Week 9: Watergate and the Right

Reading:  Foner, Chapter 24, "The Triumph of Conservatism"

The 1970s - 1980s reflect an American anxiety resulting from the long-term cost and consequences of its defeat in Vietnam and the resulting realignment of the Third World vis-a-vis Europe and America.  Energy costs and environmental concerns marked a new awareness and vulnerability to a resource driven approach to economic development.  The social costs of urbanization and services that are needed in all modern societies came under pressure from reduced budgets that were in large part reduced in response to the cost of military and wartime expenses.

Two crises that marked the 1970s were the Oil Shock of 1973 following the October War when Egypt invaded and temporarily seized the Suez Canal, and the Watergate Crisis.  The former sparked a decade long problem of inflation while the latter signified a political crisis within elite power circles and a betrayal of democracy.  President Nixon's attempt to withhold and manipulate evidence of his administration's involvement in the Watergate tower  burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington D.C. weakened his administration.  A year-long investigation through prolonged public hearings in both the House and the Senate exposed the internal workings of an administration.  This televised coverage was unprecedented and ushered in a new media. From Watergate onwards, one no longer referred to the "press" or newspapers but more commonly to the media.  The exemplary coverage of Carl Bernstein, and Bob Woodward, two reporters for the newspaper Washington Post, boosted the power and position of journalism.

Nixon's disgrace and forced resignation in the face of a threatened impeachment and conviction by the Senate forced his weak vice-president Gerald Ford to finish his second term.  Ford was defeated in the 1976 election by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter whose own term in office was ineffective as inflation soared and unemployment remained high. This enabled the actor and former California governor Ronald Reagan to secure the Presidency in the 1980 election.  Reagan's conservative rhetoric of limited government was in stark contrast to some of his policies that actually expanded government total spending and the deficit, especially in areas of defense.  Nevertheless, Reagan's image was a boon to conservative forces seeking to reduce social services that most of the population depended on.

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