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John Lennon Saw the 70s as Dreadful, Too

December 16, 2010

Shortly before Beatle John Lennon was shot and killed in December of 1980 he asked a rhetorical question, one that many were asking themselves, “how were the 70’s, did you make it through alright?”

This was a prevailing question because the 70s were difficult, depressing, and dismal – politically, culturally, and economically.

Things got off to a bad start in the disco decade, and only got worse. The country endured the Watergate nightmare, the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the fall of South Vietnam, the bumbling of President Gerald Ford, and the incompetence of President Jimmy Carter.

But that was half the story. It was a time of high unemployment, high interest rates, a stagnating economy, gasoline rationing, food shortages, and the list went on. People struggled to make ends meet; the country was not happy, and there appeared to be no end to the struggle.

I was living in western Pennsylvania at the time and things couldn’t have been worse. Steel mills were shutting down, infrastructures were crumbling, no one was hiring, taxes were high, and crime was out of control. The future looked bleak.

The country had elected an inexperienced President; voters took a chance and hoped for the best by electing Jimmy Carter. He sounded good. He looked good. He was different, and many thought; he just might be what we need.

Things didn’t turn out well. Carter continually gave the country a gloomy forecast and had a personal pessimistic outlook on the future. He said the problem was the spirit of the American people, that there was a “malaise” in the country, and if we changed our moral fiber, things would get better.

The country remained uninspired. Finally, in 1980, the cavalry came, and the country was rescued from those depressing days by the eternal optimism, vision, and heroism of a single politician named Ronald Reagan.

Reagan told us in no uncertain terms that the answer to our problem wasn’t more government; in fact, he told us government was the problem. Reagan led us back, and is now regarded as one of our greatest Presidents for the achievement.

Some are wondering if the dreary times of the 1970s aren’t somehow back again. Economic growth is at a standstill and unemployment continues to be on the rise. Unemployment compensation is the new welfare program for many, and job prospects aren’t looking up in the immediate future. The similarities don’t end there.

In September of 1973 pollster Louis Harris surveyed the country’s attitudes in the first ever poll commissioned by the federal government. Those results may sound very familiar to what people think today.

Fifty-five percent of the people felt that those running the country, “really don’t care what happens to me,” and 61 percent agreed with the statement, “What you think doesn’t count anymore.”

The overwhelming majority saw the nation’s quality of life, and the economy, as the number one issue. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed also agreed with the statement, “something is deeply wrong in America today."

The Harris survey also identified a “malaise” in the country, a term which later became synonymous with President Carter, who used it frequently to describe the attitude of the American people.

The 1973 survey found that most people wanted the federal government to have less power, and wanted more power given to state and local governments, something that’s also true today.

As a precursor to 2010, a large majority (90 percent plus) in 1973 said they would pitch-in or join an activist group to bring about change in their government.  It's now a reality as people push back through the Tea Party movement.

History does repeat itself, and hopefully one day soon, the John Lennon question, “did you make it through alright?” will be asked again.

When it is, the dreadful 70s, and the dark recession of 2008, will be behind us for good.