Arguments against the statement…
- Affluence: Within the world, America remained one of the most affluent societies and most influential economic powers. Their GNP was higher than any of their nearest competitors and therefore it can certainly be argued that if we consider America’s position in the wider world, Carter was not justified in saying that America was suffering a crisis of confidence.
- Civil Rights: The wider effects of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and were now being seen with greater integration of black culture into the music and film industry. Not only were black singers such as Barry White and Stevie Wonder topping the charts at this time but their style of music was being emulated by white artists, as is seen in the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever. Furthermore, at this time 8% of young black people had graduated college, an indication that affirmative action policies were effective. These developments in uniting society suggest that national confidence was high at this time.
- Establishing peace: In January of 1979, Carter built on the work of Nixon and established full diplomatic relations with China in 1979. This validated a far-reaching détente policy and showed that the USA were committed to establishing peace with Asian communism. Other achievements included the negotiation of the Israeli-Egyptian détente at Camp David the previous year. This helped to promote an America which was internationally committed to peace and diplomacy as opposed to military involvement. This suggests renewed confidence in the foreign capabilities of America.
Arguments for the statement…
- Stagflation: The state of the American economy in 1979 was poor to say the least. In 1978, inflation stood at 10%, with unemployment at 8.2 million. This was largely indicative of losses to foreign competition. For example, much of the car manufacturing which occurred in cities such as Detroit was moved to Japan and the market was no longer dominated by American companies, suggesting a crisis of confidence. Even more damming was the Petrol rationing policy which was introduced the following year. This further shows a loss of confidence as it demonstrates how reliant the USA was on other countries for fuel and therefore it was in 1979 no longer as self-sufficient as it once was in terms of energy.
- International Reputation: America by 1979 had lost its international supremacy which it had in the post war years. Britain, the Soviet Union, Japan and some European countries were beginning to emerge and challenge American domination of diplomatic relations, trade etc. Additionally, America were becoming known as aggressive interventionists, especially among their allies in Europe, with regard to their foreign policy in Iran and Vietnam. This challenge to American foreign policy very much suggests a crisis in national confidence.
- Watergate: Many people in 1979 felt disillusioned with politics. The stereotype which Nixon had set very much lingered in the minds of the public, regardless of how cleanly Ford and Carter played their politics. Therefore, few people trusted politicians and this is shown in the turnout figures for the 1980 election, when 47% who were registered did not vote. This trend also saw a resurgence of social conservative politics which split American society. Many people didn’t think that liberal social policy had gone far enough and the conservatives thought that it had gone too far. This evident divide in society with regard to social policy shows a lack of confidence.