Another reminder from Rick Perlstein (THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE) about the good old days of the 1970s: remember when we had a president who told us bluntly that, as a result of “the most acute energy shortage since World War II,” Americans would have to use “less heat, less electricity, [and] less gasoline”?
As Perlstein tells it:
“[The president] called for shorter school and factory hours. And the cancellation of 10 percent of jet flights. The federal government would provide an example by setting thermostats to 68 degrees or less, he said (‘and that means in this room, too, as well as in every other room in the White House’); government vehicles would be limited to 50 miles an hour. He told governors to pass 50-mile speed limits in the states, Congress to pass an emergency statute returning to year-round daylight saving time…Start carpooling, he recommended: ‘How many times have you gone along the highway,’ he quizzed, ‘with only one individual in that car?’
“Thousands of times, of course—for wasn’t zooming alone across endless vistas of highways supposed to be the most American pastime of all?
“Not anymore, apparently. What he was describing, [the president] allowed, sounded ‘like a way of life we left behind with Glenn Miller and the war of the forties.’ “
No wonder Jimmy Carter was so unpopular, with his energy-crisis nagging, his War on Thermostats, and his naysaying about the American way of life!
Except, of course, that it wasn’t President Jimmy Carter who said and proposed the above things; it was President Richard Nixon in the fall of 1973, not long after the resignation of his Vice-President Spiro Agnew under criminal indictment, and less than a year before his own resignation from office.
Addendum: I should add that, as a friend recently reminded me, Richard Nixon wasn't all bad. He re-opened American diplomatic relations with China, for instance--after spending his entire political career vociferously denouncing anyone who suggested doing such a thing. He worked towards "detente" and negotiated arms control deals with the Soviet Union--after spending his entire political career vociferously denouncing anyone who suggested such things. He established the EPA, proposed a guaranteed minimum income for the poor (as a replacement for government welfare programs), took American currency off the gold standard and said, regarding economic policy, "I am now a Keynesian in economics." As Perlstein's passage above makes clear, Richard Nixon was an environmentalist ahead of his time. He was also, so far as we know, faithful to his wife, a loving father, and a devoted son who spoke reverently, even tearfully, of his sainted mother. He once owned an adorable dog named Checkers. While Bobby Kennedy claimed that Richard Nixon represented "the dark side of the American character," my more charitable friend insists, and rightly so, that people are more complicated than that, and that Richard Nixon, like pretty much everyone else, was a "mixed bag".
I can't disagree. I can, however, ask, "A mixed bag of what?" The (unspoken) answer to that question represents, for what it's worth, my own personal judgment of Richard Nixon: he was the most despicable man ever to hold the American presidency.