, . " "

Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


Chapter 31. The Crisis of Authority

T|he election of Richard Nixon in 1968 was the result of more than the unpopularity of Lyndon Johnson's policies and the divisions within the Democratic party. It was the result, too, of a widespread public reaction against what many believed was a frontal assault on the basis of American culture. Throughout American life in the late 1960s and early 1970s, new interest groups were mobilizing to demand protections and benefits. New values and assumptions were emerging to challenge traditional patterns of thought and behavior. The United States was in the throes, some believed, of a genuine cultural revolution.

But many Americansa clear majority, it seemed, on the basis of the 1968 election returnswere tired of and frightened by the social turmoil. They were coming to resent the attention directed toward minorities and the poor, the federal social programs that were funneling billions of dollars into the inner cities to help the poor and unemployed, the increasing tax burden on the middle class, the "hippies" and radicals who were dominating public discourse with their bitter critiques of everything middle-class Americans held dear. It was time, such men and women believed, for a restoration of stability.

In Richard Nixon they found a man who seemed perfectly to match their mood. Himself a product of a hard-working, middle-class family, he had risen to prominence on the basis of his own unrelenting efforts. His public demeanor displayed nothing of the flashiness of the Kennedys or the stridency of the Democratic left. He projected instead an image of stern dedication to traditional values. The extraordinary narrowness of his margin of victory in 1968 suggested that many Americans continued to consider him sanctimonious, "tricky," and unappealing. To much of the nation, however, he was the embodiment of the search for a new, more placid social order.

Yet the presidency of Richard Nixon, far from returning calm and stability to American politics, produced an unparalleled national crisis. The new president inherited many problems from his predecessor that would have plagued any leader. The war in Vietnam, the social conflicts of the 1960s, the failure of major institutions to perform as the public had come to expectall had combined by 1969 to make Americans suspicious of their leaders and mistrustful of their government. Yet it was the performance of Nixon's own administration that caused the most rapid erosion of that public respect for authority. By the early 1970s, the once vigorous American economy had begun a long descent into crisis; and the failure of government to reverse its course raised serious questions about the ability of elected officials to govern. Of more immediate importance, beginning in 1972, the administration found itself embroiled in a series of scandals that not only resulted in Nixon's untimely departure from office but further increased public cynicism about the nation's leadership.

The Turbulent Society

What was perhaps most alarming to conservative Americans in the 1960s and 1970s was a pattern of social and cultural protest that seemed to produce constant turmoil and uncertainty. Younger Americans, in particular, were raising a direct and wide-ranging challenge to the conventions of national life; and they were doing so by giving vent to two distinct impulses.

One was the impulse, emerging from the political left, to create a great new community of "the people," which would rise up to break the power of corrupt elites and would force the nation to end the war, pursue racial and economic justice, and transform its political life. The other, at least equally powerful impulse was the vision of individual "liberation." It found expression in part through the efforts of particular groupsblacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, and othersto define and assert themselves as coherent interests and to make demands on the larger society. It also found expression through the efforts of individuals to create a new cultureone that would allow them to escape from what many considered the dehumanizing pressures of the modern "technocracy."

The New Left

Among the products of the racial crisis and the war in Vietnam was a radicalization of many American students, who in the course of the 1960s formed what became known as the New Left. The New Left emerged from many sources, but from nothing so much as the civil-rights movement, in which many idealistic young Americans had become involved in the early 1960s. Exposed as a result to evidence of social injustice, enraged by the violence and racism they encountered at the hands of segregationists and others, some civil-rights activists were by the mid-1960s beginning to consider far more radical political commitments than they once had embraced. As early as 1962, a group of students gathered in Michigan to form an organization to give voice to their political demands: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Their declaration of beliefs, the Port Huron Statement, signaled much of what was to come. "Many of us began maturing in complacency," the statement (most of it the work of student activist Tom Hayden) declared. "As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss." In the following years, as the racial crisis grew more intense and the war in Vietnam expanded, members of SDS became even more troubled, extending the scope of their demands and the range of their activities until they had become the cutting edge of student radicalism.

For a time, that radicalism centered on issues related to modern universities, with which most members of the New Left were associated. A 1964 dispute at the University of California at Berkeley over the rights of students to engage in political activities on campus was the first outburst of what was to be nearly a decade of campus turmoil. The tumultuous Berkeley Free Speech Movement soon moved beyond the immediate issue of pamphlet distribution and produced far more fundamental protests against the depersonalized nature of the modern "multiversity" and against the role of educational institutions in sustaining corrupt or immoral public policies. The antiwar movement greatly inflamed and expanded the challenge to the universities; and beginning in 1968, campus demonstrations, riots, and building seizures became almost commonplace. At Columbia University in New York, students seized the offices of the president and other members of the administration, occupying them for days until local police forcibly ejected them. At Harvard University a year later, the seizure of administrative offices resulted in an even more violent confrontation with police. Over the next several years, hardly any major university was immune to some level of disruption from radicals and activists among its own student body. Occasionally, there were more serious episodes. Small groups of particularly fervent radicalsmost notably the "Weathermen," an offshoot of SDSwere responsible for instances of arson and bombing that destroyed some campus buildings and claimed several lives.

The New Left never succeeded in attracting the support of more than a few students to its most radical tactics and demands. It succeeded brilliantly, however, in elevating the antiwar movement to a major national crusade. Among other things, student activists were instrumental in organizing some of the largest political demonstrations in American history to protest the war in Vietnam. The march on the Pentagon of October 1967, where demonstrators were met by a solid line of armed troops; the "spring mobilization" of April 1968, which attracted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in cities around the country; the Vietnam "moratorium" of the fall of 1969, during which millions of opponents of the war gathered in major rallies across the nation; and countless other demonstrations, large and smallall helped thrust the issue of the war into the center of American politics.

Closely related to opposition to the warand another issue that helped to fuel the New Leftwas opposition to military conscription. Since the early 1950s, the government had relied on the draft to staff its peacetime army, generally without controversy. But when in the 1960s draftees began to be called on to fight in a stalemated, unpopular war, dissent grew quickly. The gradual abolition of many traditional defermentsfor students, teachers, husbands, fathers, and othersswelled the ranks of those faced with conscription (and thus likely to oppose it). And the high-handed manner in which the draft was being administered by General Lewis Hershey spawned even greater bitterness. The shadow of the draftthe possibility of being compelled to join a despised military and fight in a hated warloomed large over an entire generation of American youth. Draft card burnings became common features of antiwar rallies on college campuses. Many draft-age Americans simply refused induction, accepting what were occasionally long terms in jail as a result. Thousands of others fled to Canada, Sweden, and elsewhere (where they were joined by many deserters from the armed forces) to escape conscription, even though they realized it might be years before they could return home without facing prosecution. Not until 1977, when President Jimmy Carter issued a general pardon to draft resisters and a far more limited amnesty for deserters, did the Vietnam exiles begin to return to the country in substantial numbers.

The Counterculture

Closely allied to the emergence of the New Left, although very different in its basic impulses, was the growth of a new youth culture openly scornful of the values and conventions of middle-class society. The most visible characteristic of the counterculture, as it became known, and the one that seemed to have the widest influence, was a change in life style. As if to display their contempt for conventional standards, young Americans flaunted long hair, shabby or flamboyant clothing, and a rebellious disdain for traditional speech and decorum. Central to the counterculture were drugs: marijuana smokingwhich from 1966 began to become as common a youthful diversion as beer drinking had once beenand the use of other, more potent hallucinogens, such as LSD. There was as well among members of the counterculture a new, more permissive view of sex.

It was these open challenges to traditional life styles that parents and others found most disturbing about the counterculture, and there was a temptation among many in the older generation to dismiss such youths simply as iconoclasts and hedonists. That was no doubt true of many. But the counterculture also encompassed a clear philosophy, one that offered a far more fundamental challenge to the American mainstream than the changes in appearance and social behavior. Like the New Left, with which it in many ways overlapped, the counterculture challenged the very structure of modern American society, attacking its banality, its hollowness, its artificiality, its isolation from nature. Among the heroes of the counterculture were some of the beat poets and writers of the 1950sAllen Ginsberg and others who had been making similar criticisms years before, when few would listen.

The most committed adherents of the counterculturethe hippies, who came to dominate the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco and whose influence spread to many other areas, and the "dropouts," who retreated to rural communes in Colorado, New Hampshire, and elsewhererejected modern society altogether and attempted to find refuge in a simpler, more natural existence. But even those whose commitment to the counterculture was less dramatic shared a pervasive commitment to the idea of personal fulfillment. Such popular phrases as "Do your own thing" and "If it feels good, do it" seemed to capture much of the spirit of the counterculture. In a corrupt and alienating society, the new creed seemed to suggest, the first responsibility of the individual is cultivation of the self, the unleashing of one's own full potential for pleasure and fulfillment.

Theodore Roszak, whose book The Making of a Counter Culture (1969) became a central document of the era, captured much of the spirit of the movement in his frank admission that "the primary project of our counter culture is to proclaim a new heaven and a new earth so vast, so marvelous that the inordinate claims of technical expertise must of necessity withdraw to a subordinate and marginal status in the lives of men." Charles Reich, in The Greening of America (1970), was even more explicit, arguing that the individual should strive for a new form of consciousness"Consciousness III," as he called itin which the self would be the only reality.

The effects of the counterculture were not restricted to rebellious youths. They reached out as well to the society at large and provided a set of social norms that many young people (and some adults) chose to imitate. Long hair and freakish clothing became the badge not only of hippies and radicals but of an entire generation. The use of marijuana, the freer attitudes toward sex, the iconoclastic (and often obscene) languageall spread far beyond the realm of the true devotees of the counterculture. And perhaps the most pervasive element of the new youth society was one that even the least radical members of the generation embraced: rock music.

