— Richard Milhous Nixon
What a pitiful statement for a president of the United States to make. Yet, Tricky Dick had no one but himself to blame. When in as early as 1969 he authorized illegal actions against the antiwar demonstrators and other radicals. In 1970 he approved the Houston plan to employ government intelligence agencies to sow the seeds of destruction of the New Left and Black Nationalists, he paved the way for his own destruction. He later rescinded approval of the Houston Plan — because of its illegality. Instead, he used his own operatives.
What prompted his claims of innocence were the revelations of the Senate Watergate hearings, held the previous summer. At the sentencing of the 7 original Watergate criminals, which included E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, judge John Sirica, a Nixon appointee, read a letter implicating higher ups in the White House. “Maximum John” had been dissatisfied with the investigation. Claiming both prosecution and defense failed to do an adequate job, he personally questioned several witnesses and uncovered $199,000 payment to Liddy. By April the president’s press secretary was forced to declare that previous White House statements denying involvement were “inoperative.” Shortly thereafter his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman and domestic advisor John Erlichman resigned. Both ended up in jail. Nixon maintained his own innocence, but growing public outrage prompted a Senatorial investigation.
"I'm just a country lawyer."
— Sam Ervin
No one better exemplified our outrage at the duplicitous manipulation, the illegal and unconstitutional acts of the Richard Nixon than the senator from North Carolina. The wily old gent proved a great deal shrewder than the "country lawyer" he called himself. The televised Watergate hearings began May 17. When Nixon's arrogant men presented themselves before his Watergate Committee, this southern mossback, who had opposed Civil Rights legislation in the 60's, dismantled their defenses and exposed them for the heedless bounders and mincing poltroons they were. His sagacious little backwoods tales endeared him to us forever. Even the hapless Acting-FBI Director, L. Patrick Gray, the most likely candidate for Deep Throat, admitted his burned evidence taken from E. Howard Hunt’s safe, and resigned.
The Nixon administration was corrupt to its very core.
The public found out how corrupt when John Dean, former counsel to the president read his 245 page testimony to the Committee, and a riveted TV audience for four days in June.
"There's a cancer on the presidency."
— John Dean
Dean was in his mid-thirties at the time with unkempt hair (for the Nixon White House. Nixon thought he “looked hippie”). Before he testified, he fished an old pair of horn-rimmed glasses out of a dresser, wore them instead of his customary contacts and got his hair cut, short and neat. His image of the straight-laced product of private schools was manufactured for his testimony. His appearance coupled with his beautiful blond wife Mo, who looked like the citified cousin of the American Gothic daughter, and his unflappable monotone worked like a charm. He was convincing. There’s a lesson there somewhere for the defiant long-hairs who thumbed their collective noses at the Establishment. Of course the fact he was telling the truth didn’t hurt.
Dean recounted his conversations in the Oval Office during which he warned Nixon that Watergate was closing in on him. Dean's low key testimony proved to be devastatingly accurate in its condemnation of Nixon's actions and attitudes. He placed most of the blame on Haldeman and Erlichman for the widespread campaign of illegality. But he flatly says Nixon himself discussed paying hush money to the burglars and other conspirators.
Republicans on the committee pressed Dean unmercifully, as
they should have. They were unable to rattle him or shake his credibility.
Dean countered by revealing just how craven Nixon was.
“Opponents List and Political Enemies Project”
— the Enemies List
He considered Joe Namath, Bill Cosby, Paul Newman, Daniel Shore, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory plus numerous Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Walter Mondale to be his enemies. Besides that he put the presidents of Yale, Harvard Law School, MIT, the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, the Rand Corporation, the NEA, Phillip Morris, and the National Cleaning Contractors. The list featured four ex-cabinet members, two ex-ambassadors, a Nobel prizewinner and fifty-seven members of the media, including the right winger Roland Evans. And let’s not forget Gregory Peck, Steve McQueen, and Carol Channing! John Erlichman hired an ex-New York cop, John Caulfield and the sleazy J. Anthony Ulasewicz to go undercover against them.
This degree of paranoia can only be described as Nixonian.
Most Americans, including loyal Republicans, were dumb-founded at the depths to which the presidency had sunk. Nixon was turning out far worse than his harshest critics in the New Left and Antiwar Movements had made him out to be. An even-handed voice emerged to reduce Watergate to its bare essence. From the ranking minority member of the Watergate Committee came:
What did the president know, and when did he know
— Senator Howard Baker
Republican senator and Nixon supporter posed the gut question. The nation wanted to know precisely that. Nixon's lack of candor has become transparently obvious. The answer, incidentally, to Baker’s twin questions was “Everything, and from the very beginning.”
Slowly, inexorably Nixon’s house of cards began to crumble. Too many men had to go to the wall for him. Faced with the opprobrium of family and nation — faced with jail — a handful of the president’s men found the integrity to refuse the lie. Slowly, with visible pain witnesses before the committee began to confess their misdeeds, shamefully forced upon them by White House superiors. Dwight Chapin, the president’s appointments secretary, a young man who had just received an Outstanding Young American Award, admitted to hiring an old college roommate, Donald Segretti to wage a campaign of illegal dirty tricks against the Democrats. Segretti concocted a letter, for example, accusing a Democratic presidential candidate of fathering an illegitimate daughter, supplying the name. Both Chapin and Segretti did time. The breadth of the crimes committed to advance Nixon’s career shocked even the most cynical political veterans.
In mid-July one of the president’s men, a twenty-year Air Force veteran, provided access to the ultimate dirty trick. The one Nixon played on himself: the smoking gun.
"I was hoping you fellows wouldn't ask me about
— Alexander Butterfield
In 1971 Nixon ordered an elaborate, hidden taping system installed in the Oval Office, his private office in the Executive Office Building, and elsewhere. The secret tapes of his conversations about Watergate (and other matters) were revealed by Alexander Butterfield, the man who administered them. Despite Nixon's persistent denials of involvement in Watergate, for some strange reason he resisted releasing them.
Nixon’s profanity was the first shocker. Here was a man asserting his moral leadership, castigating movies such as Love Story for its foul language, cussing like a collegiate. You had to hand it to him. He had a way with sexual innuendoes, coining phrases like an adolescent to describe his tactics. He wasn’t going to go the hang out route. His enemies had the balls of a brass monkey, well so would he. He would stonewall it. When that situation became untenable, he tried a limited hangout. When that didn’t work he adopted a modified limited hang out. That didn’t work either.
Worse for the president was the distinct possibility the tapes held incriminating evidence. John Dean was delighted to hear about them. He was positive they would vindicate him, which they ultimately would. A bloody battle waged for the possession of the tapes. Most disturbing of all the tapes contained an 18 ½ minutes gap from June 20, 1972, just three days after the break-in. Subsequent tests showed the gap to have been the result of five separate manual erasures. Nixon’s personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods said she may have accidentally erased the Oval Office meeting between Nixon and Haldeman. Indications, however, were that Nixon himself had erased the crucial conversation.
Archibald Cox, who’d been appointed Watergate Special Prosecutor, wanted the tapes. After much wrangling in which Nixon first claimed it would “jeopardize the independence of the three branches of government.” After trying and failing to hide behind national security and executive privilege, he agreed to release edited transcripts of the tapes. Then Nixon ordered the Ivy League patrician Cox, whom he detested, fired.
The Saturday Night Massacre
— newspaper headlines
Attorney General Eliot Richardson refused and resigned. Undersecretary William Ruckleshaus also refused. Nixon fired him. Solicitor General Robert Bork agreed to fire Cox. A national firestorm resulted.
Angry callers besieged the White House with protest calls. Even the most loyal Republicans began to question Nixon’s role in the affair, all puzzling before the cameras why he just didn’t tell the public that had voted him in overwhelmingly, exactly what happened and ask their forgiveness. Nixon approval ratings hit 27%, the lowest ever for any president since polling started. Despite this, the public may well have forgiven him. But Nixon’s criminal mind would never allow him to confess.
Honk if you think he's guilty
— bumper sticker
Even before the bumper stickers could be printed, people actually began writing this on cardboard and sticking it in their rear windows. Cars drove slowly past the White House, laying on the horn. The din in front of 1600 Pennsylvania was louder than any antiwar demonstration.
In the midst of this uproar, Vice President Spiro Agnew ran into his own shit storm. Like Nixon’s, this one was entirely of his own making. The Vice President, it seemed, was a petty white collar criminal. In disbarring Agnew the following year, the Maryland Court of Appeal called him “morally obtuse.”
— Spiro Agnew
The vice president's cluelessness had been the subject of many White House jokes. Low level staffers used to call him to meetings to which no one else would show up. But that was good clean fun. At the same time he was fulfilling his role as Nixon’s attack dog, castigating the news media, protestors for their lack of patriotism, Spiro had been taking cash bribes in his White House office. Since his days as county executive of Baltimore County, contractors had been paying him off in sums of one or two thousand dollars. The payments followed him into the vice presidency. He stuffed the cash-filled envelopes into his breast pocket. What was most surprising was the paltry amount of the bribes. But then this was the man who specialized in attacking a nonexistent liberal media, the creation of which may be his lasting legacy, which, he claimed, did not — repeat not — represent the views of most Americans.
Agnew’s personal sky was black with chickens coming home to roost. Ten days before the Saturday Night Massacre, he pled no contest to tax evasion and resigned from office. Under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Nixon replaced him with House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. The first vice-president and president elected to neither office. He appointed former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vacated vice-presidency.
With Watergate occupying the national mind, this wild, entertaining book detailing the comic, surreal post World War II experiences of one Tyrone Slothrop defined the universal paranoid delusion.
