Digital History

The Past Three Decades: Years of Crisis - Years of Triumph

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Digital History ID 3355



In contrast to Nixon's abuses of presidential power, the next two presidents, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, cultivated reputations as honest, forthright leaders. Both were men of decency and integrity, but neither established reputations as strong, dynamic leaders. Although many Americans admired their honesty and sincerity, neither Ford nor Carter succeeded in winning the confidence of the American people. Moreover, neither administration had a clear sense of direction. Both Ford and Carter seemed to waffle on major issues of public policy. As a result, both came to be regarded as unsure, vacillating presidents.

A 13-term congressman from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Gerald Ford dismissed the possibility of pardoning Richard Nixon for his Watergate misdeeds, then changed his mind. In the realm of economic policy, he began by urging tax increases; however, he later called for a large tax cut. His energy policy was crippled by the same indecision. At first, he tried to raise prices by imposing import fees on imported oil and ending domestic price controls; then, he abandoned that position in the face of severe political pressure.

Carter, too, suffered from the charge that he modified his stances in the face of political pressure. A two-term Democratic governor from Georgia who defeated Ford in the 1976 presidential election, Carter came to office determined to cut military spending, to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and to withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. By the end of his term, however, Carter spoke of the need for sustaining growth in defense spending, upgrading nuclear forces in Europe, and developing a new strategic bomber.

Both men were described as "passionless presidents" who failed to project a clear vision of where they wanted to lead the country. But in their defense, both faced serious problems, ranging from dealing with rising oil prices to confronting third-world terrorists.

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