in which a Republican president imposed wage and price controls,
the decade when we managed to have inflation and recession --
stagflation -- at the same time. The decade when crime and welfare
dependency zoomed upward. A decade when Americans saw our diplomats
seized -- an act of war -- and no effective force used to free
them. A decade when a president was forced to resign in disgrace
and when America lost its first war.
some people, it seems to be the '70s all the time. After The
New York Times revealed on Dec. 16 that the National Security
Agency was monitoring telephone calls from suspected terrorists
abroad to people in the United States, a hue and cry went up from
the mainstream media and some Democrats that the Bush administration
was engaged in a massive and illegitimate program of domestic
wiretapping. Never mind that few if any wires were tapped -- it's
likely that most of these calls were on cell phones -- and that
every one of the calls was by definition international.
are some serious people who argue that the program violated the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (that slum of a
decade again) because warrants were not obtained. But no serious
person doubts that the president can order surveillance of enemy
communications in time of war. And it doesn't make much sense
to listen in on enemy communications but to hang up when a call
is made to someone in the United States.
in the 1970s Americans were reacting to a genuine scandal, the
wiretapping conducted on the orders of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
until his death in 1972. In the 1960s, Hoover's FBI even listened
in on Martin Luther King Jr., with the approval of Attorney General
Robert Kennedy. And in the 1970s, there was reaction against past
authorizations of attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, which
were numerous when Kennedy was attorney general and his brother
president, and Richard Nixon's "plumbers" burglarizing
Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office.
In the 1970s,
when Americans seemed to accept defeat in Vietnam and detente
with China and the Soviet Union, many of us thought there was
no greater threat to our rights than our own government. That
was wrong then, and Sept. 11 convinced most Americans that it
is wrong now. But many people in the mainstream media and many
Democratic politicians seem stuck in the '70s.
stuck in the '70s also on the matter of Supreme Court nominations.
The early 1970s saw the first defeats of Supreme Court nominees
since 1930, of Clement Haynsworth (some of whose opponents later
admitted was a worthy nominee) and of Harrold Carswell (who was
not). The pattern of aggressive and sometimes extravagant attacks
by Democratic senators was set, to be taken up again by the opponents
of Robert Bork in 1987.
told that the nominees would return us to the days of segregated
schools and, in Bork's case, coat-hanger abortions. (Almost no
one imagined when Haynsworth and Carswell were defeated that the
Supreme Court would overturn all abortion laws.) Now we have the
absurd spectacle of Sen. John Kerry calling for a filibuster against
Judge Samuel Alito from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
the '70s, and to no good political purpose. For the press and
partisan attacks on NSA surveillance of suspected terrorists'
calls to the United States has not convinced most Americans that
their rights are in peril. To the contrary, they have raised a
political issue that helps George W. Bush and the Republicans.
And the fiery attacks on Alito have a tired, going-through-the-motions
sound and have failed to convince something like three-quarters
of voters that he should be rejected.
We can learn
from history, and each decade has something to teach us. But we
can't repeat history, because so many things change. Not many
Americans, if they could vote for a decade to go back to, would
vote for the 1970s. But for many in the mainstream press and for
many Democratic politicians, it's always sometime between 1970
and 1980, and they're forever young.
isn't buying it. Enough with the bellbottom pants and the disco
music, most Americans seem to be saying.