"A screaming comes across the sky."
— Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
During the war a German V-2 rocket landed wherever he had sexual relations. "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you." Or as Thomas Pynchon also wrote, "They're embracing possibilities far far beyond Nazi Germany." Whoever the paranoid’s they were.
Thomas Pynchon was unusual for an increasingly publicity mad public. Like J. D. Salinger, refusing interviews, correspondence, phone calls (no one knew where he lived, he shunned publicity, refusing even to attend awards ceremonies, or to pick up his National Book Award. Seems like Nixon and Slothrop, Pynchon’s alter ego, he was consumed by paranoia. Slothrop was sort of a 60s’ version of Jack Ryan, a countercultural man for all seasons, who filibustered across post war Europe dressed as Rocket Man.
He found out his paranoia was not fantasy. He actually discovered the little man in the room that was controlling a centuries long conspiracy against his family by Royal Dutch Shell.
How odd it might seem today that a multi-national like Royal Dutch Shell would give a fig for one person, even if it was Tyrone Slothrop. Early in the decade gasoline, or more to the point, petroleum became a critical factor in geo-politics. The result of the new factor proved as revolutionary as anything proposed by the SDS. Hastily written signs posted at gas stations told a tale of a shifting balance of power in the world.
Out of gas
— Arab oil embargo
On October 17, Arab leaders struck back at the West with a 25% cut in oil production and an embargo on oil exports to the US. This came in response to the Six-Day War in '67 and western support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War that began on October 6. We relied on OPEC for 25% of our oil; Europe 72%; Japan 82%. In addition OPEC began raising the price of its crude. We sat in long gas lines to buy gas that cost more with each fill-up. The embargo brought double digit inflation and an energy crisis. In a few years the cheap gas and muscle cars of our youth would be gone, gone, gone. Gas jumped to 55 cents the following year, nearly a 60% increase.
In 1979 in response to the Camp David Accords, a second oil embargo led to the nation's first gas riot, appropriately enough, in Levittown, PA, where cars got torched and 195 people got busted. The America would never be quite the same. Gone were the days of a single income earner per family. Gone were the guarantees of each succeeding generation attaining a higher living standard than their parents. The new realities descended rapidly over post-Vietnam America, adding a final insult to the injury of war.
It might be a little clearer now why so many boomers were disillusioned. By 1973, many erstwhile radicals were more interested in partying than politics. Out of despair, defeat, or the fickleness of a passing fancy, reform had given way to hedonism.
One of the largest, and one of the last, rock festivals took place at the legendary Watkins Glen, New York, Formula One circuit on July 28. Attended by over 600,000 (only 150,000 were expected), the all-day affair featured the Dead, the Band and the Allman Brothers.
Keep on Truckin'
— Grateful Dead
Traffic was tied up as far south as central Pennsylvania. After this, localities banned rock festivals drawing over 5,000 and they all but disappeared. Downers had become the drug of choice for many. They transformed the euphoric spirit of the times into hard core revelry.
Sad state of affairs when we have to depend upon athletes for our inspiration. Corrupt politicians like Nixon and Agnew were such manifest failures as moral and inspirational leaders, we had to turn to the natural second choice. Oh, but what a sublime choice it truly was!
— Willie Mays
Rookie of the Year in 1951, the Say Hey Kid was the best player of his era. From the time he smacked one out off Warren Spahn in his first home at bat, 22 years later through his 660 homers (third in the all time list behind Aaron and Ruth) and his .302 lifetime batting average, he was one of the best fielders, base runners and clutch hitters of all times. Vic Wertz wasn't the only player humbled by his athletic genius. Everyone who ever played against Willie Mays found themselves in the same category. Always grace and finesse underlay his enthusiasm and enormous athletic prowess. The Say Hey kid was easily one of the four or five best players ever to play the game.
If oil was a critical international issue, abortion was about to become the defining issue of the next several decades. And it all began with a measly Supreme Court decision.
In the overall scheme of things, the Baby Boom was but a blip on the birthing horizon. American women averaged seven children in the early 1800's. That number fell to four by the end of the century, then three, and two by our own era. The main means of preventing births were abstinence, crude contraception, and most especially abortion. The Fourth Great Awakening and Christian Fundamentalism ended legal abortions earlier this century.
The Women's Movement considered reproductive freedom essential to their liberation from kinder, küche, kirche that defined their subordinated lives. Based on the right to privacy, the split decision, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, overturned state bans, allowing abortion on demand. Coupled with improved contraception, for the first time in history women were gaining complete control over their reproductive powers. But Roe also touched off outrage over the immorality of killing unborn babies.
— Roe v. Wade
Ideological battle lines as tough as any ever drawn between Hawks and Doves over Vietnam split this country at its already frayed seams. With a few major exceptions, the wrenching separation of opinion on abortion mirrored the pro-anti war, conservative/liberal split. Now it was Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice. In the years to come it would lead to death and social violence. For now Roe vs. Wade sounded a call to arms for social and religious conservatives who felt abortion was murder and would turn America into a Sodom of license and atheism.
The gulf became quite wide. Abortion opponents considered it murder. Feminists and their supporters considered abortion key to full equality in society. The two sides began the decades-long culture war talking past each other and the gap never closed. As much as the war in Vietnam, abortion was a deeply divisive issue that pulled at the heart of what the antagonists thought it meant to be an American. NOW exacerbated and confused the issue when in ‘73 it endorsed gay rights. Two years later the new president’s slogan was “Out of the mainstream, Into the revolution.” New Feminism had undergone considerable radicalization. Betty Friedan once called lesbians the “lavender menace.”
Boomers, though active in the Pro-Life movement, which was dominated by men from the very start, supported abortion rights, as did most people. Boomer women were the first generation significantly affected by the new availability of legal abortions. They were approaching thirty now and had already made the decision to put off marriage and children for the time being in favor of all these newly available careers. Abortion was critical to the career track, both as a symbol of equality in the workplace and as a real escape hatch from traditional role of wife and mother. Here was the next great war between traditionalism and modernism. Here was Scopes played out to a national audience through many venues including church, Congress, court and commerce. For a time it looked as though abortion rights and feminism would win hands down.
Especially after Billie Jean King triumphed over a ludicrous Male Chauvinist Pig claiming to defend male superiority in a sideshow worthy of the tawdry era.
The Battle of the Sexes
— Billie Jean King vs. Bobbie Riggs
The taunting little bounder wasted No. 1 ranked Margaret Court forcing Billie Jean King to change her mind about playing Riggs. She’d been turning him down for months. So they met in the Houston Astrodome before 30,000 people and several million more on TV. She wafted into the arena on a feathery divan born by hunky Neanderthals. Riggs entered in a Rickshaw pulled by “Bobby’s Bosom Buddies.” Overconfident in the extreme, he didn’t even bother to take off his Sugar Daddy windbreaker during the first set. He needn’t have bothered then. The match was over with King’s first daring passing shot, at which the outwitted, out-gunned and over-matched Riggs could only point at the ball going past him. The 29 year old Billie Jean King thrashed, creamed and humiliated the 55 year Riggs. While up in the broadcast booth, headband-wearing Rosie Casals blithely ridiculed his body, his hair, the way he walked (like a duck), most everything about his physical appearance, much to the consternation of Howard Cosell.
Next to no one would have predicted a farce like this would change history. But it did. Not only women’s tennis but female athleticism took on an entirely new dimension. That of worthy competitor. The challenge match turned out to be a watershed.
* More women are now enrolled *
* in college than men (50.3%) *
In the meantime, more than tennis matches were in the works. A book appeared that amounted to a feminist declaration of independence from the confining aspects of tradition. “Our image of ourselves is on a firmer base, we can be better friends and better lovers, better people, more self-confident, more autonomous, stronger and more whole.”
Our Bodies, Ourselves
— Boston Women's Health Collective
Before it got out of hand, Women's Liberation and the sexual revolution freed both men and women from confining and often hypocritical gender roles. “Until very recently pregnancies were all but inevitable, biology was our destiny — that is, because our bodies are designed to get pregnant and give birth and lactate, that is what all or most of us did.” This book opened the door for women to take an active role in their own health, sexuality and well being. Their ultimate goal was to enable women “to enter into equal and satisfying relationships with other people” through better self-awareness, and less reliance on male-dominated institutions and male physicians. “Body education is core education.” This widely read book encouraged evolutionary practices such as vaginal self-examinations and ideas that women voice their opinions about their personal health care to their doctors.
Boomer women embraced this book as their mothers had Dr. Spock.
They embraced another one as well. This one written by a
naughty sorority girl about every good
girl’s inner desires.
— Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
Desires now being liberated into the unblushing light of day.
You mean girls think the same way about sex that boys do? Yup, right down to obsessive horniness and zipless fucks. At least they did in the 70's.
Zipless, you see, not because … men have button-flies rather than zipper-flies, and not because the participants are so devastatingly attractive, but because the incident has all the swift compression of a dream and is seemingly free of all remorse and guilt … The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving.”
(Guys called this getting laid.)
In its salient way, Fear of Flying was every bit the revolutionary manifesto as Our Bodies, Ourselves. The two fit neatly into the package of New Feminism and cultural revolution that was about to assault the American Middle Class.
And of course, the assault was viewable on TV, as sort of a domestic version of Vietnam.