Rock-'n'-roll had first achieved wide popularity in the 1950s, on the strength of such early performers as Buddy Holly and, above all, Elvis Presley. Early in the 1960s, its influence began to spread, a result in large part of the phenomenal popularity of the Beatles, whose music was first heard in the United States in 1964. For a time, most rock musicianslike most popular musicians before themconcentrated largely on uncontroversial romantic themes. But rock's driving rhythms, its undisguised sensuality, its often harsh and angry toneall made it an appropriate vehicle for expressing the themes of the social and political unrest of the late 1960s. By the end of the decade, therefore, rock had begun to reflect many of the new iconoclastic values of its time. The Beatles helped lead the way by abandoning their once simple and seemingly innocent style for a new, experimental, even mystical approach that reflected the growing popular fascination with drugs and Eastern religions. Others, such as the Rolling Stones, turned even more openly to themes of anger, frustration, and rebelliousness. Many popular musicians used their music to express explicit political radicalism as wellespecially some of the leading folk singers of the era, such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

Even those Americans who had no interest in rock music or other aspects of the counterculture could not avoid the evidence of how rapidly the norms of their society were changing. Those who attended movies saw a gradual disappearance of the banal, conventional messages that had dominated films since the 1920s. Instead, they saw explorations of political issues, of new sexual mores, of violence, of social conflict. And the most influential source of entertainment of all, television, began similarly to turn away (even if more slowly than the other media) from its evocation of the stable, middle-class, suburban family. Beginning in the early 1970s, it started to offer programming imbued with social conflictas exemplified by the enormously popular All in the Family, whose protagonist, Archie Bunker, was a lower-middle-class bigot.

Indian Militancy

The 1960s saw the emergence as well of powerful "liberation" movements among racial, ethnic, and other minority groups. The emergence of black self-awareness and black political power was, of course, the most obvious manifestation of the new spirit. But other groups, too, became engaged in the search for liberation.

Few minorities had deeper or more justifiable grievances against the prevailing culture than American Indiansor Native Americans, as they began to call themselves in the 1960s. Ever since the 1890s, Indians had lived in unalleviated poverty as wards of the federal government, which subjected them to a series of fluctuating and often brutal policies. By the 1960s, not only had the Indian population grown much faster than that of the rest of the nation (nearly doubling between 1950 and 1970 to a total of about 800,000), but Indians had established themselves as the least prosperous, least healthy, and least stable group in the society. Annual family income for Indians was $1,000 less than that for blacks. The Native American unemployment rate was ten times the national rate. Joblessness was particularly high on the reservations, where nearly half the Indians lived and where few industries or other sources of employment existed. But even the many Indians who left the reservations for the cities found only limited opportunities. Many had received inadequate education and training and were qualified only for menial jobs. Life expectancy among Indians was more than twenty years lower than the national average. Suicides among Indian youths were 100 times more frequent than among white youths. And while black Americans attracted the attention (for good or for ill) of many whites, Indians remained all but totally ignored.

Although the Kennedy administration attempted to restore government support for tribal autonomy a policy maintained by succeeding administrations as wellIndian grievances were, like the grievances of other minorities, soon receiving open expression. In 1961, more than 400 members of sixty-seven tribes gathered in Chicago to discuss ways of bringing all Indians together in an effort to redress common wrongs. The manifesto they issued, the Declaration of Indian Purpose, reflected the same impulse toward cultural liberation that other segments of the population would soon adopt. It stressed the "right to choose our own way of life" and the "responsibility of preserving our precious heritage." In succeeding years, younger and more militant Indians formed their own organizationsmodeled on the new black-power groupsof which the most prominent was the American Indian Movement (AIM), established in 1968 and drawing its greatest support from those Indians who lived in urban areas. The new activism succeeded in winning some attention from the government to the plight of the tribes. Congress included Indians in the benefits of the Economic Opportunity Act; and Lyndon Johnson promised in 1968 a "new goal" for Indian programs that "stresses self-determination" and "erases old attitudes of paternalism." The results, however, were negligible.

Leaders of AIM and other insurgent groups soon turned instead to direct action. In 1968, Indian fishermen, seeking to exercise old treaty rights on the Columbia River and in Puget Sound, clashed with officials of the state of Washington. The following year, members of several tribes occupied the abandoned federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, claiming the site "by right of discovery." In response to the growing pressure, the new Nixon administration appointed a Mohawk-Sioux to the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1969; and in 1970, the president promised both increased tribal self-determination and an increase in federal aid. The promises were not fulfilled.

Indian frustration finally produced the most forceful protests in decades in the winter of 1972-1973. In November 1972, nearly 1,000 protesters forcibly occupied the building of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., for six days. A more celebrated protest occurred later that winter at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the site of the 1890 massacre of Sioux Indians by federal troops.

In the early 1970s, Wounded Knee was part of a large Sioux reservation, two-thirds of which was under the control of white ranchers. Conditions for the Indian residents were desperate and alone might have been sufficient to spark resistance. Passions among younger and more militant tribal members were aroused further after the 1972 murder of a Sioux by a group of whites, who were not, many Indians believed, adequately punished. In February 1973, members of AIM seized and occupied for two months the town of Wounded Knee, demanding radical changes in the administration of the reservation and insisting that the government honor its long-forgotten treaty obligations. A brief clash between the occupiers and federal forces left one Indian dead and another wounded. Shortly thereafter the siege came to an end. Generally more effective than these militant protests were the victories that various tribes were achieving in the 1970s in a wave of lawsuits in the federal courts. Citing violations by the federal government of ancient treaty obligations, Native Americans began winning judicial approval of their demands for restitution. Beginning with a case in Alaska in 1969, the legal actions spread quickly across the country, establishing a possible basis for a major change in the economic status of many tribes.

Hispanic Americans

More numerous and more visible than the Indians were Hispanic Americans, the fastest-growing minority group in the nation. In 1960, Hispanics had numbered only slightly over 3 million; in 1970, they had increased to more than 9 million; in 1980, the U.S. census (which many believed had failed to count many Hispanics) listed 14.6 million, making them the second largest minority (after blacks) in the country. They were also among the poorest.

Hispanics were not, of course, a single, undif-ferentiated group. There were large numbers of people of Puerto Rican background, concentrated in New York City. A substantial Cuban population was settled in Florida: at first largely the result of a wave of middle-class refugees who had fled the Castro regime in the early 1960s, then enlarged by a flood of poorer immigrants in 1980, when Castro temporarily lifted exit restrictions. The most numerous groupMexican-Americanslived in California, Texas, and other states of the Southwest. An uncounted number of themas many as 7 million according to some estimateswere illegal immigrants (mojados, or "wetbacks"). Others were temporary migrant workers (braceros). Many, however, were descendants of families who had been living in Mexican territory when it was incorporated into the United States in the nineteenth century.

Like blacks and Indians, Hispanic Americans responded to the highly charged climate of the 1960s by developing their own sense of ethnic identification and by organizing for political and economic power.

Their successes were impressive. Affluent Hispanics became an important force in Miami, where they operated major businesses and filled influential positions in the professions; in Los Angeles, where they organized as an influential political group; and in the Southwest, where they elected Mexican-Americans to seats in Congress and to several governorships.

For the majority of Hispanics, however, the path to economic and political power was more arduous. In New York, Puerto Rican immigrants were crammed into the city's worst slums, including the notorious South Bronx, which became in the 1970s a national symbol of urban decay. In other cities, Hispanics suffered economic deprivation and overt discrimination; in many areas, they became involved in bitter and violent rivalries with blacks.

One Hispanic group, at least, brought the power of organization and political action strongly to bear against problems of poverty and oppression. In California, an Arizona-born Mexican-American farm worker, Cesar Chavez, succeeded where generations of migrants before him had tried and failed: He created an effective union of itinerant farm workers. His United Farm Workers (UFW), a largely Hispanic organization, launched a prolonged strike in 1965 against growers to demand, first, recognition of their union and, second, increased wages and benefits. When employers resisted, Chavez enlisted the cooperation of college students, churches, and civil-rights groups (including CORE and SNCC) and organized a nationwide boycott, first of table grapes and then of lettuce. In 1968, he campaigned openly for Robert Kennedy, bringing his farm workers into the coalition of the dispossessed that the senator was attempting to establish and, more important, winning national recognition of the UFW's cause. Two years later, Chavez won a substantial victory when the growers of half of California's table grapes signed contracts with his union. In the ensuing years, his union suffered less from the opposition of growers than from competition with the powerful Teamsters Union, which attempted to entice farm workers into its own vast labor network.

Hispanic Americans also became the focus of another dispute that was to prove divisive into the 1980s: the issue of bilingualism. It was a question that aroused the opposition not only of many whites but of some Hispanics as well. Supporters of bilingualism in education argued that Spanish-speaking Americans were entitled to schooling in their own language, that only thus could they achieve an equal footing with English-speaking students. Opponents cited not only the cost and difficulty of bilingualism but the dangers it posed to the ability of Spanish-speaking students to become assimilated into the mainstream of American culture. Even many Hispanics feared that bilingualism would isolate their communities further from the rest of America and increase resentments toward them.

The efforts of blacks, Hispanics, Indians, and others to forge a clearer group identity ran counter to a longstanding premise of American political thoughtthe idea of the "melting pot." Older immigrant groups liked to believe that they had advanced in American society by assimilating, by adopting the values and accepting the rules of the world to which they had moved and advancing within it on its terms. The newly militant ethnic groups of the 1960s seemed less willing to accept the standards of the larger society and were demanding instead recognition of their own ethnic identity.

To a large degree, they succeeded. Recognition of the special character of particular groups was embedded in federal law through a wide range of affirmative action programs, which extended not only to blacks but to Indians, Hispanics, and others as well. The rise of "black studies" programs in schools and universities helped pave the way for new attention to Hispanic and Indian culture and heritage in many institutions as well. The Ethnic Heritage Act of 1972 appropriated federal funds to set up such ethnic studies programs and in the process gave federal recognition to the idea that the preservation of ethnicity was a "positive constructive force in our society," rather than an obstacle to be overcome by the workings of the melting pot.

The New Feminism

American women in the 1960s were hardly a minority. They constituted 51 percent of the population. In the course of the decade, however, many women began to identify with members of other, smaller oppressed groups and to demand a liberation of their own. Sexual discrimination was so deeply embedded in the fabric of society that when feminists first began to denounce it, many Americans responded with bafflement and anger. By the 1970s, however, public awareness of the issue had increased dramatically, and the role of women in American life had changed more radically than that of any other group in the nation.

Early Stirrings

Feminism was a weak and often embattled force in American life for more than forty years after the adoption of the woman suffrage amendment in 1920. A few determined women kept feminist political demands alive in the National Woman's Party and other organizations. Many more women expanded the acceptable bounds of female activity by entering the workplace or engaging in political activities. Nevertheless, through the 1950s and early 1960s, it seemed at times as if feminism was virtually extinct. Yet within a very few years, it evolved from an almost invisible remnant to one of the most powerful social movements in American history.

