The country was at peace; internally and around the world. We had issues; Russia was being aggressive, Central America was volatile, Israel and Egypt, of course. But America didn’t have a standing army fighting for some trumped up reason against people defending a place most of us couldn’t locate on a globe. In fact, Egypt and Israel would sign an historic accord to establish peace between the two countries during this year.
The Son of Sam had been convicted and John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy had been arrested. The first mobile phone was introduced and Carl Sagan won a Nobel Prize. While inflation was still persistent, things were looking up.
The Defense budget had finally been reigned in. From now on, those bureaucrats representing contractors and anyone else in the periphery of military spending would be held to a standard similar to every other government agency. They would have a budget and be held accountable. No more $300 hammers or $500 toilet seats.
Best of all, America was on its way to energy independence. Another oil crisis and a coal strike were adding fuel to the fire in the discussion over alternate fuel sources. Reliance on foreign oil and smoky mornings because of coal burning power plants would soon be ancient history. The president even established a Department of Energy.
Cars were becoming more efficient and alternate sources of power were being investigated. There were even solar panels in the White House. America was poised to lead the world into a future filled with new ideas. It was 1978.
Then things changed, almost overnight. The Iranians overthrew their Shah, gave the country back to militant Muslims, and captured 52 Americans who were housed at the American embassy in Tehran. Seemingly within days, the attitude of the US began to change.
Republicans saw an opportunity to take control. The current administration was branded as incapable of handling the situation. We needed strong leadership and veteran crisis management teams. Ronald Reagan began to talk about “strapping young bucks” getting welfare checks for nothing. Jimmy Carter was an amateur. We needed strong, Republican leadership featuring good old American values, not some Liberal fantasy.
When a sandstorm prevented a mission to save the Hostages from being successful, the final nail was driven. Carter was defeated and the new president hit rewind on many of the initiatives from the previous four years.
By 1984, the military once again had a blank check; foreign policy consisted of telling the rest of the world what to do, alternate fuel sources disappeared. The federal deficit tripled when corporate America’s tax burden was reduced from 30% to 10%. We were once again America, God’s favorite country; able to impose our will on the rest of the world and mold the future into the religion of our true master; Capitalism.
A bit simplified perhaps, and maybe naive. Cause and effect have a mind of their own and the world is a complex place where things happen quickly and everyone else reacts to that new reality. Political momentum in America has long resembled a pendulum; swinging from side to side as the country tires of existing policy.
But if the Iranian Hostage crisis hadn’t happened, or if the rescue had been successful, Carter would have likely been re-elected. With four more years of a kinder, gentler USA leading the way, who knows what permanent changes may have occurred around the planet during the Eighties.
How different would the world be today?
- Image: President Jimmy Carter relaxed at his desk in the Oval Office in April 1978 (public domain - National Archives).