An American Family
— the Louds
We were transfixed by this 12-hour PBS documentary depicting the slow and painful disintegration of an upper middle-class family from Santa Barbara, California. This occasionally prurient exploration of the troubled American Dream turned an exploratory mirror on our lives, ourselves as it magnified to excruciating detail the effects of cultural upheaval and rapid social change on one prosperous, and once typical family who had “made it.” Comparing the Louds to Sloan Wilson’s fictional Rath family from Westport, Connecticut, the tremendous distance of cultural change seemed like a never-ending journey. The Raths struggled to maintain the family unit against the assault by consumerism. The Louds sought to free themselves of the restrictions of familial and social responsibility. By this time son Lance didn’t have to worry too much about coming out. And Pat Loud knew life wasn’t over for a divorced, middle aged woman. Not anymore. When husband Bill returned from a business trip, she handed him her lawyer’s card. “I’d like to have you move out.” Responded Bill, “Well, that’s a fair deal.” The calm at the center of the Loud storm betrayed the turmoil outside their comfortable home.
1974:"Our long national nightmare is over."
Yet another cataclysmic year in a succession of years of disaster and divisiveness. The country underwent something as unprecedented at the Civil War had been, survived it, but with its institutions still standing but deeply altered. Perhaps permanently. You have to wonder f the nation would have survived Nixon and Watergate had the sad, unnecessary affair taken place in 1968 or 1969. Fortunately, that would have been impossible. The year didn’t start out with much promise. In fact it took on the appearance of the next version of 1968. The good news was that with the resignation of Richard Nixon the 60s (as an era) finally came to an end.
But first a little diversion. An initial parting gesture of an era.
Symbionese Liberation Army
— Terrorist kidnappers of Patty Hearst
On February 5, this interracial terrorist group kidnapped Patty Hearst. Nineteen years old and sharing an apartment with her sententious boyfriend Steven Weed, the newspaper heiress changed her name to "Tanya" and joined the SLA "to stay and fight for the freedom of the oppressed people." Had this sideshow not developed such deadly consequences, it would have been parody from start to finish. The SLA demanded the Hearst family feed the poor. They gave $2 million in what turned into a Third World grab fest off the backs of trucks. Meanwhile, Tanya showed up on a security camera participating in a bank robbery. In May police cornered the SLA in a nationally televised, realtime 1,000 round shootout in an LA suburb. Tanya's body was not among the revolutionary dead. Police caught up with her a year later and she was sentenced to jail for her crimes, chief among which seemed to have been getting kidnapped.
The Robin Hoods, who proved more Hoods than Robins, made a defiant gesture. But it proved merely a temporary if utterly out-of-kilter diversion from the real terrorism of the day: Nixon’s near hijacking of the law for purely personal reasons. It might have been different had Watergate been a policy crisis, as would Iran-Contra. But this was petty politics gone haywire. The again the personal was going steadily haywire during the Me Decade.
the Smoking Gun
— White House tapes
This June 23, 1973 recording of Nixon's Oval Office conversation with H.R. Haldeman revealed him approving the cover up of White House involvement in the Watergate Break-in. The President of the United States was captured on tape obstructing justice and violating his presidential oath of office. Nixon had suggested Haldeman call CIA deputy Direct Vernon "Walters and have Walters call [acting FBI head L.] Pat[trick] Gray and just say, 'stay the hell out of this — this is, ah, business here we don't want you to go any further on it.'" Haldeman agreed and it cost him and his boss their jobs. Following the release of this tape, the House Judiciary Committee voted three articles of impeachment.
All the President's Men
— by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
They were Mutt and Jeff, the loose Jew and the stiff WASP, who made it big — really big. Through incredibly hard work, lucid insight, and fortunate connections, they broke the early stages of the Big Story. But not without its downside. In addition to fame ruining Bernstein's prodigious talent while encouraging Woodward's somewhat lesser abilities(after all they were played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford), their exploits spawned a generation of cynical, suspicious, self-seeking journalists who dreamed mainly of their own glory and cared next to nothing about the commonweal. For a good while afterwards, young reporters cutting their teeth on suburban school boards and neighborhood barbecues paraded through the nation's newsrooms declaiming cover-ups, turning preliminary negotiations into completed scandal, occasionally forging stories and mocking public trust while evincing a nearly total lack of perspective and conviction. Credulity and respect will forever remain twin victims of Watergate.
"Our long national nightmare is over."
— Gerald Ford
Facing certain impeachment and conviction, the other victim, Richard M. Nixon resigned on August 9. In a rambling, wrenching speech before his staffers in the East Room of the White House, Nixon summed up his faults when he said, "Others may hate you, but they don't win unless you hate them back. And then you destroy yourself." A fitting epitaph. After being sworn in as the first president elected neither president nor vice president, Gerald Ford reassured us the worst was over. "Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule." Had all this happened in 1968, the country might not have survived. In any case, except for a mere 30 or 40 years of recrimination, the Sixties were over.
The sense of disappointment and defeat was profound, even among dissenters. It mattered little that they had been vindicated. Whether they admitted it or not, boomers, their parents and grandparents, were united in grief at the irretrievable loss of enthusiasm. It was like suffering the death of one’s parents. Ultimately irony in the era of the generation gap, Nixon’s resignation hit young people like the betrayal of a respected parent. Much of the nihilism that followed stemmed directly from Nixon’s monumental moral lapse. It told young people that no matter how much you care. No matter how dedicated you are greater forces will be there to destroy your idealism in the name of personal self-interest. Yet, the loss was of more than innocence. Watergate was not the coming of age ritual that perhaps Vietnam had proven to be. Other presidents had played it fast and loose. Fast Eddie Felson was nothing new to American politics. Nixon’s corruption went far deeper. It made America so painfully ordinary. People realized that, at least in their lifetime, America would never again be quite the same. Richard Nixon had betrayed the sense of honor of which this nation had always been so justifiably proud. Take a nation’s honor and its institutions become suspect. If its institutions are suspect, its reason for being comes into question. After Watergate, America seemed anything but a City on a Hill.
The Brady Bunch
— another American Family
Here was a studied contrast to the Loud family whose fraying and ultimate dissolution reflected the enormous tensions within American society. If the Loud’s were plagued by the changes that led to their undoing, the happy Brady Bunch was largely … happy, despite the way two single parents with three kids each came together. Over five seasons 116 half-hour episodes and a pilot stretching from Sept. 16, 1969 to Aug. 30, 1974, the family and Alice the housekeeper, who refereed the loving chaos, laughed and wise-cracked through a never-ending series of domestic and social issues. A take-off of the the semi-musicial Cowsills, the Bunch provided weekly swatches of "Ozzie and Harriet"-type wholesome family values at a time when a little sureal suburbia was exactly what the nation needed.
For a growing number of others, there was another way. Rather than laughter or rejection, one could learn to accept and grow from within. The author approached over 100 publishers before one finally took him on. What resulted was a colossal best seller. The unlikely book about an unlikely subject struck a chord in the Me Decade’s unhappy symphony. And played on and on and on ….
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
— an Inquiry into Values
By the 90s people had forgotten that the 60s’ era was a quest for values. The reclusive Robert M. Pirsig’s lyrical, fictional account of a journey Phaedrus, the narrator, he and his eleven year old son, Chris, took through America is all about values. Although the book’s title comes from Zen in the Art of Archery, superficially it recalled On the Road. In scope perhaps Moby Dick, as the New Yorker said. Both works represented a quests for self-discovery and fulfillment. And truth in self. At every stop, around every corner, in all parts of the country, in all seasons and weather conditions, their pilgrimage produced wonder and enlightenment.
The book confronts the problem boomers faced — or thought they faced — at that point in history. Namely, why technology had alienated individuals from each other and from society? That being so, how can we live? How can we survive? His answers touched a generation.
He called his book “a moving, roving Chautauqua,” after the touring tent seminars of the mid-19th century that educated and entertained. Except this time the audience toured on motorcycle.
“On a cycle, the frame is gone… You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
It was a way to divorce the romantic from the classical, to unify the cold realm of technology with the warm realm of humanism. His solution, the Zen solution was to merge with activity, the surroundings, even the motorcycle, to experience all on a romantic level. It was music to a hippies’ ears, to a lot of Americans dazed by war, violence and corruption.
It may make great reading. But perhaps in this country, the only thing that overcomes western subject/object duality in the way of Zen, is the champion athlete, who seems totally at one within his or her element. Such sublime physical eloquence was as rare for a Westerner and nirvana was for the Easterner.
— Henry Aaron
In 1974, the year Nixon became the first president to resign his office, Henry Aaron made history as equally lasting. He tied Babe Ruth's record on the first day of the season. Then at home in Atlanta on April 8, he hit Al Downing's first pitch into the left field bullpen. He retired several years later with 755 career home runs. Perhaps, it is making too much of disparate events. But in the same year that an American president resigned in disgrace and a book searching for the Zen experience on the back of a motorcycle became a mega-bestseller, came an act that symbolized a feat of magnificence that promoted continual physical and mental struggle as the way — the westerner way? — to overcome centuries of subject/object duality between the races.
1975: "…like a rogue elephant on the rampage."
Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll
— bumper sticker
With the Age of Aquarius reduced to a bitter pipe dream, the hedonistic aspects of the counterculture unloosed themselves. After the turmoil of Vietnam and the Nixon years, it was to be expected. It has become customary to refer to the 60s as a time of total left wing excess. Without denying the irresponsible and yes, anti-American excesses of the far left, the actions coming what was then incorrectly referred to as “the Establishment” weighed far more heavily on society. The Pentagon Papers detailed the duplicity of LBJ’s war policies. Subsequent studies, including those by military men, such as Harry Summers’ On Strategy, detailed the sheer wrong-headedness of the war effort. Beyond that the lawlessness of such program as COINTELPRO and many others, the deceit, the hatred and corruption coming especially from the Nixon administration all but tore this country apart. In light of Nixon’s vile statements recorded on his own taping system, supporters could no longer deny the malicious streak running strongly through his character. Len Garment, himself a Jew albeit a favorite of Nixon, referred to him as “a champion hater,” who was particularly anti-Semitic.