The 1963 publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique is often cited as the first event of contemporary women's liberation. Friedan had graduated from Smith College in 1947. Fifteen years later she traveled around the country to interview her classmates-the great majority of whom were suburban housewives and mothersand to ask them about the state of their lives. These women were living out the dream that postwar American society had created for them, what Friedan called the "mystique of feminine fulfillment." And yet many of them were deeply frustrated and unhappy. The suburbs, Friedan claimed, had become a "comfortable concentration camp," providing the women who inhabited them with no outlets for their intelligence, talent, and education. The "feminine mystique" was responsible for "burying millions of women alive." The only escape was for them to begin to fulfill "their unique possibilities as separate human beings."

Friedan's book did not so much cause the revival of feminism as give voice to a movement that was already stirring. By the time the book appeared, John Kennedy had already established the President's Commission on the Status of Women; and although the president's motives in creating it probably had more to do with deflecting more substantive feminist demands than with real commitment to women's goals, the commission brought widespread attention to sexual discrimination and helped create important networks of feminist activists who would lobby for legislative redress. Also in 1963, the Kennedy administration secured passage of the Equal Pay Act, which barred the pervasive practice of paying women less than men for equal work.

A year later, Congress incorporated into the Civil Rights Act of 1964 an amendmentTitle VIIthat extended to women many of the same legal protections against discrimination that were being extended to blacks. It had been introduced as a joke by Southern Democrats attempting to discredit the entire civil-rights package; but it survived the legislative debate and became the basis for a major federal assault on sexual discrimination in later years.

The events of the early 1960s helped expose a contradiction that had been developing for decades between the image and the reality of women's roles in America. The image was what Friedan had called the "feminine mystique"the ideal of women living happy, fulfilled lives in purely domestic roles. The reality was that increasing numbers of women (including, by 1963, over a third of all married women) had already entered the workplace and were encountering widespread discrimination there; and the reality was, too, that many other women were finding their domestic lives suffocating and frustrating. The conflict between the ideal and the reality was crucial to the rebirth of feminism.

The Rebirth

In 1966, three years after publishing her book, Friedan joined with other feminists to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), which was to become the nation's largest and most influential feminist organization. "The time has come," the founders of NOW maintained, "to confront with concrete action the conditions which now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right as individual Americans and as human beings." Like other movements for liberation, feminism drew much of its inspiration from the black struggle for freedom. 'There is no civil rights movement to speak for women," the NOW organizers claimed, "as there has been for Negroes and other victims of discrimination."

The new organization reflected the varying constituencies of the emerging feminist movement. It responded to the complaints of the women Friedan's book had examinedaffluent suburbanites with no outlet for their interestsby demanding greater educational opportunities for women and denouncing the domestic ideal and the traditional concept of marriage. But the heart of the movement, at least in the beginning, was directed toward the needs of women in the workplace. NOW denounced the exclusion of women from professions, from politics, and from countless other areas of American life because of ancient male prejudices about the proper role of women. It decried legal and economic discrimination, including the practice of paying women less than men for equal work (a practice the Equal Pay Act had not eliminated). The organization called for "a fully equal partnership of the sexes, as part of the worldwide revolution of human rights."

By the late 1960s, such demands had attracted a large following among affluent, white, educated womenalthough generally not among the older women whose lives Friedan had studied. The new feminists were younger, the vanguard of the "baby-boom" generation; many of them drew inspiration from the New Left and the counterculture. Some were involved in the civil-rights movement, others in the antiwar crusade. Many had found that even within those movements, they faced discrimination and exclusion, that they were constantly subordinated to male leaders. Moving from those experiences, some embraced a more radical feminism than the founders of NOW had envisioned.

By 1971, the membership of NOW had expanded to 15,000; and with that expansion had come a significant change in the tone and direction of the organization and of the women's movement as a whole. New books by younger feminists expressed a harsher critique of American society than Friedan had offered. Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (1969) signaled the new direction by complaining that "every avenue of power within the society is entirely within male hands." The answer to women's problems, in other words, was not, as Friedan had suggested, for individual women to search for greater personal fulfillment; it was for women to band together to assault the male power structure. Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex (1970) was subtitled "The Case for Feminist Revolution."

In its most radical form, the new feminism rejected the whole notion of marriage, family, and even heterosexual intercourse (a vehicle, some women claimed, of male domination). Not many women, indeed not even many feminists, embraced such extremes. But women's growing sense of themselves as an exploited group banding together to force social change was by the early 1970s becoming one of the most powerful phenomena in American life. National magazines and the television networks helped legitimize the women's movement by giving it extensive and increasingly respectful attention. Ms. magazine, founded by Gloria Steinem and others, had attracted 200,000 subscribers by 1973.

Expanding Achievements

By the early 1970s, the achievements of the women's movement were already substantial. In 1971, the government extended its affirmative action guidelines to include womenlinking sexism with racism as an officially acknowledged social problem. Women were making rapid progress, in the meantime, in their efforts to move into the economic and political mainstream. The nation's major educational institutions began in the late 1960s to open their doors to women for the first time. Princeton and Yale, two of the most prestigious all-male colleges, accepted female undergraduates in 1969. Within a few years, all but a few previously all-male academic institutions had done the same. (Some women's colleges, in the meantime, began accepting male students.)

Women were becoming an important force in business and in the professions. Nearly half of all married women held jobs by the mid-1970s, and almost nine-tenths of all women with college degrees worked. The two-career family, in which both the husband and the wife maintained active professional lives, was becoming a widely accepted norm; many women were postponing marriage or motherhood for the sake of their careers. There were also important symbolic changes, such as the refusal of many women to adopt their husbands' names when they married and the use of the term "Ms." in place of "Mrs." or "Miss"the latter change intended to denote the irrelevance of a woman's marital status in the professional world.

Women were also advancing in some of the most visible areas of American life. In politics, they were by the early 1970s beginning to compete effectively with men for both elected and appointive positions. In 1980, two women won seats in the United States Senateboth elected in their own right rather than, like all woman senators before them, to succeed their husbands. A substantial number of women served in the United States House of Representatives throughout the 1970s, and two won election to state governorships. The number of female appointments in the executive branch rose steadily; two women held cabinet positions in the Carter administration, and one in the Reagan administration. The first female justice of the Supreme CourtSandra Day O'Connortook her seat in 1981. And in 1984, the Democratic party chose a woman, Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York, as its vice-presidential candidate.

In professional athletics, in the meantime, women were beginning to compete with men both for attention and for an equal share of prize money. Billiejean King spearheaded the most effective female challenge to male domination of sports. Under her leadership, professional woman tennis players established their own successful tours and demanded equal financial incentives when they played in the same tournaments as men. By the late 1970s, the federal government was pressuring colleges and universities to provide women with athletic programs equal to those available to men. In academia, women were expanding their presence in traditional scholarly fields; they were also creating a wholly new field of their own women's studies, which by the early 1980s was the fastest-growing area of American scholarship. Women even joined what had previously been the most celebrated all-male fraternity in American culture: the space program. Sally Ride became the first woman astronaut to fly in space in 1983.

Of all the feminist crusades of the 1960s and 1970s, none united more women from more different backgrounds than the campaign for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Congress approved the amendment in 1972 and sent it to the states; and for a while it seemed that eventual ratification was only a matter of time. By the end of the 1970s, however, the momentum behind the amendment had died. Approval of the ERA remained several states short of the three quarters necessary for enactment; and some state legislatures that had earlier voted in favor were trying to rescind their approval. In 1979, Congress granted a three-year extension of the time permitted for ratification.

The ERA was in trouble not because of indifference but because of a rising chorus of objections to it from those who feared it would create a major disruption of traditional social patterns. In 1980, the Republican partyafter forty years of support for the idea of the ERAwrote into its platform a new plank opposing the amendment. And two years later, the amendment finally died when the time allotted for ratification expired.

The Abortion Controversy

A vital element of American feminism since the 1920s had been the effort by women to win greater control of their own physical and sexual lives. In its least controversial form, this impulse helped produce an increasing awareness in the 1960s and 1970s of the problems of rape, sexual abuse, and wife beating. Far more divisive, however, was the desire of many women to control their reproductive function in new ways. There continued to be some controversy over the dissemination of contraceptives and birth-control information; but that issue, at least, seemed to have lost much of the explosive character it had possessed in the 1920s, when Margaret Sanger had become a figure of public scorn for her efforts on its behalf. A related issue, however, stimulated as much popular passion as any question of its time: abortion.

Abortion had once been legal in much of the United States, but by the beginning of the twentieth century it was banned by statute in most of the country and remained so into the 1960s (although abortions continued to be performed quietly, and at times dangerously, out of sight of the law). But the growing strength of the women's movement increased pressure on behalf of the legalization of abortion. Several states had abandoned restrictions on abortion by the end of the 1960s. And in 1973, the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade invalidated all laws prohibiting abortion during the "first trimester" the first three months of pregnancy. The issue, it seemed, had been settled.

In the following years, however, opposition to abortion revived, growing by the 1980s into one of the nation's most powerful political forces. The right-to-life movement, as it called itself, managed first to persuade Congress to ban all federal Medicaid funding for abortions; many state legislatures imposed similar bans. At the same time, pressure was growing for a "human life" amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting abortion even for those women who could afford it. The moral and religious fervor that the antiabortion movement had aroused, among American Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants in particular, and the growing numbers of followers it had attracted, won it support from many politicians (including President Ronald Reagan), even though public-opinion polls showed that a majority of the public continued to support the right to an abortion.

The women's movement was at once the most potent symbol and the most glaring exception to the general impulse toward political and cultural "liberation" of the late 1960s. Feminism expressed both a desire to win social justice through collective political actiona desire that characterized the New Left and a concern for individual fulfillment and personal freedoma concern that typified much of the counterculture. But it differed from both in one fundamental respect: its success. The women's movement may not have fulfilled all its goals. But it achieved fundamental and permanent changes in the position of women in American life, and it had itself become a lasting political and social force.

