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The 1970s: Prelude to Conservatism Essay

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2021

Prompt I

The misery index was a combined total of inflation and unemployment rates which was beleaguering the US economy in the 1970s. Carter realized their negative effects and sought to dedicate his economic policy to reducing these indicators. At first, Carter used a Keynesian approach of federally funded programs meant to grow the economy and reduce unemployment. However, it had little effect while leading to hyperinflation of 13 percent by 1980 (Moss and Thomas 2012, 202).

Carter then appointed a new head of the federal reserve, Paul Volcker, who introduced severe monetary restrictions. In the short term, inflation declined, but interest rates and unemployment rose dramatically. In the long term, inflation began to rise again. This also had a negative outcome in combination with ongoing energy crises and the economy was in a recession.

Carter then aimed to introduce deregulation to the oil and airlines industry. This had some positive effects such as lowering prices, lessening barriers to entry, and expanding passenger traffic. There is heavy criticism of Carter’s presidency, but it often overlooks the success of his energy policy. The US being an industry-heavy country at the time, energy was an integral part of the economy, which Carter understood. He worked with Congress to pass the Emergency Natural Gas Act that allowed regulate energy suppliers, allocate interstate natural gas, and introduce new sustainable sources of energy. Joint-ventures were created with private businesses in the oil and natural gas industry which greatly increased the supply of energy (Strong n.d.).

It can be argued that although the misery index did not improve during Carter’s short one-term presidency, the economy is naturally a long-term prospect. Carter inherited an economy wrought with mismanagement, poor policy, and burdens of the Vietnam War. His short-term policies had little effect, but long-term impacts such as energy policy success contributed greatly to America’s prosperity in the next decade.

Despite Carter’s attempts to fix the economy and meet with industry leaders to determine issues, he blamed it on a crisis of spirit, while most pundits agreed that Carter was an inherently weak leader and could not effectively address the problem. The misery index was created by the economist Arthur Okun who was a chairman of President Johnson’s Council of Economic Advisors. It remained relatively unknown to the public until Carter popularized it in his 1976 Presidential campaign as a means to criticize his opponent, Gerald Ford. Ironically, the misery index increased exponentially during Carter’s administration which was one of the factors that led to his eventual loss to the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan.

Prompt II

As change was affecting American society, it impacted religion as well. The Catholic Church was undergoing a shift after Vatican II, which attempted to modernize the church and its traditions, including being more accepting of liberal beliefs, minorities, less traditional lifestyles, and actively participating in activism for peace and disadvantaged Americans. While many supported these changes, a number for traditional believers rejected them and continued to follow old traditions, including preaching against birth control, abortion, and homosexuality.

Protestant churches, which were already less traditionalist, took a strong liberal approach and reforming to become widely tolerant of new lifestyles and emerging minorities. However, a vocal group of Protestants known as Evangelical Christians became actively opposed to non-traditional lifestyles and modern beliefs. They became a profound element in the conservative far-right movement and used the media to their advantage. Books, radio sermons, and television shows such as the extremely popular “700 Club” became widely known in society, promoting the conservative social and political agenda (Moss and Thomas 2012, 221).

The Jewish community also shifted from its traditional roots to becoming more liberal and accepting. Many Jews participated in liberal activism, particularly, in regard to Civil Rights Movement. Although many Jewish individuals remained within their communities and many still upkept traditions, they were overall more accepting of some elements of modern life. In general, all religious communities underwent significant change towards liberalism of beliefs and ideas, but some members in all denominations chose to not accept this. Consequently, this led to a split within religious congregations to liberal and conservative supporters similarly to the way it occurred in society.

Due to the large social pressures of accepting liberal ideology and such a rapid shift internally, conservative groups in various religions felt the need to become more vocal and entrenched. They eventually became what is known as the Religious Right, a series of religious organizations and pressure groups which became actively engaged in politics. Although they appealed to the conservative culture of Americans from practically every religion and denomination, the primary substance of the movement consisted of Evangelical Christians. They sought to connect to Americans with traditionalist views by emphasizing family values.

The Religious Right became involved in economics, opposing heavy-handed government intervention and even advocated for a hardline foreign policy against Communism. The Right groups believed that America was experiencing a moral decline leading to its economic and political turmoil throughout the 1970s. As a result, the Religious Right had a significant impact on the election of Carter and Reagan, which were both more conservative than their political opponents (McVicar 2016).


McVicar, Michael J. 2016. “Oxford Research Encyclopedias. Web.

Moss, George D., and Evan A. Thomas. 2012. Moving on: The American People Since 1945. 5th ed. London: Pearson.

Strong, Robert A. N.d. “UVA Miller Center. Web.

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