“Most Jews are disloyal … You can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.”
Recent arguments that Nixon is best understood as a war time president facing domestic turmoil while trying to fight a war amount to nothing more than rationalization. Would any of Nixon’s supporters wish to see such activities by any administration again, under any circumstances?
The fact is, the violence, repression and anti-democratic activities from the Establishment fomented much of the problems associated with 60s excesses — and for that reason must, at least, share the blame and the responsibility Those wanting to blame all America’s current ills on the 60s would do well to remember that the 60s was an era of LBJ, a narcissist and ego-maniac, and Richard Nixon, a man of intemperate morality and voluptuous hatreds.
Still, this was not the intended short-term legacy of so profound a reform era: sex clubs, group sex, bisexuality, homosexuality, drugs for partying — historic standards thrown out the moral window in the name of license. All of it justified by one of the most counterfeit phrases ever coined:
Who's to say what's normal?
— pop “wisdom”
A phrase with negative value that signified so much. Fortunately, most boomers fully knew what was right and what was normal. For a generation all too aware of what was wrong in society, this flirtation with license was as disappointing as it was unpredictable. By the mid-70s, fundamentally in spirit and outlook America was a defeated nation. Vietnam, Watergate, chaos of lapsed dissent heaped immorality upon the fires of ruin.
Although to check out the nocturnal activities on campus, one might have concluded it was all good clean f-u-n.
— campus fad
Trailing out of the devil-may-care hedonism of the age, students found fun showing their contempt for the uptight world of the Establishment by running naked across campus, across the dais at graduation. Streaking even went nation-wide when during a man “who went to great lengths to show his shortcomings” (according to host David Niven) streaked the Oscars in 1974. Compared to Watergate, Vietnam, the protests upheavals, most people in authority were inclined to view it with relief, recalling as it did the cherished Golden Age of phone booth stuffing and goldfish swallowing — and laugh it off. Despite the all too frequently expressed mainstream nihilist attitude that the country was hopelessly corrupt so it didn’t matter anyway.
Streaking was just a fad, not a bellwether, wasn’t it? Perhaps. The mid-70s were a time of fads. In the fall of 1975 another novelty had its fifteen minutes of fame: the Pet Rock. Five million people actually paid $5.00 for a cleaned beach stone in a cardboard box cradled in excelsior. An instruction booklet told the owner that this pet didn’t need to be fed or house-broken. People stupid enough to buy one probably threw down $3.00 for a Mood Ring that changed colors with the wearer’s mood. They probably wore it dressed in a leisure suit and platform shoes while sitting with an encounter group partner (dressed in hot pants, no doubt) at an est meeting with their Pet Rock nesting in its box beside the Lava Lamp. Top end Mood rings went for as much as $250.
"Let's do the Time Warp again.”
— The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Normal? The transvestite Transylvanian Dr. Frank 'N Furter didn't know from normal.
“I'm just a sweet transvestite, from Transsexual Transylvania…
Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh-erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever. Can't you just see it? Don't dream it, be it.”
The movie was a cult hit. The cult hit of all times … and a long, long way from the Age of Aquarius. By 1975 America was as far from the benign and naïve days of ‘Peace and Love’ as those days were from the idealism of “I have a dream” or “Ask not what your country can do for you…”
For years at midnight boomer's dressed in costume to see this flick, shout dialogue at the screen, call Janet a slut and Brad an asshole every time they appeared, flash flashlights, shoot each other with water pistols, get up and dance the Time Warp in front of the screen. Invariably someone rode a motorcycle through the theater at the appropriate moment. "No matter you slice it, it's still meatloaf." Nowadays, they take their kids, when they weren’t sitting home open a Saturday night.
"Jane, you ignorant slut."
— Dan Ackroyd on Saturday Night Live
The counterculture’s offbeat, anti-establishment humor found its way into the mainstream by slipping through the backdoor of late night television. Much of the antics of the Not Ready For Prime Players was drug-inspired and decidedly generational stretching well beyond the satire of That Was the Week that Was of the early 60s and Laugh-In of the latter. The first crew of Gilda Ratner, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Lorraine Newman, Dan Ackroyd, Jane Curtain and Garret Morris brought inventive talent to the inventive skits. They were the Mickey Moue club all grownup but still as full of themselves as ever. The show added Bill Murray and later such future stars as Eddie Murphy, Dana Carvey, and Mike Myers. Despite But it was the original cast and crew of writers who gave the show its lasting significance. All of them with the exception of Morris went on, for a while at least, to enjoy success in other formats.
From the opening prat-fall “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” to the news I’m-Chevy-Chase-and-you’re-not and the musical talent and the semi-permanent host Steve Martin — all announced a new generation of self-centered comedy that said one thing: We have no Gods before us.” The show challenged then changed the very nature of humor. The Players became stars in their own right. John Belushi, the most talented of them all, followed an almost predictable course of self-destruction through drugs and profligate living in 1982.
But wait a minute, some of the rejection as humor had a basis in fact. That other Transylvanian castle — the one up on Capitol Hill in DC — was doing its own version of the time warp. The 70s were no Age of Aquarius.
"…like a rogue elephant on the rampage."
— Church Committee report on the CIA
By its magnitude and implications, Watergate brought demands (that were more akin to howls of outrage) to find out what else the American government had been up to behind the public back. An investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency revealed it had been relentlessly violating the civil rights of Americans within the United States and abroad by tapping their phones, breaking into their homes, opening their mail, in addition to infiltrating illegally into radical groups, assassinating foreign leaders, and staging foreign coups. (Nice list for an arm of the American government to be associated with!) Sanctioned or not by various presidents, all of it violated federal law. The FBI and the even more secret NSA had committed similar actions. Despite the evidence no one ever suffered indictment or trial.
Chalking it of to the exigencies of the Cold War may explain these actions, but it doesn’t justify them. Every petty dictator and rapacious tyrant has at one point or another told its citizens that if they didn’t constrain his actions, the tyrant would get them what they wanted. The people invariably went along whether they wanted to or not. But this was America that had created a rapacious, roving arm of repression and used it without priority or restraint at home and around the world. Revelations such as those from the Church Committee inquiry substantiated a great deal of the now defunct New Left’s attack on the Establishment modus operandi. The ends may justify the means in Soviet Union or Communist China, but it wasn’t supposed to happen here. If you throw in the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate tapes, the results make a sad but compelling case for the high road to tyranny. Fortunately, the country never quite got there.
A grateful nation ought to pause a moment to thank to activists from the Civil Rights Movement to the anti-war movement for that contribution to the Bill of Rights.
Prospects for that are unlikely. The counterculture spawned hell-seeds that threatened the social fabric. Although the radicals of license and chaos were few, far between and no nearly so dangerous as the incremental leeching of powerful from the people to the state, they became visible, if not equally so. The unasked question of the day was this: which posed a graver threat the commonweal, the CIA or the Manson Family? Doubtless one’s generation might weigh heavily in the answer. Though one aberration was political, the other cultural, eventually the two had to meet.
The Manson Family (and it was an aberration of the counter-culture) cultivated sociopaths like mushrooms. One emerged from her underground home to point a pistol at Gerald Ford. Gerry Ford! A most likable and necessary man. More than the assassination of men such as Lincoln and JFK and MLK, an attack on this uncharismatic man was an act of sheer nihilistic madness. And she was just the first.
— failed presidential assassin
Now serving a life sentence, Lynette Fromme pointed an uncocked .45 at President Ford on September 5 in Sacramento. This 26 year old member of the Manson Family was joined in her failure on the 22nd of the month by Sara Jane Moore, who actually managed to get off a round from across the street. Moore was a former FBI and police informant, and she was vague about her grievances against the president. She got life, too. The times verged on the inexplicable. Gerry Ford was such an unobjectionable man, unless one considers physical awkwardness and a slowness of wit.
More explicable, if no less difficult to suppress, were the economic woes the country had lurched into.
Whip Inflation Now
The oil shock began the sudden and rude decline of America’s transcendent standard of living. Economic stagnation and double-digit inflation, it knocked the country for a loop. Despite growing wealth of a few, many in the middle class found it difficult to keep up with inflation. Wives went to work as their husband's salaries proved no longer adequate. Families unused to such things found themselves conserving energy and everyday living expenditures just to maintain. Favoring lassiez-faire, Gerry Ford proposed a limp voluntary program to keep the relentless rise in prices of food, fuel and other necessities at bay. The excesses of the War came home all in a dark gray flock ending the days of carefree cruising in gas-gussling in cars with eight-cylinder engines and huge backseats. They were no longer affordable: gone like a “hot rod Ford and a two dollar bill.”
— Last flight of the Apollo Program
The spectacular space program wound down along with prosperity. At least this phase of it. Vision seemed to dull as the national pocketbook lightened. On July 17, Apollo 18 and Soyuz 19 docked in space and Astronauts met Cosmonauts in a symbolic act of detente between the United States and the Soviet Union. Criticized as a public relations stunt and so mundane as to leave an already bored public changing channels, it accomplished the important technological advance of successfully linking up two disparate spacecrafts. The mission also gave Deke Slayton, an original Mercury Astronaut, a chance to go into space. A heart murmur held him back until then. This was our last manned space flight until the Space shuttle. For the next decade, America and Americans strove mightily to re-focus inward. Our concerns had always been mostly domestic. Now they shrank even more. From the domestic to the person.