Nixon, Kissinger, and the War

Richard Nixon assumed office in 1969 committed not only to restoring stability at home but to creating a new and more stable order in the world. Few presidents have entered the White House with such well-developed ideas about foreign policy; few have moved as decisively to translate those ideas into practice.

Central to Nixon's hopes for international stability was a resolution of the stalemate in Vietnam. Yet the new president felt no freer than his predecessor to abandon the American commitment in Indochina. He realized that the endless war was undermining both the nation's domestic stability and its position in the world. But he feared that a precipitous retreat would destroy American honor and "credibility."

During the 1968 campaign, Nixon claimed to have formulated a plan to bring "peace with honor" in Vietnam. He had refused to disclose its details. Once in office, however, he soon made clear that the plan consisted of little more than a vague set of general principles, not of any concrete measures to extricate the United States from the quagmire. American involvement in Indochina continued for four more years, during which the war expanded both in its geographic scope and in its bloodiness. And when a settlement finally emerged early in 1973, it produced neither peace nor honor. It succeeded only in removing the United States from the wreckage.


Nixon had long considered himself an expert in foreign affairs, and he was as president far more drawn to international matters than to domestic ones. But despite his own passionate interest in diplomacy, he brought with him into government a public figure who ultimately seemed to overshadow the president himself in the conduct of international affairs: Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger was a respected and prolific professor of international politics at Harvard when Nixon tapped him to serve as his special assistant for national security affairs. Both Secretary of State William Rogers, who had served as Eisenhower's attorney general, and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who had been an influential member of Congress, were far more experienced in public life. But Kissinger quickly outshone them both. Nixon's passion for concentrating decision making in the White House was in large measure responsible, but Kissinger's keen intelligence and his remarkable adeptness both in fighting for bureaucratic influence and in currying favor with the press were at least equally important. Together, Nixon and Kissinger set out to find an acceptable solution to the stalemate in Vietnam.

The new Vietnam policy moved along several fronts. One was an effort to limit domestic opposition to the war so as to permit the administration more political space in which to maneuver. Aware that the military draft was one of the most visible targets of dissent, the administration devised a new "lottery" system, through which only a limited group of nineteen-year-oldsthose with low lottery numberswould be eligible for the draft. The new system would continue to supply the military with its manpower needs while removing millions of potential critics from the danger of conscription. Later, the president urged the creation of an all-volunteer army that would permit the abolition of the draft altogether. By 1973, the Selective Service System was on its way to at least temporary extinction.

More important in stifling dissent, however, was the new policy of "Vietnamization" of the warthat is, the training and equipping of the South Vietnamese military to assume the burden of combat in place of American forces. In the fall of 1969, Nixon announced the withdrawal of 60,000 American ground troops from Vietnam, the first reduction in U.S. troop strength since the beginning of the war. The withdrawals continued steadily for more than three years, so that by the fall of 1972 relatively few American soldiers remained in Indochina. From a peak of more than 540,000 in 1969, the number had dwindled to about 60,000.

Vietnamization did help undermine domestic opposition to the war. It did nothing, however, to break the stalemate in the negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris. The new administration quickly decided that new military pressures would be necessary to do that.


By the end of their first year in office, Nixon and Kissinger had decided that the most effective way to tip the military balance in America's favor was to destroy the ''staging areas" in Cambodia from which the North Vietnamese had been launching many of their attacks. Very early in his presidency, Nixon ordered the air force to begin a series of secret bombings of Cambodian territory to destroy the enemy sanctuaries. He withheld information about the raids from Congress and the public. In the spring of 1970, with what some have claimed was American encouragement and support, conservative military leaders overthrew the neutral government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's leader for two decades, and established a new, pro-American regime under General Lon Nol. Lon Nol quickly gave his approval to American incursions into his territory; and on April 30, Nixon went on television to announce that he was ordering American troops across the border into Cambodia to "clean out" the bases that the enemy had been using for its "increased military aggression."

So successful had Nixon been in seeming to deescalate the war that the once-powerful peace movement had by mid-1970 begun to lose much of its strength. The Cambodian invasion, however, restored it to life. The first days of May saw the most widespread and vocal antiwar demonstrations ever. Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Washington to denounce the president's policies. Millions, perhaps, participated in countless smaller demonstrations on campuses nationwide. Antiwar frenzy was reaching so high a level that it became possible briefly to believe that a genuine revolution was imminent.

The mood of crisis intensified on May 4, when four college students were killed and nine others injured after members of the National Guard opened fire on an antiwar rally at Kent State University in Ohio. The incident seemed to many young Americans to confirm their worst suspicions of their government and their society. Ten days later, police killed two black students at Jackson State University in Mississippi during a demonstration there.

The clamor against the war quickly spread beyond the campuses and into the government and the press. Congress angrily repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in December, stripping the president of what had long served as the legal basis for the war. Nixon ignored the action, claiming that he had the authority to continue military efforts in Vietnam to protect American troops already there. Then, in June 1971, first the New York Times and later other newspapers began publishing excerpts from a secret study of the war prepared by the Defense Department during the Johnson administration. The so-called Pentagon Papers, leaked to the press by former Defense official Daniel Ellsberg, provided apparent confirmation of what many had long believed: that the government had been frequently dishonest, both in reporting the military progress of the war and in explaining its own motives for American involvement. The administration went to court to suppress the documents, but to no avail. The Supreme Court ruled that the press had the right to publish them.

Particularly troubling, both to the public and to the government itself, were signs of decay within the American military. Morale and discipline among U.S. troops in Vietnam, who had been fighting a savage and inconclusive war for more than five years, were rapidly deteriorating. The trial and conviction in 1971 of Lieutenant William Calley, who was charged with overseeing a massacre of more than 100 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians, attracted wide public attention to the dehumanizing impact of the war on those who fought it. Less publicized were other, more widespread problems among American troops in Vietnam: desertion, drug addiction, refusal to obey orders, even the occasional killing of unpopular officers by enlisted men. Among the disenchanteddeserters, draft resisters, and otherswere not simply the radical college students so unpopular with most Americans but many otherwise conventional sons of middle- and lower-class families. The continuing carnage, the increasing savagery, and the social distress at home were drawing an ever-larger proportion of the population into opposition to the war. By 1971, nearly two-thirds of those interviewed in public-opinion polls were urging American withdrawal from Vietnam.

From Richard Nixon, however, there came no sign of retreat. On the contrary, the events of the spring of 1970 left him more convinced than ever of the importance of resisting what he once called the "bums" who opposed his military policies. With the approval of the White House, both the FBI and the CIA intensified their surveillance and infiltration of antiwar and radical groups, often resorting to blatant illegalities in the process. Administration officials sought to discredit prominent critics of the war by leaking damaging personal information about them. At one point, White House agents broke into the office of a psychiatrist in an unsuccessful effort to steal files on Daniel Ellsberg. During the congressional campaign of 1970, Vice President Spiro Agnew, using the acid rhetoric that had already made him the hero of many conservatives, stepped up his attack on the "effete" and "impudent" critics of the administration. The president himself once climbed on top of an automobile to taunt a crowd of angry demonstrators.

In Indochina, meanwhile, the fighting raged on. In February 1971, the president ordered the air force to assist the South Vietnamese army in an invasion of Laosa test, as he saw it, of his Vietnamization program. Within weeks, the badly mauled South Vietnamese scrambled back across the border in defeat. American bombing in Vietnam and Cambodia continued to increase, despite its apparent ineffectiveness, so that by the end of 1971 the Nixon administration had dropped more explosives on the region than the Johnson administration had done in five years. When in March 1972 the North Vietnamese mounted their biggest offensive since 1968, Nixon responded by escalating the bombing once again, ordering attacks on targets near Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, and Haiphong, its principal port. He called as well for the mining of seven North Vietnamese harbors (including Haiphong) to stop the flow of supplies from China and the Soviet Union.

"Peace with Honor"

The approach of the 1972 presidential election, in which the war promised to be the leading issue, seemed finally to do what years of military frustration and escalating public protests had failed to do: convince the administration that it must alter its terms for the withdrawal of American forces. In April 1972, the president dropped his longtime insistence on a removal of North Vietnamese troops from the south before any American withdrawal. In July, word leaked out that Henry Kissinger had been meeting privately in Paris with the North Vietnamese foreign secretary, Le Due Tho, and rumors abounded that a cease-fire was near. On October 26, only days before the presidential election, Kissinger announced that "peace is at hand."

Several weeks later (after the election), negotiations broke down once again. Although both the American and the North Vietnamese governments were ready to accept the Kissinger-Tho plan for a cease-fire, the Thieu regime balked, still insisting that the full withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from the south be a prerequisite to any agreement. Kissinger tried to win additional concessions from the communists to meet Thieu's objections, but on December 16despite the American insistence that the agreement was "99 percent complete"talks broke off.

The next day, December 17, American B-52s began twelve days of bombing of North Vietnamese cities, the heaviest and most destructive raids of the entire war. The Pentagon announced that the bombers were attacking docks, airfields, railyards, power plants, and the like; but many of those targets were located in the middle of heavily populated urban areas, and civilian casualties were high. So were American losses. Fifteen of the giant bombers were shot down by the North Vietnamese; in the entire war to that point, the United States had lost only one B-52. Then, on December 30, Nixon terminated the "Christmas bombing" as quickly as he had begun it. The United States and the North Vietnamese returned to the conference table. And on January 27, 1973, representatives of the four interested parties (the governments of the United States, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam, together with the "Provisional Republican Government" of the souththe Viet Cong) signed an "agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam." Nixon liked to claim that the Christmas bombing had forced the North Vietnamese to relent. But a more important factor was the increasing American pressure on Thieu to accept the cease-fire and Nixon's promise to him that the United States would respond "with full force" to any violation of the agreement. Some have suggested that the Christmas bombing was designed more to convince Thieu of American resolve than to break the will of the North.

The terms of the Paris accords were little different from those that Kissinger and Tho had accepted in principle the previous fall. There would be an immediate cease-fire, and the North Vietnamese would release several hundred American prisoners of war, whose fate had become an emotional issue of great importance within the United States. After that, the agreement descended quickly into murky and plainly unworkable political arrangements. The Thieu regime would survive for the momentperhaps the only major concession Kissinger was able to wrest from Tho. But there would be no withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from the south and no abandonment of the communist commitment to a reunified Vietnam. What Nixon described as a "peace with honor" turned out to be little more than a formula for allowing the United States to extricate itself from the quagmire before the South Vietnamese regime collapsed, a recipe for providing what some officials caustically described as a "decent interval." Few knowledgeable military observers believed that the South Vietnamese military could hold off the communists without continuing American support.

