This may seem like an odd topic, even for a group devoted to politics. If we’re going to do decades, why not the 1960s, when liberalism was at its height, or the 1980s, when conservatism, came roaring back? Because the 1970s was THE crucial decade in which many of the big changes that dominate today’s politics began. It was the 1970s in which:
- Recession, inflation, and oil shocks ruined public confidence in liberals’ ability to manage the economy.
- The bad economy, along with a cultural backlash against 60s’ liberalism, civil rights, abortion, rising crime rates, etc., began to attract the white working class to the Republicans.
- New liberal social and political movements nonetheless were born: The women’s movement, gay rights, and environmental movement.
- But, organized Labor began its steep decline. And, businesses first began to organize and pour money into rolling back the regulatory state and – later – tax rates.
- And, the Christian Right began to coalesce, as did the first generation of neoconservatives, all supported by a new infrastructure of conservative think tanks, lobbyists, and political organizers.
I’ve been reading a LOT of political history lately, and it seems like all of it connects back to these and other key developments in that forgotten decade.
On Thursday, I’ll open by describing a few of the major events and trends of the 1970s. You can trace them forward to our current political situation yourselves. Then we can discuss. What I’m hoping we’ll get into is a debate over whether what happened in the 1970s was inevitable, or whether it all could have turned out differently. History always seems etched in stone in retrospect. But, is it?
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What were the major economic and social changes that trace their roots to the 1970s?
- How did those events and trends change our politics?
- How inevitable were these developments? Labor’s decline? The rise of the New Right? Deindustrialization? Social movements and the backlash they produced?
- How does this 40-year old history influence today’s politics?
- Are we in a pivotal time right now? Why?
- What new trends will be seen as key a few decades from now? What events or developments might cause the history’s door to swing one way versus another?
- Long but great summary of the social changes and political importance of the 1970s, by the historian who wrote the epic history of the 1960s, Nixonland.
- The decade “where it all went wrong,” from a liberal perspective.
- FYI, three books I’ve read that cover this decade’s devlopments in a lot of detail:
- Staying Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class.
- Winner Take All Politics. How the rich took over our politics; Makes clear the important legacy of the 1970s.
- When Everything Changed. A history of the women’s movement.
ALSO: Join me Wednesday night at 7pm at Rebecca’s to discuss that other thing we’ve been working on.