1976:The Me Decade
* The First Wave hits *
* the big Three-O *
The “ME” Decade
— Tom Wolfe
New York magazine had the right idea when it featured the “ME” of its cover story in very large, bold type. Gone were ideas of deferred gratification and temperance. Boomers especially sought to “feel good about themselves” through self-fulfillment and self-actualizing, exercise and jogging, natural foods and macrobiotic diets. Ultimately this translated to living the good life that America made possible. But the roots of this dubiously ethical egoism came from disenchantment with society. War and the failure of reform drove the spirit of the self, turned it — in grand paradox — into a social movement. The quest became a meaningful life.
The conclusions drawn from the “lessons of the 60s” were more sentiment than rigorous analysis. Arguments that the U.S., the Establishment, if you will, was hopelessly corrupt and beyond redemption were as emotional as they were empty and immature. These notions were so woefully incomplete and half thought-out as to be the folly of adolescence. But this cynical creed was surprisingly pervasive: All institutions from schools to government to corporations were toxic to the individual. The Establishment destroyed what was good about people — and nothing could be done to correct it. The goals of social justice gave way to the new goal of self-improvement. Self over society. The path was dropping out, at least spiritually, from the political world and isolating oneself as much as possible.
One could and should become a better person in hopes of
rising above the irretrievable depravity of institutional America. Change
might come through attrition of the old and the fulfilled spirit of the
young. Then again, it might not. Meanwhile, for many, self-fulfillment
powered the zeitgeist.
And for a sizable number self-fulfillment quickly became unbridled hedonism. Singles bar, singles high-rise apartments and condos proliferated like macrobiotic diets and hot tubs.
With self-realization, self-fulfillment movements popping up all over the place and Indian gurus preaching TM (transcendental meditation), boomers spent the self-absorbed 70's obsessing about over the inner child, seeking the Human Potential Movement in its multifarious aspects such as TM (transactional analysis), gestalt therapy, re-birthing, primal scream, encounter groups, free sex, including sex clubs such as Plato’s retreat, and ultimately religious sects from Hare Krishna to Zen Buddism to Charismatic Christianity. Used-car salesman Werner Erhard's est (Erhard Seminars Training) and other approaches to spirituality considered rationalism a cause rather than cure. Trouble was, he offered little in its place. Ultimately, est and all the others failed to offer even a good ear. Encounter groups became vehicles for sexual license.
In the Culture of Narcissism, historian Christopher Lasch attacked America’s "hedonism, narcissism, cult of the self." And no amount of if, ands or buts (as parents might have put it) could change the fact that boomers were guilty as charged. Parents despaired for their kids’ future while those kids dodged de-programmers, learned the art of sensual massage, talked about threesomes, and convinced themselves the world be a better place for it.
Americans jammed into the fitness clubs that were springing up everywhere, jogging, working out, and taking aerobic dance the way they once jammed the streets to protest against the War or racism. Now they protested against nature as it made war on their own bodies. A 1968 book on aerobic exercise sold into the millions.
This quest for the self had its spiritual manifestation. Although they will object passionately at being lumped in, the rise of religious cults and charismatic and Pentecostal forms of Christianity were a clear result of the anomie of the 70s. More than any other factor, the sense of loss drove many people, baby boomers most especially into the welcoming arms of what would become the Fourth Great Awakening. The spiritual loss America suffered after Vietnam, Watergate and the upheavals of the Civil Rights era drove many millions to religion for solace. Gurus such as the 15-year-old Hindu mystic Maharaj Ji and his Divine Light Mission and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi preached various forms of yoga to achieve spiritual peace. The Marharishi attracted the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder. Ji held a mass convocation in the Houston Astrodome in 1973 with part of the parking lot reserved for UFOs. When none showed his movement suffered. Eventually Ji got ulcers from the stress.
Far more important that the phalanxes of passive aggressive Hare Krishnas in airport or Moonies selling flowers at intersection was the rise of fundamentalist Christianity preaching traditionalism, literal interpretation of the Bible and strict rejection of modernism and postmodernism. In Virginia, to cite two examples, Fundamentalist Baptist minister Jerry Falwell became the leading televangelist while Pentecostal Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network zoomed from four stations to 130 affiliates by the end of the 70s.
All offered solace in unsettling conditions to people justifiably horrified at the vulgarity of a secular culture that had lost its focus, if not its morals. A harbinger of the future came in the presidential election in November when Christians or many denominations and sects turned out to vote, being rallied by their ministers, for a candidate that was quite open about having accepted Jesus as his personal savior and become a Born-Again Christian.
"I'll never lie to you."
— Jimmy Carter
I'll never lead you either. He was the country's first
Born Again Christian and perhaps most devout president and the most conservative
Democrat in the White House since Grover Cleveland. All that might have
worked to his advantage had he been a more imposing figure. Everyone wanted
dynamic leadership. But his modest, humble ways, admirable though they
“I have looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many
times. God recognizes I will do this and forgives me.”
did not suit the presidency well. Inflation, a stagnant economy that appeared under Nixon and continues through Ford, hit the hapless Carter smack in the face. Perhaps no man could have lead effectively through those dark, double-knit days. But it was Jimmy Carter’s watch and he failed to rise to the challenge.
Despite his visionary energy conservation policy and the
Camp David Accords that brought real peace to
the Middle East, other events conspired to produce a failed presidency. Not in the least because in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, the country was inclined to distrust all its leaders, even an honorable man such as Jimmy Carter.
The 70s specialized in bad attitudes. The rage abroad in the land, the disgust with our institutions and to some degree with each other found its representation in a fictional TV news anchor named Howard Beale.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore.”
His ranting so captivated his fictional audience his network gave him his own talk show. The joke though was on the left. Most people, the makers of this movie included, figured the outrage was a continuation of 60s rage against the Establishment. True in part, but by America’s bicentennial year that rage found its most acute manifestation from the right. This movie really represented the rise of what would eventually be known as the Angry White Male.
Meanwhile, there was still money to be made. It took the DC housing market only five years in the 70s to double. That was just for starters. During the real estate boom, houses doubled or tripled, or even quadrupled in price within a few years. And the average age of home ownership fell.
“Real Estate is the marijuana of the 70's."
— Sara Davidson
Boomers were out of college and into the job market and just hitting thirty and they were looking at their world through different, less rose-colored, lenses. Paisley was giving way to earth tones as boomers were starting putting down roots. Numbers alone would have caused a housing boom. But some boomers had the sense to get in early and made tidy little fortunes because of it. Many, many others ended up “house-poor,” but housed nonetheless. Sara Davidson published a memoir in which she bemoaned the lost idealism while heralding the advent of the Yuppie (although the term was a decade away). “For years,” she wrote, “I felt I had blown it, my generation had blown it, the Sixties had blown it, and we would never again see the heights.”
Although the sense of togetherness and hope was re-captured for a brief, shinning moment during American’s nationwide Bicentennial celebration in July, the thrill was clearly gone. In its place: a very real but alarmingly premature nostalgia that provided the necessary excuse for the continuing generational shift in focus. Except it was about home and money. Typically post-war America added half a million new households every year. In the 70s, with boomers coming of middle-age (so to speak), that number shot up to a priapic one and a half million. Boomers had waited an extra few years to go house-shopping. When they did, they did so all at once. The explosion in housing prices — they climbed 12% a year — occurred when boomers began to realize their own mortality, as usually happens long about the late 20s or early 30s. Suddenly the dusty crash pad was about as homey as a raft on the high seas. Woodstock was muddy and damp. Enough already. Gimme a fireplace and a nice soft shag carpet for my full body message. That plus the spread of unconventional living arrangements accounted for the boom. One third of the new households were traditional. The other two-thirds were non-family groups houses and the like. Many traditional households were financed on two-incomes. Hence the spike in the market. Thousands of boomers got rich quick. Tens of thousands desperately sought to, least the bubble burst, as it would in the 80s. While it lasted the bubble meant boomers could add a third income to support their new addiction. Housing appreciated 1% per month throughout the decade.
People bought houses to beat inflation. The resulting rush drove up prices. The boom allowed the fortunate to trade up rapidly into ever larger homes, or acquire multiple dwellings at enormous profits. Even during recession years, sale prices rose 53% on average from 1973 to 1978. The effects were as intoxicating as any drug high, but ultimately not as defining as Sara Davdison expected. Apartments converted into condominiums, many with young adults in mind — no kids, singles preferred.
But ferment rose under the firmament. Second wave boomers were now into their teens, and full of blunted, hormonal angst. The first wave had done all the anti-establishment protesting and was moving into cushy digs taking an interest in fine wine. Their younger brothers and sisters had all that alienation and all that technique and no where to go with it.
No Future for You
— punk rock
So, up the establishment, up your BMW, up your skiing vacation in Aspen, which became the 70s version of the Haight. Up your pseudo-liberalism. No co-ops, not duplexes, no lofts. No pretense. They challenged the new white elephant – the rock establishment, such bands Pink Floyd. Journey, Foreigner, Kansas, Fleetwood Mac and any number of “arena rock” groups and their show-biz orientation. When the Sex Pistols swaggered onto the scene, rejection of big time rock 'n' roll turned big time. Punks came from the English lower classes that saw nothing but life's grime and misery. They wore black leather, pierced their skin, and defiantly spit on hippies (and each other). 'Tudes this cool couldn't be long from pop culture's mainstream. Sure enough, Doc. Martens, spiked hair and leather became, like, totally hip. The band itself didn't survive its first American tour, Sid Vicious eventually OD'd and Johnny Rotten went on the talk shows. Punk and its American counterpart that followed half a decade later shook the rock establishment to its roots — for about five minutes, before it went the way of all things countercultural and was co-opted.