Defeat in Indochina

The American forces were hardly out of Indochina and the prisoners of war barely reunited with their families before the Paris accords collapsed. During the first year after the cease-fire, the contending Vietnamese armies suffered greater battle losses than the Americans had endured during ten years of fighting. In Laos, fighting came to an end only after communist forces had established control of more than half the country. In Cambodia, the war raged on, and American planes continued to bomb communist installations in that country until Congress compelled the president to desist in August 1973. In March 1975, finally, the North Vietnamese launched a full-scale offensive against the now hopelessly weakened forces of the south. Thieu appealed to Washington for assistance; the president (by now, Gerald Ford) appealed to Congress for additional funding; Congress refused. Late in April 1975, communist forces marched into Saigon, shortly after officials of the Thieu regime and the American embassy had fled the country in humiliating disarray. Communist forces quickly occupied the capital, renamed it Ho Chi Minh City, and began the process of reuniting Vietnam under the harsh and often brutal rule of Hanoi. At about the same time, the Lon Nol regime in Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian equivalent of the Viet Cong.

Still the war in Indochina did not end. Although Vietnam was soon reunited after more than thirty years of civil war, conflict continued in the surrounding nations. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge government of Pol Pot (who renamed the country Kampuchea) launched a reign of terror perhaps unparalleled in modern history. His vision of an agrarian society, unpolluted by urban or Western influences, caused him literally to empty the nation's cities and towns and force virtually the entire population to move to the countryside. The result was the deathby murder, exhaustion, or starvationof more than a third of the country's residents. In 1978, the communist government of the now united Vietnam launched an invasion of Cambodia and drove Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from power. The war, however, only added to the problems of that unhappy country.

Vietnam, in the meantime, faced an invasion of its territory by the forces of communist China, which supported Pol Pot and feared the extension of Russian influence in the region. The two sides established an uneasy truce after several weeks of fighting, but there remained no stable peace between the ancient adversaries. American officials had claimed for years that the collapse of South Vietnam would lead quickly to coordinated communist domination of all of Southeast Asia. In fact, the new regimes were soon fighting each other as bitterly as they had once fought against the West.

Such were the dismal results of more than a decade of direct American military involvement in Vietnam. More than 1.2 million Vietnamese soldiers had died in combat, along with countless civilians throughout the region. A beautiful land had been ravaged; an ancient culture had been all but destroyed. The agrarian economy of much of Indochina lay in ruins. Even in the mid-1980s, Vietnam remained one of the poorest nations in the world. And a country the United States had attempted in vain to make into a viable democratic nation was now under the control of a repressive, authoritarian regime closely tied to the Soviet Union.

The United States had paid a heavy price as well. The war had cost the nation almost $150 billion in direct costs and incalculably more indirectly. It had resulted in the deaths of over 55,000 young men and the injury of 300,000 more, some of whom were permanently maimed or crippled. An entire generation had been scarred by the experience, many of them cruelly disillusioned, some of them deeply and permanently embittered toward their government and their political system. And the nation at large had suffered a blow to its confidence and self-esteem from which it would not soon recover. A decade before, Americans had believed that they could create a great society at home and maintain peace and freedom in the world. Now many harbored serious doubts about their ability to do either.

Nixon, Kissinger, and the World

The continuing war in Vietnam provided a dismal backdrop to what Nixon considered his larger mission in world affairs: the construction of a new international order. The president had become convinced that old assumptions of a "bipolar" worldin which the United States and the Soviet Union were the only truly great powerswere now obsolete. The rise of China, Japan, and Western Europe, the increasing nationaifem of the Third World, the growing disunity within the communist allianceall augured a new, "multipolar" international structure. To deal with this changing world, Nixon drew on the theories of Henry Kissinger, a longtime student of the nineteenth-century European balance of power. The United States must, Nixon and Kissinger believed, work for a new equilibrium. "It will be a safer world and a better world," the president proclaimed in 1971, "if we have a strong, healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japaneach balancing the other, not playing one against the other, an even balance."

Nixon and Kissinger believed it was possible to construct something like the "balance of power" that had permitted nineteenth-century Europe to enjoy nearly a century of relative stability. To do that, America would need to do several things. It would need to encourage what became known as "trilateral-ism," recognizing that the noncommunist world was not a single bloc dominated by the United States, but three major power centers (America, Europe, and Japan), each with its own role to play in the world. America would also have to bring China out of its isolation so that it too could play its proper role as one of the major elements in the international balance. And the United States would have to find some means of reaching accommodation with the Soviet Union, by recognizing that country's legitimate interests in the world and by trying to induce the Soviets to defend those interests with restraint and responsibility in a multipolar world.

The China Initiative

For more than twenty years, ever since the fall of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, the United States had treated China, the second largest nation on earth, as if it did not exist. One of the world's greatest powers, a nation now in possession of nuclear weapons, was living in almost total isolation from the West, while the United States continued to recognize the decaying regime-in-exile on Taiwan as the legitimate government of China.

Nixon and Kissinger were determined to forge a new relationship with the Chinese communists. A rapprochement would, among other things, strengthen China's position as a counterbalance to the Soviet Union, thus inducing the Russians to adopt a more conciliatory attitude toward the United States. The Chinese, for their part, were at least equally eager for a new relationship with the United States. Their own dispute with the Soviet Union had grown far more bitter than any rivalry with the West. By 1970, Soviet and Chinese forces were massed along both sides of the border, poised, it seemed, for a war between the two communist powers. The Beijing government was eager, therefore, both to forestall the possibility of a Soviet-American alliance against China and to end China's own isolation from the international arena.

In July 1971, Nixon sent Henry Kissinger on a secret mission to Beijing. When Kissinger returned, the president made the startling announcement that he would visit China himself within the next few months. That fall, the United States dropped its long opposition to the admission of communist China to the United Nations; and in October that body admitted the communist delegation and expelled the representatives of the Taiwan regime. Finally, in February 1972, Nixon arrived in China for a week-long visit. American television broadcast vivid pictures of presidential tours of famous Chinese landmarks, which had been invisible to much of the West for more than two decades, of meetings with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, and of gracious and friendly exchanges of toasts during elaborate state dinners. At a single stroke, Nixon managed to erase much of the deep animosity toward China that the American people had developed over the course of a generation.

The summit meeting did not produce any agreement on establishing formal diplomatic relations between the United States and China. Nixon was not yet prepared openly to repudiate the Chiang regime, which the United States had supported for so long. But a year after the Nixon visit, the two countries set up "liaison offices" in Washington and Beijing that served as embassies in all but name.

The Birth of Detente

The initiatives in China helped pave the way as well for a new relationship with the Soviet Union, which was as eager to prevent a Chinese-American alliance as Beijing was to prevent a Soviet-American one.

The road to what soon became known as detente had actually begun in 1968, the last year of the Johnson administration, when the United States and the Soviet Union signed a treaty agreeing to discourage the further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world. More important, however, was the beginning of talks between American and Russian diplomats in Helsinki in 1969 on a strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT). The negotiations continued for two and a half years, and the result was the conclusion in 1972 of the first phase of a new arms control accord: the so-called SALT I. In May of that year, the president traveled to Moscow for a cordial meeting with the Soviet leadership and a glittering ceremony to sign the agreement. The Moscow summit produced as well a series of accords establishing new trade and other exchanges between the two nationsincluding the soon to be infamous Soviet-American wheat deal, by which the United States would sell nearly one quarter of the total American grain supply to the Russians at a cost far below the world market price. The federal government would make up the price difference through subsidies to American farmers.

Nixon returned from Moscow in triumph, boasting of dramatic progress toward bringing the arms race to an end. In fact, SALT I did less to end the arms race (or even slow it) than to move it in a different direction. The two nations agreed to limit themselves to their existing number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), thus institutionalizing Soviet superiority in total missile strength. But the United States continued to possess a substantial lead in the total number of its warheads; it had almost twice as many submarines equipped with nuclear missiles as the Soviets. Each country would, in addition, sharply limit its construction of antiballistic missile systems (ABMs). The treaty thus limited the quantity of certain weapons on both sides. It said nothing, however, about limiting quality or about forestalling the creation of entirely new weapons systems.

SALT I had always been intended as the first step toward a far more comprehensive arms control agreement. In June 1973, during a visit by the Soviet premier, Leonid Brezhnev, to Washington, the Russian and American governments pledged renewed efforts to speed the completion of the next phase of the negotiations. Nixon and Brezhnev agreed in principle to abstain from nuclear war, to work for a permanent freeze on offensive nuclear weapons, and to extend Soviet-American cooperation in other areas as well.

The Problems of Multipolarity

The policies of rapprochement with communist China and detente with the Soviet Union reflected several basic assumptions of the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy. The communist world was no longer a monolithic bloc, the administration now believed, and the situation required a far more flexible and varied diplomatic approach than had been the case in the 1950s. The Soviet threat to Western Europe, American officials were convinced, was much abated, removing the most serious source of tension from the Cold War. Above all, the new policies reflected a belief that world stability depended primarily on the relationships among the great powers, that the pervasive concern of previous administrations with "emerging areas" had diverted American policy from pursuit of its most important goals. By the last years of the Nixon administration, however, it had become clear that it was the Third World that remained the most volatile and dangerous source of world instability; that tensions in developing countries had the capacity not only to produce local turmoil but to erode the new relationships among the superpowers.

Central to the Nixon-Kissinger policy toward the Third World was the effort to maintain a stable status quo without involving the United States too deeply in local disputes. In 1969 and 1970, the president laid out the elements of what became known as the Nixon Doctrine, by which the United States would "participate in the defense and development of allies and friends" but would leave the "basic responsibility" for the future of those "friends" to the nations themselves. In practice, the Nixon Doctrine meant a declining American interest in contributing to Third World development; a growing contempt for the United Nations, where underdeveloped nations were gaining influence through their sheer numbers; and increasing support to authoritarian regimes attempting to withstand radical challenges from within. In 1970, for example, the CIA poured substantial funds into Chile to help support the established government against a communist challenge. When the Marxist candidate for president, Salvador Allende, came to power through an honest election, the United States began funneling more money to opposition forces in Chile to help "destabilize" the new government. In 1973, a military junta seized power from Allende, who was subsequently murdered under mysterious circumstances. The new regime of General Augusto Pinochet, which was as brutally repressive as any in the Western Hemisphere, received warm approval and increased military and economic assistance from the United States.

More troubling than Latin America was the Middle East. Long an area of interest to the United States because of its strategic position between the Soviet Union and the Mediterranean, the region was now also of vital economic importance to the West, which beginning in the 1960s had become highly dependent on the purchase of oil from the Arab states. For the United States, this energy dependence presented special problems. As the most important ally and defender of Israel, America was standing squarely in opposition to the Islamic states, which were unanimous in their condemnation of Zionism.

Hostility toward Israel had grown particularly intense after the humiliating Arab defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israeli forces had routed the attacking armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and had seized territory from all three nations. For many years thereafter, Israel refused to relinquish the newly occupied territories.

Conditions in the region grew more volatile as a result of the desperate plight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arab refugees, some of whom had been virtually homeless since 1948 and whose numbers had increased drastically after the 1967 war. Many of them lived in Jordan, whose ruler, King Hussein, was eager to maintain stable relations with the United States. Disturbed by the activities of the new Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and other radical or terrorist groups, Hussein used his own armies to attack the Palestinians and expel them from Jordan after a series of uprisings in 1970, almost precipitating another general war in the region. Many of the exiled Palestinians moved to Lebanon, helping to precipitate many years of instability and civil war there.

In October 1973, on the Jewish high holy day of Yom Kippur, Egyptian and Syrian forces suddenly attacked Israel. The ensuing conflict was very different from the 1967 war, during which Israel had quickly and decisively overwhelmed its opponents. For ten days, the Israelis struggled to recover from the surprise attack; finally, they launched an effective counteroffensive against Egyptian forces in the Sinai. Only then did the United States intervene to bring an end to the fighting in the region. Under heavy American pressure, the government of Israel agreed not to press its advantage and accepted a cease-fire.

The imposed settlement of the Yom Kippur War reflected a significant change in the American position in the Middle East. Above all, perhaps, it served as evidence of the growing dependence of the United States and its allies on Arab oil. Permitting Israel to continue its drive into Egypt might have jeopardized the ability of the United States to purchase needed petroleum from the Arab states. A brief but painful embargo by the Islamic governments on the sale of oil to America in 1973 provided an ominous warning. (See pp. 911-912.) The lesson of the Yom Kippur War, therefore, was that the United States could no longer ignore the interests of the Arab nations in its efforts on behalf of Israel.

A larger lesson of 1973 was even more disturbing. The Yom Kippur War and the oil embargo had given clear evidence of the new limits facing the United States in its effort to construct a stable world order. The nations of the Third World could no longer be depended on to act as passive, cooperative "client states/' The easy access to raw materials on which the American economy had come to depend was becoming a thing of the past. The United States could not even rely any longer on the automatic support of its NATO allies. None of the principal nations of Western Europe had joined the United States in providing military support for Israel in the 1973 war, and most had complained bitterly when American policies had resulted in their own temporary loss of access to vital Middle Eastern oil.

Politics and Economics Under Nixon

For a time in the 1960s, it had seemed to many Americans that the forces of chaos and radicalism were taking control of the nation. The domestic policy of the Nixon administration was an attempt to restore balance: between the needs of the poor and the desires of the middle class, between the power of the federal government and the interests of local communities. The president himself described the effort as the "New Federalism"a series of programs to "reverse the flow of power and resources from the states and communities to Washington and start power and resources flowing back ... to the people." In the end, however, economic and political crises sharply limited the administration's ability to fulfill its domestic goals.

Domestic Initiatives

Many of Nixon's domestic policies were a response to what he believed to be the demands of his constituencyconservative Middle America, or what he liked to call the "silent majority"for retreat from federal interference with local affairs. He tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Congress to pass legislation prohibiting school desegregation through the use of forced busing. He forbade the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to cut off federal funds from school districts that had failed to comply with court orders to integrate (precipitating the resignation of Secretary Robert Finch and other HEW officials). At the same time, he began to reduce or dismantle many of the social programs of the Great Society and the New Frontier. He cut off hundreds of federal grants for urban renewal, social welfare, job training, and educational assistance. He attempted to reduce funding for dozens of other social programs, only to be blocked by the Democratic Congress; on occasion, he attempted to defy congressional opposition by simply impounding funds for programs he considered unnecessary. In 1973, he abolished the Office of Economic Opportunity, the centerpiece of the antipoverty program of the Johnson years.

Yet Nixon's effort to satisfy the demands of Middle Americans were not entirely negative. One of the administration's boldest efforts was an attempt to overhaul the nation's enormous welfare system. The cumbersome, expensive, and inefficient welfare bureaucracy was the most glaring symbol of what Nixon and his supporters considered the excessive intrusive-ness of the federal government. The primary vehicle for federal reliefAid to Families with Dependent Childrenwas not only costly; it required a large, awkward infrastructure of caseworkers, administrators, and others, and it extended the authority of the federal government directly into the daily lives of families and communities. As an alternative, Nixon proposed what he called the Family Assistance Plan. Designed in large part by the president's urban adviser, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the FAP proposed what would in effect have been a guaranteed annual income for all Americans: $1,600 in federal grants, which could be supplemented by outside earnings up to $4,000. Even many liberals applauded the proposal as an important step toward expanding federal responsibility for the poor. To Nixon, however, the appeal of the plan was its simplicity. It would reduce the supervisory functions of the federal government and transfer to welfare recipients themselves daily responsibility for their own lives. Although the FAP won approval in the House in 1970, concerted attacks by welfare recipients (who considered the benefits inadequate) and members of the welfare bureaucracy (whose own influence stood to be sharply diminished by the bill) helped kill it in the Senate.

Nixon appealed to conservative and provincial sentiments in other ways as well. He issued strident denunciations of protesters and radicals, ordered the Justice Department to arrest demonstrators and dissidents, and unleashed Vice President Agnew to attack not only youthful critics of the administration but the liberal news media and the ''biased" television networks. He rejected as "morally bankrupt" the recommendations of a special commission on pornography, which saw no reason for the government to suppress the distribution of obscene materials. He expressed sympathy for those who opposed abortion. He refused to consider extending amnesty to draft resisters. He was, in short, establishing a new stance for the federal government: one that balanced its commitments to the poor and minorities against a larger concern for preserving traditional values and protecting the status of the middle class.

From the Warren Court to the Nixon Court

One of the loudest cheers during Richard Nixon's acceptance speech at the 1968 Republican Convention greeted his pledge to change the composition of the Supreme Court. The reaction was unsurprising. Of all the liberal institutions that had aroused the enmity of the "silent majority" in the 1950s and 1960s, none had evoked more anger and bitterness than the Warren Court. Not only had its rulings on racial matters disrupted traditional social patterns in both the North and the South, but its staunch defense of civil liberties had, in the eyes of many Americans, contributed directly to the increase in crime, disorder, and moral decay. One after another landmark decision seemed to tread on the sensibilities of provincial and conservative Americans. In Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Court had ruled that prayers in public schools were unconstitutional, sparking outrage among religious fundamentalists and others, who began a long battle against the edict. In Roth v. United States (1957), the Court had sharply limited the authority of local governments to curb pornography. In a series of decisions, the Court had greatly strengthened the civil rights of criminal defendants and had, in the eyes of many Americans, greatly weakened the power of law-enforcement officials to do their jobs. For example, in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Court had ruled that every felony defendant was entitled to a lawyer regardless of his or her ability to pay. In Escobedo v. Illinois (1964), it had ruled that a defendant must be allowed access to a lawyer before questioning by police. Above all, in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Court had confirmed the obligation of authorities to inform a criminal suspect of his or her rights.

Other examples of 'judicial activism" had antagonized both local and national political leaders. In Baker v. Can (1962), the Warren Court, in its most influential decision since Brown v. Board of Education, had ordered state legislatures to apportion representation so that the votes of all citizens would carry equal weight. In dozens of states, systems of legislative districting that had given disproportionate representation to rural areas were thus rendered invalid. The reapportionment that resulted greatly increased the political voice of blacks, Hispanics, and other poor urban residents. By 1968, in short, the Warren Court had become the target of Americans of all kinds who felt that the balance of power in the United States had shifted too far toward the poor and dispossessed at the expense of the middle class.

Richard Nixon shared such sentiments, and he was determined to use his judicial appointments to give the Court a more conservative cast. His first opportunity came almost as soon as he entered office. Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had tried to resign during the last months of the Johnson administration only to be stymied by the refusal of Congress to approve the appointment of liberal Associate Justice Abe Fortas as his successor, announced his resignation early in 1969. Nixon replaced him with a federal appeals court judge of known conservative leanings,. Warren Burger.

The president had less success in filling the next Court opening to become available. In May 1969, Abe Fortas resigned his seat after the disclosure of a series of alleged financial improprieties. To replace him, Nixon named Clement F. Haynsworth, a respected federal circuit court judge from South Carolina. Haynsworth received the endorsement of the American Bar Association, but he came under fire from Senate liberals, black organizations, and labor unions for his conservative record on civil rights. The revelation that he had sat on cases involving corporations in which he himself had a financial interest finally doomed his nomination; the Senate rejected him. Nixon's next choice was a particularly unfortunate one. G. Harold Carswell, a judge of the Florida federal appeals court, was almost entirely lacking in distinction and widely considered unfit for the Supreme Court. After weeks of damaging revelations about Carswell's record, the Senate rejected his nomination too.

An enraged President Nixon announced that the votes had been a result of prejudice against the South. But he was careful thereafter to choose men of standing within the legal community to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. Harry Blackmun, a moderate jurist from Minnesota; Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a respected judge from Virginia; and William Rehnquist, a member of the Nixon Justice Departmentall met with little opposition from the Senate. And the Warren Court gradually gave way to what many observers came to describe as the "Burger Court" but which others termed the "Nixon Court."