Punks may have been nothing more than indoor hippies. But they sure hated hippies, and perhaps with reason. Hippies were about countering hypocrisy. When second wave boomers raised their heads and looked beyond their apartment complexes, they looked to their progenitors and saw a generation selling out.
1977: ”May the Force be with you.”
Hippies were distrustful of more than hypocrites. Hippies — indeed, perhaps most baby boomers — also held deep distrust of technology. Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey defined the evils of computers, of hi tech, of the Establishment. But that was about to change. George Lucas’ labor of love changed perceptions so significantly that it changed history. R2D2 and the especially persnickety C3PO made the perfect twin, goof-ball anodynes for the button-down malevolence of HAL 9000. In terms of popular perception the hi-tech future began with this movie. In the process childhood got a reprieve.
"May the Force be with you."
— Han Solo
And not a minute too soon. At last some optimism. George Lucas' wondrous space opera humanized computers and provided an encouraging take on hi-tech. Originally conceived as nine movies divided into three trilogies. The innovative special effects and the optimistic plot (that appeared to be a take on the Vietnam War) of Star Wars changed popular culture in America. In many ways this movie, which was later re-titled to Episode Three: A New Hope. After the self-indulgence and dispiriting revelations from government, popular culture injected a much-needed sense of hope to the sagging American spirit. When combined with the genius of Steven Spielberg, Lucas’ film allowed Americans to look toward the future — to look at themselves — with renewed expectations. In the process, a generation known for its anti-technology bent embraced it with the fervor of religious converts. In the end Star Wars and science fiction epics such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. restored pride in what it meant to be an American.
Not bad for what was essentially a B movie.
Given the past people couldn’t proceed into that future without making some sort of affirmation of the past. Americans warmed to this warmed over “history” of author Alex Haley’s ancestry. He claimed to have researched his past back to the West African village of Juffure, ultimately relying upon a griot (or native oral historian to name his ancestor captured into slavery,
"My name is Kunta Kinte."
— LeVar Burton in Roots
Roots: The Saga of an American Family came to TV the year after it was published, for which it won the National Book Award and a “special” Pulitzer. One hundred thirty million viewers watched the week-long miniseries in late January 1977, through a blizzard in parts of the country. It was the first time ever white Americans and many black Americans willingly, if all too briefly, came to grips with their slavery heritage.
The fact that Haley plagiarized parts of the book made little difference to the public. Readers bought a million copies the first year. The message delivered was too important. He ended up paying $650,000 to folklorist and writer Harold Courlander for stealing scenes from him. Some historians called Roots a novel, others a “fictionalized genealogy.” He best way to look at it though was the way Haley himself finally had to consider it – as “symbolic.” Haley admitted his work was not so much history as an account of mythmaking. "What Roots gets at in whatever form, is that it touches the pulse of how alike we human beings are when you get down to the bottom, beneath these man-imposed differences."
Few American blacks knew who their forebears were, let alone much about their West African heritage. The miniseries stirred popular interest in black history for the first time. The series held viewers as spellbound in Europe as well as in America.
An indication that all was not so well came during the hot summer months. In July the now safely faded memories of the Long Hot summers received a jolt when a power failure in New York City produced several days of rioting.
“Life during wartime”
— Talking Heads
Though not specifically about the blackout riots, the lively, apocalyptic rock song by David Byrne foreshadowed the coming urban chaos of the 80s, as indeed did the riots. Half an hour after the lights went out for the 9 million residents of New York City and Westchester County, thousands of people took to the streets in a delirious spree of looting, arson and smash and grab thievery. By contrast during the more pervasive and lengthy East Coast blackout of 1965 people stayed home and made babies. This time the zeitgeist was “mad as hell” and roared anarchy. The lesson was there in the barricades rioters erected against the police. Whatever community spirit had existed before was just about depleted. The downward spiral of self-absorption and corruption and loss was nearly complete. “They’re crazy,” one man told the New York Times. “They’re taking their shoes and breaking windows, They’re animals.” Another commented, “It’s a lot different from 10 years ago. Last time people were helpful.”
1978: Revolutionary Suicide
Self-centeredness of the Me Decade continued; intensified and began to mutate toward the political. With it came a rising level of anger. The blackout riots in the Big Apple indicated a rising passion and frustration, due most likely to the heavily faltering economy and the lack of strong direction from the leadership, especially from Jimmy Carter. The country had come adrift spiritually, politically and economically. The personal that was once political took on new interests. Physical fitness.
“Fewer and fewer people these days argue that running
shortens lives, while a lot of people say that it may
strengthen them. If that’s all we’ve got for the
time being, it seems a good enough argument for
running. Not airtight, but good.”
Jim Fixx, The Complete Book of Running
The fitness craze began with jogging. At first it seemed pure compensation. Our first military loss, domestic turmoil, and the fact the oldest Boomers were in their thirties had them out there chugging away with hopes of getting back to the way they used to be. The fitness craze grew to include health foods, vitamins and all manner of fad diets. The greatest boon to working out was the invention of Nautilus equipment by George Jones. These countered weighted and well padded machines promised to make it easier to acquire muscle tone. And they delivered on that promise.
Perhaps this was the natural result of baby boomers getting old. This generation, after all, had made youth the eight sacrament. There was something aggressively self-centered about not quite so young boomers flocking into newly constructed health spas, still smelling of cement dust and naugahyde, dressed in sharply colored-coordinated nylon workout togs. Companies such as Nike became multi-million dollar concerns creating scientifically designed sports shoes for running, working out, hiking, cross training. The didn’t take long for the boomer driven health craze to create a new aspect of contemporary fashion of faux warm-up suits and sports clothes. The Nike ad campaign that first featured the amazing Bo Jones and later the super-human Michael Jordan sold American not only exercise but an ethic, a culture of self-obsession.
Meanwhile, out in California, another revolution was brewing. Also based on the selfish passions that fueled the fitness boom, this one heralded the coming of a new and dominant political ethic: conservatism. Boomers, indeed a growing number of Americans, were finished with social reform, most especially social reform programs dictated by the federal government and funded with tax dollars. For some time people felt put upon by self-righteous liberals and relentless liberal reform. It was as though Howard Beale’s lament finally produced concrete action.
— Howard Jarvis
The 75 year old retired school teacher Jarvis urged citizens to “take control of the government again or it will control you.” Plenty of people agreed with him. Despite objections from all the state’s leaders, in June California voters rolled their property taxes 57%, back to mid-60’s — pre-Great Society — levels and blocked future increases. Carter’s pollster Pat Caddell called Proposition 13 the “primal scream of the people against Big Government.” Predictably these cuts resulted in a gradual reduction in public services such as schools, libraries, sanitation, parks, and public health facilities. Prop 13 also sought to block unfunded federal mandates to the states that had caused taxes to go up in the first place. The tax revolt that spread across the country represented the forefront of a grass-roots conservative reaction against what many Americans considered “wasteful” and unnecessary government programs to help blacks and the poor.
A federal program that irritated even more than those creating higher taxes concerned policy directives forcing employers to hirer minorities and women. Began under LBJ, Affirmative Action had spread from a program to give qualified blacks a boost into a massive scheme to aid minorities and women achieve equality with white men. With the Bakke Case, and despite palpable inequalities, the public said enough was enough.
“some attention to numbers”
— Justice Lewis Powell in the Universityof California vs. Bakke
Until this decision, the Supreme Court, indeed the federal government and the populace, supported a growing involvement of governments to end discrimination and to try to bring about the “equality as a fact of life” that LBJ spoke about. By this point, however, a general and deepening resentment against and philosophical opposition to such programs that did in fact discrimination against white was coalescing to try to stop them. Baby Boomers especially, were entering college or the work force during the heyday of Affirmative Action. And while it seemed that every white boomer had a story about reverse discrimination, either less qualified applicants getting the job or the promotion or slack being cut a minority or a women, on the whole white boomers had not been inconvenienced by Affirmative Action programs. Still, cases of reverse discrimination that violated the spirit and often the letter of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the 14th amendment suggested that governmental action that attempted, finally, to bind up America’s racial wounds was using heroic medicine that the patient refused to suffer.
The Supreme Court noted as much with a curious 5-4 split decision that outlawed quotas but upheld the use of Affirmative Action in the name of diversity. It appeared to be acknowledging the continuing problem of entrenched inequality based upon generations of active prejudice, but nodding its head to the growing anger at the color conscious nature of these activist policies. Many observers concluded, and rightfully so, that the Civil Rights Era ended when the Supreme Court ruled that schools could consider the number of matriculated minority students in enrolling less well qualified minorities. The decision in the University of California vs. Bakke upheld affirmative action in the name of “diversity” but banned quotas. It ordered Alan Bakke, a white applicant who’d been rejected by a quota system, admitted to medical school. His grades and MCAT’s had been higher than most of the sixteen minorities for whom places were automatically reserved. After this case, judicial and legislative activism on behalf of equal rights for all citizens began to succumb to an onslaught of counter suits and conservative legislation.
Many Americans felt perhaps the government had gone too far to promote racial equality. While others believed government couldn’t go far enough. Such growing divergences were a sign of the times that whites debated, often angrily, the requirements of Affirmative Action citizens in exile in a backwater country along the northern tip of South America had gone far to avoid what they thought was government invasiveness. Ironically, Jim Jones, the mad leader of People’s Temple cult, had dedicated his organization to ending racial prejudice and discrimination. In the end he called upon his followers, most of whom were black, to commit mass suicide by drinking cyanide and tranquilizer-laced laced strawberry Flavour-aide. And they would obey. Jones and man of his dedicated followers fled the home-base in San Francisco over issues of religious freedom. In reality its founder and leader had goner insane. He’d defrauded and abused his devoted followers, ordering for example they worship him as God. “Father,” they called him. Or ‘Dad.” They followed their father to the ultimate end: submitting to mass suicide that was also it part mass murder.