The new Court, however, fell short of what the president and many conservatives had hoped. Far from retreating from its commitment to social reform, the Court in many areas actually extended its reach. In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), it ruled in favor of the use of forced busing to achieve racial balance in schools. Not even the intense and occasionally violent opposition of local communities as diverse as Boston and Louisville, Kentucky, was able to weaken the judicial commitment to integration. In Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Court overturned existing capital punishment statutes and established strict new guidelines for such laws in the future. In Roe v. Wade (1972), it struck down laws forbidding women to have abortions.

In other decisions, however, the Burger Court did signal a marked withdrawal from the crusading commitment to civil liberties and reform. It attempted instead to follow a moderate path. Although the justices approved busing as a tool for achieving integration, they rejected, in Milliken v. Bradley (1974), a plan to transfer students across district lines (in this case, between Detroit and its suburbs) to achieve racial balance. While the Court upheld the principle of affirmative action in its celebrated 1978 decision Bakke v. Board of Regents of California, it established restrictive new guidelines for such programs in the future. In Stone v. Powell (1976), the Court agreed to certain limits on the right of a defendant to appeal a state conviction to the federal judiciary.

The Election of 1972

However unsuccessful the Nixon administration may have been in achieving some of its specific goals, it had by 1972 scored a series of triumphs in enlisting the loyalties of the electorate. The "real majority" what a 1970 book of that name by Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg called the "unyoung, unblack, and unpoor"responded enthusiastically to the president's attacks on liberals and radicals as well as to his apparent diplomatic successes in China and the Soviet Union.

Nixon entered the presidential race in 1972, therefore, with a substantial reserve of strength. The events of that year improved his position immeasurably. His energetic reelection committee collected enormous sums of money to support the campaign. The president himself made full use of the powers of incumbency, refraining from campaigning in the primaries (in which he faced, in any case, only token opposition) and concentrating on highly publicized international decisions and state visits. Agencies of the federal government dispensed funds and favors to communities around the country in a concerted effort to strengthen Nixon's political standing in questionable areas.

Nixon was most fortunate in 1972, however, in his opposition. The return of George Wallace to the presidential fray caused some early concern, for Nixon's own reelection strategy rested on the same appeals to the troubled middle class that Wallace was so skillfully expressing. But although Wallace showed remarkable strength in the early Democratic primaries, the possibility of another third-party campaign vanished in May, when a would-be assassin shot the Alabama governor during a rally at a Maryland shopping center. Paralyzed from the waist down, Wallace was unable to continue campaigning.

The Democrats, in the meantime, were making the greatest contribution to the Nixon cause by nominating for president a representative of their most liberal faction: Senator George S. McGovern of South Dakota. An outspoken critic of the war, a forceful advocate of advanced liberal positions on virtually every social and economic issue, McGovern seemed to embody those aspects of the turbulent 1960s that middle-class Americans were most eager to reject. McGovern profited greatly from party reforms (which he himself had helped to draft) that gave increased influence to women, blacks, and young people in the selection of the Democratic ticket. But those same reforms helped make the Democratic Convention of 1972 an unappealmg spectacle to much of the public. The candidate then disillusioned even some of his own supporters by his confused response to revelations that his running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, had undergone treatment for an emotional disturbance. McGovern first announced that he supported Eagleton "1,000 percent," then suddenly dropped him from the ticket. The remainder of the Democratic presidential campaign was an exercise in futility.

For Nixon, in contrast, the fall campaign was an uninterrupted triumphal procession. After a Republican Convention utterly devoid of controversy, the president made a few carefully planned appearances in strategic areas of the country. Most of his time, however, he devoted to highly publicized work on behalf of "world peace." And in October, although by then it was clearly unnecessary politically, he sealed the victory with a skillfully orchestrated demonstration that a settlement of the war in Vietnam was near. On election day, Nixon won reelection by one of the largest margins in history: 60.7 percent of the popular vote compared with 37.5 percent for the forlorn McGovern, an electoral margin of 520 to 17. The Democratic candidate had carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The new commitments that Nixon had so effectively expressedto restraint in social reform, to decentralization of political power, to the defense of traditional values, and to a new balance in international relationshad clearly won the approval of the American people. But other problems, some beyond the president's control and some of his own making, were already lurking in the wings.

The Troubled Economy

Although it was political scandal that would ultimately destroy the Nixon presidency, an even more serious national crisis was emerging in the early 1970s: the decline of the American economy. For more than twenty years, the American economy had been the envy of the world. The United States had been responsible for as much as a third of the world's industrial production and had dominated international trade. The American dollar had been the strongest currency in the world, the yardstick by which other nations measured their own monetary health. The American standard of living, already high at the end of World War II, had improved dramatically in the years since. Most Americans had begun to assume that this remarkable prosperity was the normal condition of their society. In fact, however, it had rested in part on several artificial conditions that were by the late 1960s rapidly disappearing.

The most disturbing economic problem, one that was symptomatic of all the others, was inflation, which had been creeping upward for several years when Richard Nixon took office and which shortly thereafter began to soar. Its most visible cause was the performance of the federal government in the mid-1960s. At the same time that President Johnson had persuaded Congress to accept a tax cut in 1964, he was rapidly increasing spending both for domestic social programs and for the war in Vietnam. The result was a major expansion of the money supply, resting largely on government deficits, that pushed prices rapidly upward.

But there were other, equally important causes of the inflation and of the economic problems that lay behind it. Much of America's economic strength in the 1950s and 1960s had rested on the nation's unquestioned supremacy in international trade. This meant that the United States enjoyed easy access to raw materials and a substantial market for its goods abroad. More important, it meant that American industrial goods faced little competition at home. The United States had its vast domestic market to itself.

By the late 1960s, however, the world economic picture had changed. No more did the United States have exclusive access to cheap raw materials around the globe; not only were other industrial nations now competing for increasingly scarce raw materials, but Third World suppliers of those materials were beginning to realize their value and demand higher prices for them. And American manufacturers of automobiles, steel, and other industrial products were facing more intense competitionin the world market and in the domestic marketfrom Japanese and Western European producers.

But the greatest immediate blow to the American economy was the interruption of its access to sources of energy. More than any nation on earth, the United States had based its economy on the easy availability of cheap and plentiful fuels. No society was more dependent on the automobile; none was more profligate in its use of oil and gas in its homes, schools, and factories. As the economy expanded in the 1960s, an already high demand for energy soared much higher. And with domestic petroleum reserves beginning to dwindle, the nation increased its dependence on imports from the Middle East and Africa.

For many years, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had operated as an informal bargaining unit for the sale of oil by Third World nations. Not until the early 1970s, however, did it begin to display its strength. Aware of the growing dependence of Western economies on the resources of its member nations, OPEC was no longer willing to follow the direction of American and European oil companies. Instead, it began to use its oil both as an economic tool and as a political weapon. In 1973, in the midst of the Yom Kippur War, Arab members of OPEC announced that they would no longer ship petroleum to nations supporting Israel that is, to the United States and its allies in Western Europe. At about the same time, the OPEC nations agreed to raise their prices 400 percent.

These twin shocks produced momentary chaos in the West. The United States suffered its first fuel shortage since World War II, and the disruptive effects were a painful reminder to the American people of their dependence on plentiful energy. Motorists faced long lines at gas stations; schools and offices closed down to save on heating oil; factories cut production and laid off workers for lack of sufficient fuel. A few months later, the crisis eased. But the price of energy continued to skyrocket in the following years, both because of OPEC's new militant policies and because of the weakening competitive position of the dollar in world markets. No single factor did more to produce the soaring inflation of the 1970s.

The Nixon Response

Richard Nixon, therefore, inherited an economy in which growth was already sluggish, in which inflation was already troubling, and in which even greater new problems lurked. Within weeks of taking office, he announced a "game plan" for dealing with these various woes. He would, he promised, spend less and tax more. But such policies were easier announced than implemented, evoking as they did both congressional and popular protest. As a result, Nixon turned increasingly to an economic tool more readily available to him: control of the currency. Placing conservative economists at the head of the Federal Reserve Board, he ensured sharply higher interest rates and a contraction of the money supply. But the tight money policy did little to curb inflation. The cost of living rose a cumulative 15 percent during Nixon's first two and a half years in office. In 1971, moreover, the United States recorded its first balance-of-trade deficit (an excess of imports over exports) in nearly eighty years. With inflation unabated and economic growth in decline, the United States was encountering a new and puzzling dilemma: "stagflation," a combination of rising prices and general economic stagnation.

By the summer of 1971, therefore, the president was under strong public pressure to act decisively to reverse the economic tide. First, he released the dollar from the fluctuating gold standard that had controlled its worth since the end of World War II, allowing its value to fall in world markets. The devaluation helped stimulate exports, but it also made more expensive the American purchase of vital raw materials abroad. At the same time, the president announced an even bolder and more startling new policy. For years, he had denounced the idea of using government controls to curb inflation. On August 15, 1971, however, he reversed himself. Under the provisions of the Economic Stabilization Act of 1970, the president imposed a ninety-day freeze on all wages and prices at their existing levels. Then, in November, he launched Phase II of his economic plan: mandatory guidelines for wage and price increases, to be administered by a federal agency. Inflation subsided temporarily, but the recession continued. The unemployment rate for 1971 was 6 percent, compared with 4 percent two years earlier.

Fearful that the recession would be more damaging than inflation in an election year, the administration reversed itself once again late in 1971: Interest rates were allowed to drop sharply, and government spending was increasedproducing the largest budget deficit since World War II. The new tactics served their purpose. By election day, personal incomes were up and unemployment was down. But there were disastrous side effects. Even though wage and price controls managed to hold down inflation in some areas, consumers were soon paying drastically higher prices for food and other basic goods. At this critical moment, with both domestic and world inflation on the verge of skyrocketing, Nixon abandoned the strict Phase II controls and replaced them with a set of flexible, largely voluntary, and almost entirely ineffective guidelinesPhase III of the administration's economic program. With the end of wage and price controls, inflation quickly resumed its upward course. In 1973, it rose to 9 percent; in 1974, after the Arab oil embargo and the OPEC price increases, it soared to 12 percentthe highest rate since shortly after the end of World War II. The value of the dollar continued to slide, and the nation's international trade continued to decline.

Nixon now turned his attention to solving the new "energy crisis," which had become America's most pressing preoccupation. But the administration seemed to have no clearer idea of how to deal with that problem than it had of how to deal with the inflation. The president spoke vaguely of conservation, of increasing production, of restoring "energy independence." But there were few concrete proposals for accomplishing them. And Nixon, in the meantime, was becoming so embroiled in his own political problems that he would have had great difficulty winning approval of a major new program in any case.

The stumbling and erratic economic programs of the Nixon administration were indicative of a broader national confusion about the future prospects for American prosperity. With little understanding of the international forces creating the economic problems, both the government and the people focused on immediate issues and short-range solutions. The Nixon patternof lurching from a tight money policy to curb inflation at one moment to a spending policy to cure recession at the nextrepeated itself during the two administrations that followed. Such policies had little effect, ultimately, either on inflation or on the general economic stagnation.

The Watergate Crisis

Although economic problems greatly concerned the American people in the 1970s, another stunning development almost entirely preoccupied the nation beginning early in 1973: the fall of Richard Nixon. The president's demise was a result in part of his own personality. Defensive, secretive, resentful of his critics, he brought to his office an element of mean-spiritedness that helped undermine even his most important accomplishments. But the larger explanation lay in Nixon's view of American society and the world, and of his own role in both. Far more than most of his compatriots, the president was convinced that the United States faced grave dangers from the radicals and dissidents who were challenging his policies. Obsessed with his mission to create a new "structure of peace" in the world, he came increasingly to consider any challenge to his policies a threat to "national security." By identifying his own political fortunes with those of the nation, in other words, Nixon was creating a climate in which he and those who served him could justify extraordinary measures to stifle dissent and undermine opposition.

The White House Autocracy

Nixon's outlook was in part a culmination of decades of changes in the nature of the presidency. Public expectations of the president had increased dramatically in the years since World War II; yet the constraints on the authority of the office had grown as well. Congress had become more difficult to control; the bureaucracy had become cumbersome and unmanageable; the press, particularly in light of the war in Vietnam, had become suspicious and increasingly hostile. In response, a succession of presidents had sought out new methods for the exercise of power, often stretching the law, occasionally breaking it.

Nixon not only continued but greatly accelerated these trends. Facing a Democratic Congress hostile to his goals, he attempted to find ways to circumvent the legislature whenever possible. Saddled with a federal bureaucracy unresponsive to his wishes, he constructed a hierarchy of command in which virtually all executive power became concentrated in the White House. A few cabinet members retained direct access to the presidentamong them Attorney General John Mitchell, a longtime personal friend, and Henry Kissinger, who became secretary of state in 1973. For the most part, however, Nixon isolated himself almost completely, relying on a few trusted advisers through whom he exercised his power. At the head of what critics sometimes called the "palace guard" stood two particularly influential aides: H. R. Haldeman, the president's chief of staff, and John Ehrlichman, his chief domestic adviser.

Operating within this rigid, even autocratic structure, the president became a solitary, brooding figure, whose contempt for his opponents and impatience with obstacles to his policies festered and grew. Insulated from criticism, surrounded by flatterers, he became increasingly blatant in his defiance of the normal constraints on his office. Unknown to all but a few intimates, he also became mired in a pattern of illegalities and abuses of power that late in 1972 began to break through to the surface.

The Scandals

Early on the morning of June 17, 1972, police arrested five men who had broken into the offices of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C. Two others were seized a short time later and charged with supervising the break-in. And when reporters for the Washington Post began researching the backgrounds of the culprits, they discovered a series of startling facts. Among those involved in the burglary were former employees of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP). One of them had worked in the White House itself. They had, moreover, been paid for the break-in from a secret fund of the reelection committee, a fund controlled by members of the White House staff. The further the reporters looked, the more evidence they found that the burglary had been part of a larger pattern of illegalities, planned and financed by the president's closest associates.

Public interest in the disclosures grew only slowly in the last months of 1972. Few Americans, apparently, chose to question the president's assurances that neither he nor his staff had any connection with what he called "this very bizarre incident." Early in 1973, however, the Watergate burglars went on trial; and under relentless prodding from federal judge John J. Sirica, one of the defendants, James W. McCord, agreed to cooperate both with the grand jury and with a special Senate investigating committee recently established under Senator Sam J. Ervin of North Carolina. McCord's testimony opened a floodgate of confessions, and for months a parade of White House and campaign officials exposed one illegality after another. Foremost among them was a member of the inner circle of the White House, Counsel to the President John Dean, who leveled allegations against Nixon himself.

Two different sets of scandals were emerging from the investigations. One was a general pattern of abuses of power involving both the White House and the Nixon campaign committee. Every week, it seemed, there was a new, even more damaging revelation. White House "plumbers"under the direction of John Ehrlichmanhad established illegal wiretaps, intercepted mail, and engaged in burglaries (including the attempt to steal files from Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist) in an effort to prevent leaks of sensitive or politically embarrassing information or, as in Ellsberg's case, to discredit critics of the administration. Members of the reelection committee had solicited illegal contributions, "laundered" the money through accounts in Mexico, and used the funds to support a variety of "dirty tricks" against Democratic presidential candidates and to pay for other maneuvers to sabotage the campaigns of Nixon's opponents. In addition, associates of the president had created devious opportunities for Nixon to increase his personal wealth, including several real-estate transactions and income-tax dodges of dubious legality. The other scandal, and the one that became the major focus of public attention for nearly two years, was the Watergate break-in itself and the events that it had set in motion. There was never any conclusive evidence that the president had planned or approved the burglary in advance. John Dean and others testified that then Attorney General Mitchell had ordered the break-in, hoping to plant electronic bugs in and steal copies of files from the Democratic offices. (Mitchell had resigned from the Justice Department shortly after the burglary to head the president's reelection committee; then, after the scandals began to break, he resigned from CRP as well, citing "personal problems.")

But if there was no proof that Nixon had planned the break-in, there was mounting suspicion that he had been involved in what became known as the "cover-up"illegal efforts to obstruct investigations of and withhold information about the episode. Testimony before the Ervin committee provided evidence of the complicity not only of Dean and Mitchell but of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and other key White House figures. As interest in the case grew to something approaching a national obsession, only one question remained: In the words of Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, a member of the Ervin committee, "What did the President know and when did he know it?"

Nixon, in the meantime, steadfastly denied knowing anything. One by one, he accepted the departure of those members of his administration implicated in the scandals: first a string of lower-level aides; then, with great reluctance, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, who resigned on the same day that Nixon dismissed John Dean. But the president himself continued to insist on his own innocence. At one news conference he declared, "I am not a crook."

There the matter might have rested had it not been for the disclosure during the Senate hearings of a White House taping system that had recorded virtually every conversation in the president's office during the period in question. All the various groups investigating the scandals sought access to the tapes; Nixon, pleading "executive privilege," refused to release them. A special prosecutor appointed by the president to handle the Watergate cases, Harvard law professor Archibald Cox, took Nixon to court in October 1973 in an effort to force him to relinquish the recordings. Nixon, now clearly growing desperate, fired Cox and suffered the humiliation of watching both Attorney General Elliot Richardson (who had succeeded Mitchell) and his deputy resign in protest. This "Saturday night massacre" made the president's predicament infinitely worse. Not only did public pressure force him to appoint a new special prosecutor, Texas attorney Leon Jaworski, who proved just as determined as Cox to subpoena the tapes; but the episode precipitated an investigation by the House of Representatives into the possibility of impeachment.

The Fall of Richard Nixon

Nixon's situation deteriorated further in the following months. Late in 1973, Vice President Agnew became embroiled in a scandal of his own, when evidence surfaced that he had accepted bribes and kickbacks while serving as governor of Maryland. In return for ajustice Department agreement not to press the case, Agnew pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to a lesser chargeof income-tax evasionand resigned from the government. With the controversial Agnew no longer in line to succeed to the presidency, the prospect of removing Nixon from the White House suddenly became far less worrisome to his opponents. The new vice president (the first appointed under the terms of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which had been adopted in 1967) was House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, an amiable and popular Michigan congressman whom most Nixon critics considered more acceptable. The impeachment investigation quickly gathered pace. In April 1974, in an effort to head off further subpoenas of the tapes, the president released transcripts of a number of relevant conversations, claiming that they proved his innocence. Investigators and much of the public felt otherwise. Even these edited tapes seemed to suggest not only appalling ill will on Nixon's part but also his complicity in the cover-up.

In July, finally, the crisis came to a boil. First the Supreme Court ruled unanimously, in United States v. Richard M. Nixon, that the president must relinquish the tapes to Special Prosecutor Jaworski. Days later, the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend three articles of impeachment, charging that Nixon had, first, obstructed justice in the Watergate cover-up; second, misused federal agencies to violate the rights of citizens; and third, defied the authority of Congress by refusing to deliver tapes and other materials subpoenaed by the committee. Even without additional evidence, Nixon might well have been impeached by the full House and convicted by the Senate. Early in August, however, he provided at last the "smoking gun"the concrete proof of his guilt that his defenders had long contended was missing from the case against him. Among the tapes that the Supreme Court compelled Nixon to relinquish were several that offered incontrovertible evidence of his involvement in the Watergate cover-up. Only days after the burglary, the recordings disclosed, the president had ordered the FBI to stop investigating the break-in. Impeachment and conviction now loomed inevitable.

For several days, Nixon brooded in the White House, on the verge, some claimed, of a mental breakdown. Many of the normal operations of the government ground to a virtual halt as the nation waited tensely for a resolution of the greatest constitutional crisis since Reconstruction. Finally, on August 8, 1974, Nixon addressed the nation and announced his resignationthe first president in American history ever to do so. At noon the next day, while Nixon and his family were flying west to their home in California, Gerald Ford took the oath of office as president.

Americans expressed both relief and exhilaration that, as the new president put it, ''Our long national nightmare is over." They were relieved to be rid of Richard Nixon, who had lost virtually all of the wide popularity that had won him his landslide reelection victory only two years before. And they were exhilarated that, as some boasted, "the system had worked." A president had been held accountable to the law, and the transfer of power had been smooth and orderly. But the wave of good feeling could not obscure the deeper and more lasting damage of the Watergate crisis. In a society in which distrust of leaders and of institutions of authority was already widespread, the fall of Richard Nixon seemed to confirm the most cynical assumptions about the character of American public life. The depths of that cynicism were evident in the widespread belief, documented in public-opinion polls, that what Nixon had done, bad as it was, was little worse than what other presidents had done undetected before him.



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