“… revolutionary suicide protesting against
the conditions of an inhumane world.”
— Jim Jones
Jones was the Me Decade’s ultimate solipsist. Considering the selfishness bent popular culture had taken, that was a considerable accomplishment. This was an era of indulgence. Those indulgences included the spiritual as well as the carnal. Jones enforced monogamous relationships even while encouraging inter-racial couples. Peoples Temple was but one of a growing number of religious, quasi-religious and non-religious cults that proliferated during the Me Decade’s extravaganza of self-indulgence.
One of the truly odd characteristics of the era was people hell-bent on self-fulfillment, enlightenment actualization, joining cults or becoming devoutly religious Jesus Freaks — all of which carried heavy strains of communitarianism. Conventional wisdom portrays Altamont, not Woodstock as the ultimate outcome of counter-culture indulgence. Perhaps, though, the loss of social consciousness and the extremes of public corruption that underlay the decade drew people into the self-debasement of cults, which were, after all, communes where zealots replaced hippies.
Charles Dederich, a former alcoholic transformed Synanon from an effective voluntary treatment program for drug addicts and alcoholics into a malevolent cult: “We will do your thinking for you.” Ultimately he forced his followers to shave their heads, swap spouses, vasectomies for men (excluding himself) and abortions for women. Unproven rumors persisted he ordered several renegade cult members murderers. Far more visible, Hare Krishnas — the Internationals Society of Krishna Consciousness — followed A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who came a little known version of Hindu to the U.S. in 1965. His followers shaved their heads, donned saffron robes walked the streets in small groups chanting, donning passers-by for money, preaching inner peace in the face of the political chaos of the age. Their leader died in 1978 and Krishnas have become less visible over the years. They remained peaceful though annoying, especially in their incessant requests for money. A cult that was similar to them, at least in their requests for money, was the Unification Church. The Moonies, some 37,000 of them, were a Christian offshoot led by South Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon were just as persistent in the street corner hawking for flowers for their church. Dominated by boomers, like the Krishnas, their average age was 24, Moonies dressed conventionally, men wore coats and ties, and obeyed Moon’s home-brew blend of Christianity, eastern Mysticism and Puritan morality — and obeyed Moon’s orders to severe ties with their families. Ensconced in a $625,000 estate in New York, he also decreed that all the world’s religious should merge under his control. Not that his followers minded. They were so devoted to him that thousand married, often to people they’d never met, in a mass wedding in Madison Square Garden on September 18, 1974 in which some 1,8800 couples were “married.” In 1984 he went to prison for income tax evasion. Far more dangerous was the Children of God led by David (Moses) Berg. This was a prominent doomsday cult inhabited various communes contacted by its leader through rambling “Mo Letters.” Berg encouraged his female followers to seduce new members..
These were some of the more prominent cults. As pervasive as cults and quasi cults such as est were during the 70s, none approached peoples Temple in extremes of action. Deprogrammers tried to rescue members from these often-prison-like groups. But many of them resorted to kidnapping to do so. Members were almost all adults. In the end fell to the individual to re-assert their own identity
Nine hundred fifteen men, women and children obeyed cult leader Jim Jones’ crazed call to mass suicide. They forced cyanide-laced Kool-Aid into their children, then drank it themselves. The insane Jones ordered his followers to kill a congressman investigating their cult in Jonestown, Guyana. Despite Charles Manson a decade earlier, this incident called attention to a widespread phenomenon. Many people were being seduced by the protective embrace of cults run by autocratic leaders promulgating bastardized forms of Christianity and eastern religions.
People flocked to cults. Peoples Temple surrendered all hope. Oddly, enough, signs of hope for the future were visible, even in time that at best could be called uncertain. Jimmy Carter, a decent man though ineffectual president, was able to effect a world-changing treaty between bitter enemies, Egypt and Israel. The deeply religious Carter’s persistent goodwill was the major factor is cementing the deal. He call for it, though, had originated with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who recognized the fruitlessness of continuing war with a people who had legitimate, historic claims of the land where they lived.
Camp David Accords
— Carter – Sadat – Begin
Sadat changed history in November 1977 when he flew to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel. Addressing the Israel Knesset, he offered to end the 30-year war. When the peace talks stalled, Jimmy Carter intervened and brought Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together in a meeting at Camp David in the Catoctin mountains near Washington, DC. Negotiations lasted 13 days in September and resulted in an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty that was signed in a joyous White House ceremony.
Added to that, science made the sort of breakthrough that brought the hope to infertile couples. As remarkable an event as the Camp David Accords were, this advance brought revolutionary change to all humans. Nature suddenly didn’t seem quite as inevitable.
First Test Tube Baby
— Louise Brown
Louise Brown became the first human being conceived outside the womb, via in vitro fertilization (in glass). Our Brave New World began on in England born July 25, 1978, with a blue-eyed blond baby dubbed by the AP “a truck driver’s miracle child.” Today three hundred fifty clinics perform 40,000 a year. IVF is expensive and has one in four failure rate, but it wasn’t the moral horror that religious predicted. Instead, it has proven to be God’s gift to infertile couples.
It is not completely disingenuous to ask why people didn’t stop and look around at the wondrous advances modern science and technology had been producing at a growing rate since the end of the Second World War and emerge with a true sense of optimism. It might be though that the rise of cults was a function of the global village, now made all the more intimate by the appearance of
— the global village
Millionaire entrepreneur Ted Turner’s Cable News Network was as much Marshall McLuhan’s test baby as his. (Turner’s test tube was a cathode ray tube.) As dramatic a birth as Louise Brown’s. Viewers marveling at the breathtaking scope of information now illuminating their TV screens were also made aware of the also breathtaking scope of human misery and hatred. Maybe Reverend Moon had a point.
Discos were not cults, not exactly anyway. But tawdry dens of pop culture mania drew people with similar promises of fulfillment. Disco music — the pop music format of the 70s — got its singular boost from a sleazy move featuring a rather cartoonish TV star.
Saturday Night Fever
— starring John Travolta
The rise of disco music and dance clubs offered faux urban sophistication to late boomers. Disco defined the Me Decade. The sleazy sophistication exemplified by Barry White, who bares a large responsibility for putting the bass line up front, de-emphasizing melody and lyric, offered itself as an explicit rejection of countrified rock festivals and muddy group gropes. The Village People’s satiric “YMCA” and “Macho Man” amounted to the only faint hint of intelligence in what was otherwise utterly mindless, artificial music. Disco was the first commercially successful music to utilize such artificial electronic instruments as drum machines and synthesizers, much of it programmed and sequenced through MIDI. The mindless beat-heavy music, with a pronounced dearth of soul, perfected the anti-political, conformist bent of the times. With a few exceptions, such as Donna Summer’s sumptuous vocals and Giorgio Moroder’s best productions, most acts did not perform live — because they couldn’t. They were studio creations. Not that anyone especially cared. In her biggest hit “Love to Love You Baby,” Summers repeated the title line twenty eight times while simulating the sounds of orgasm twenty-two times over the seventeen-minute duration of this interminable toon.
Maybe what was needed was a lesson in manners and civility.
“Dear Miss Manners, Please list some tactful ways
a man’s saliva from your face.
Gentle Reader, Please list some decent ways of acquiring
a man’s salvia on your face.”
— Miss Manners
Those at the disco should have read Miss Manners to help
them navigate troubling times.
Washington Post reporter Judith Martin started her thrice-weekly column in 1978 (and nine etiquette books) as a fresh way to deal in a civil way with the considerable alterations in social and sexual mores. The issues facing “polite-society” these days were utterly alien to the white-gloved worlds of Dear Abby and Amy Vanderbilt beginning with the correct way to handle cohabiting unmarried couples to cohabiting unmarried same-sex couples. Miss Manners became the perfect how-to guide for socially aggressive boomers.
1979: The Moral Majority
Such a fitting start to the final year of the decade that appeared to confirm worst fears that “the system was breaking down.”
Three Mile Island
— damaged nuclear power station
A cooling valve jammed and the reactor core badly overheated, almost producing a meltdown. In the resultant panic 100,000 people fled the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area. According to one member of the commission appointed to study the event, "No one knew what was going on at the time, and it scares the hell out of me." For the first time Americans faced the reality of potential devastation from nuclear energy. Suddenly the promises of cheap and safe and plentiful energy didn’t seem so promising. The near meltdown increased the visibility of the Anti-Nuke and environmental movements. Public fears brought an end to construction of nuclear power plants. In the end though, little radioactive material escaped into the atmosphere and no one was threatened. Jimmy Carter and his wife, wearing hard hats and covers over their shoes tat looked like bunny slippers, toured the plant to prove its safety. It quelled few fears and brought a lot of ridicule on the president and first lady. The “no nukes” movement that had been percolating along during the 70s had the feel of the last vestiges of the anti-war movement/counter-culture. And despite some well-taken points about nuclear safety and the difficulty of safely disposing of nuclear waste that would remain dangerous for decades, it had little impact. Events at Three-Mile Island were sufficient to force a change of direction away from nuclear energy. The costs had become prohibitive and local communities refused to countenance further plants.
These should have been optimistic times for boomers. The War was over. The oldest were entering the world of their fathers now in large numbers with high expectations that change, significant change would result. Nuclear energy aside, technological innovations were just beginning their futuristic onslaught.
— personal music
Sony’s innovation was just the first tickling of the tidal wave to come. Until this high tech innovation, music was a shared experience. Not exactly like visiting the band shell in the park to listen to John Phillip Sousa play the blues. But far different from what it would become. Originally called the Sound About, the highly portable cassette player sold for $200 a unit. Sony’s Akio Morita gambled and won. The Walkman caught on among Japanese satrap-hangers. Yuppies embraced them soon after. Boomers used them and soon watched their kids sink into sulking isolation in the back seats of the cars, shutting out their parents and the rest of the world listening to music that was, ahem ... becoming increasingly incomprehensible and disconcerting for that reason. Two hundred fifty 1999.
In addition, many of the reforms demanded in the streets a decade ago were being transformed to policy by those now on the inside. Indeed, the sensibility of the country had changed significantly. In part the result of social protest and cultural revolution. In part a function of a reeling post-war, post oil-shock economy. In part inevitability as the world realigned, as the oil producing nations, breaking free from economic colonialism, asserted themselves. These latter factors were not favorable and all, and to many overrode any positive changes that had come to American society. Japan began to challenge America and the West economically. The results were profound at home.
Raging double-digit inflation changed the way Americans lived. The country’s optimism faded. Confidence in the future dropped as gas shot up to dollar a gallon. Inflation peaked in 1980 at a painful 13.5%. Mortgage rates were a tasty 7.5% in October 1970. In October 1981 they maxed out at a bitter 18.45%. Inflation — too much money chasing too few goods — hit the middle class with such force people began to feel as though tough times of lowering prospects would never end. Lacking any sort of encouragement, they come to expect continually rising prices. They bought in anticipation of higher prices. A very reckless way to live.
— Secretary of the Treasury G. William Miller
Soaring oil prices and lack economic policies that argued a little inflation stimulated economic growth. The trouble was by 1979 a little inflation had become a lot of inflation and the economy stalled. Stagflation continued. In August, in what became his wisest domestic act, Carter appointed the tough-talking, cigar smoking New York banker Paul Volcker to chair the Federal Reserve Board. He began jacking up the interest rates to constrict the currency and squeeze inflation out of the economy. Volcker believed that long term inflation hurt the economy — at the time a somewhat contrarian philosophy. His policies proved very tough medicine. Interest rates rose steeply and, in the early 80s, the country moved into the deepest recession with the highest unemployment since the Great Depression. Slowly, painfully unemployment increased as workers were laid off and weaker businesses closed. The housing industry was hit the hardest. Potential homeowners couldn’t afford the interest rate needed to buy houses. Irate builders sent Volcker two-by-fours with “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” inscribed on them. But eventually the economy began to sort itself out. Volcker’s policies, continued by Alan Greenspan, laid the foundation for the prosperity to come. It also brought COLAs (cost-of-living-adjustments to wages) to counter inflation.
The uncertainty wasn’t just about reduced circumstances and lowered expectations. The more modest goals at home and abroad, the inevitable result of the post-Vietnam, realigned, re-ordered world, they also appeared to be the result of overpopulation and the over-use of the world’s natural resources. Americans comprised less than 6% of the world’s population. Yet. Since the 50’s had used over a third of its resources. The warnings were dire.
— Paul Erlich
Some people called him a doomsayer. Others took his predictions seriously enough that he appeared on Johnny Carson 25 times warning about overpopulation. Erlich and others preached family planning and contraceptives as a way to ward off what he viewed was certain disaster. The world was producing far too many people to be sustained by shrinking natural resources. Erlich turned out to be temporarily over-zealous in his forecasts of doom. Still, his basic fears hover just over the horizon
Yet, many boomers, many Americans were not at all happy about the direction in which their lives were headed. When President Carter spoke to the public not only about falling optimism and confidence and the failings of his own admission, it played out as if he were tendering his resignation. He might as well have been, One can applaud the man’s honesty. But this speech was exactly what the country did NOT need to hear. Jimmy Carter gave them honesty when they wanted leadership.
— Jimmy Carter
Although the phrase came from pollster Patrick Cadell and journalist Joseph Kraft, it characterized Carter's assessment of the psychological state of the union: a sense of failure, of diminished expectations without a real sense of crisis or impending danger. Optimism faded to lassitude. Energy lapsed into indolence. A perilous state of affairs for a democracy. In his July 15 address he admitted his own shortcomings and vowed to stop managing the nation and start leading it. He removed five cabinet officers and attempted to re-order his administration. But it was a wasted effort. National fatigue after years of chaos proved too much for the essentially good and genuine man to overcome.
Carter couldn’t have known at the time. Few saw it, in fact. But the conservative counter-revolution was accelerating. Though still formless, it had been underway for some time. Many voters viewed him, the most conservative democratic president since Grover Cleveland, as too liberal. Disgusted by the humorless self-righteousness reform and protest groups and the over-secularization of society outraged by gay rights, abortion and feminization, a lot of people turned to fundamentalist Christianity which itself turned to politics.
The Moral Majority
— Jerry Falwell
Americans have always been a religious people. Boomers have flocked to church throughout their lives. As the 70s progressed the essential conservatism of the generation slowly began to assert itself over the image of activism and nonconformity. First through a generational turn to Jesus and the birth of...
— Hippie Christians
Then to evangelical and fundamentalist Christian sects and denominations. Hen through their church into right wing politics. And a new form of activism was born. Many boomers came new to political work and protest. For many others, it was part of a journey from the New Left of their college days. The Moral majority was the simultaneous catalyst of and reaction to the rise of conservative Christianity. People, many if not most of them baby boomers, were alarmed by declining morals, the ban on school prayer, and the availability of abortion and pornography. Televangelists took to the airwaves attacking big government liberalism of the Great Society for creating a permissive society, blaming all our social ills on liberal social programs and the counterculture. Despite the corruption of the Nixon administration, the GOP and conservative took only a modicum of subliminal blame. They received an overwhelming response. Fundamentalist Pat Robertson declared, "We have enough votes to run the country." Prompted by the Carter administration’s decision to remove the tax exempt from segregated, church-run colleges and universities, Baptist minister Falwell founded a political organization to fight that and promote a legislative agenda that promised to ban abortions and curtail pornography as well as restore school prayer and promote "pro-God, pro-family policies in government." The Moral Majority issued morality ratings for Congress similar to those issued by the liberal American for Democratic Action.
Despite the public dislike of Falwell himself — he was widely scorned for his harsh, wrathful and even hateful posturing — they rallied behind his cause. The fact that the public tended to view him as a clerical version of Richard Nixon only emphasized its growing concern about the moral state of the country. Jerry Falwell played a central role in conservatism’s mighty rise. The Baptist minister, like Howard Beale, was openly “mad as hell” and would gladly bring God’s wrath down on his enemies. Which suited many voters just fine. His group became the shock troops of New Right conservatism that first appeared in the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. It was also part of the emerging Fourth Great Awakening, a nationwide religious revival that stressed strict, Biblical morality, ardent religiosity and ‘traditional values.’ When liberal critics pointed out that racism was, unfortunately, strong traditional values, it became traditional family values.
Religion makes far stranger bedfellows than politics. Two clerics from different parts of the world. In truth, they weren’t bedfellows. But, oddly enough, their complaints about American decadence were strikingly similar. Falwell and his many allies were in fact like the Ayatollah Khomeini, aspects of the world rise of religious fundamentalism that was itself a reaction to the spread of secular American culture. For America’s Christian right, Satan was at play in the fields of the Lord. For Khomeini, America was
The Great Satan
— Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini
Not that Americans cared. For them the Iranian revolution was an insult and an outrage, and they wanted revenge. In 1904 when a Moroccan strongman took an American citizen, Ion Pedicaris, hostage, TR said, “This government wants Pedicaris alive or Rasuli dead.” In 1979, receiving word of the hostage taking in Teheran, Jimmy Carter went the Washington’s National Cathedral and prayed. Upright and sincere, it was not was Americans wanted or needed. They cried out for forceful leadership.
The Iranian revolution culminated on the November 4 seizing of 52 Americans in the US embassy in Teheran. For 444 days America was held hostage by a theocracy that blamed American decadence and imperialism for Iran's problems. Our anger was surpassed only by our shame. We worried we'd become the pitiful, helpless giant Nixon warned against. The failure of the rescue mission at Desert One in April, 1980, sealed the fate of Carter's presidency. As a nation we were more humiliated by the hostage crisis than losing in Vietnam. The Ayatollah was also responsible for changing newsman Ted Koppel’s career. Every week night ABC aired a half hour news show “America Held Hostage” that combined expert commentary and sage, if pompous questioning that became a permanent fixture under its new name “Nightline.”
Carter’s world — and the country he led — seemed to be unraveling. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (a reprise of their 1947 invasion) was as great a shock as the hostage crisis. Yet another sign of what was becoming the Great Unraveling.
The Soviet Vietnam
In the early stages of the Iran Hostage Crisis, Soviet tanks rolled across its southern borders into Afghanistan. The brazen action caught America unawares. Worldwide it was a sign of American weakness and incompetence. Six months earlier Leonid Brezhnev pledged peace and received pecks on his flabby cheeks from Jimmy Carter. Tensions between the super powers rose again to early 60's levels. The helpless president responded by withdrawing from the Moscow Olympics. Later, the Reagan administration gave the mujahidin stinger missiles with which they neutralized Soviet helicopters. In 1988 Mikhail Gorbachev cited high costs and withdrew his troops.
"I can't lie to you about your chances,
but you have my sympathies."
— Ian Holm in Alien
This scary flick actually caused a few heart attacks.
At the time the sentiments of Ash, the android science officer, were hard
to dispute both for the Nostromo crew and for space ship America.