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National Affairs: The Men Who Almost Made It

9 minute read

It was a year of retrenchment and reappraisal. In the midst of a worldwide recession, people learned how to make do with less and not to hope for too much more. While the lowering of expectations brought frustration and confusion, it also seemed to prompt a new realism. Sporadic acts of terrorism kept much of the world on edge, but steps were taken toward peace in significant areas. For the time being at least, moderation was in the air.

In this atmosphere, leaders did not so much lead as grope and listen intently for signals that were slow in coming. The wise chief of state was the one who did not move too far ahead of people in no mood for rash undertakings. It was not a period in which a single Man of the Year could decisively emerge.

There were, however, many also-rans. President Ford ranked among them. For the first few months of the year, his popularity grew as he showed that he could live easily with power without resorting to the imperial pretensions and devious actions of his predecessors. Generally, his high-level appointments were impressive. After enduring the humiliation of the collapse of Southeast Asia, he directed a spirited if overdramatized rescue of the Mayaguez from the Cambodians. Since then it has been downhill, as he was perceived by many as just not being up to the job. Trying to improve his standing in November by shifting key lieutenants and firing Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, he looked like a fumbler. Confronted with massive if badly led Democratic majorities in Congress, he could not overcome the opposition to many of his domestic and foreign policies. In the end he was forced to accept clumsy compromises: an energy bill that would reduce oil prices in the short run and allow them to rise in the long run, a tax bill in which Congress gave a nonbinding promise to limit spending. In many respects, Ford’s record was better than his critics allowed. But none of his conservative moves seemed to appease his party’s truculent right wing, and its candidate, Ronald Reagan, passed him in the polls.

Henry Kissinger dominated world affairs as the most remarkable Secretary of State in modern times, but the magic was fading. The tenuous peace he had engineered in Viet Nam, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1973, unraveled when the Communists triumphed in Southeast Asia. Kissinger’s laboriously constructed policy of détente was showing considerable wear as critics at home and abroad—not least of them the great Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn—complained that the Russians were exploiting the arrangement. But his critics were unable to present cogent alternatives to detente, and much of the opposition was based on unrealistic assumptions about what détente should or could achieve.

Increasingly antagonistic to the Secretary and apparently determined to run U.S. foreign policy. Congress cut off military aid to Turkey and to anti-Communist forces in Angola. Kissinger and CIA Director William Colby, who was later dismissed by Ford, were hounded by Democratic-led congressional committees trying to expose covert U.S. intelligence operations. Day after day, Frank Church’s Senate committee forced Colby to divulge information about past operations, in a spectacle that was intensely damaging to the U.S. position in the world. But Kissinger scored a notable success in September when his much derided shuttle diplomacy, after months of patient effort, culminated in a historic agreement between Egypt and Israel. The President still seemed to give his policies solid support and, despite congressional hostility, Kissinger was admired and welcomed during his several forays into the American heartland.

The United Nations had never seen a U.S. ambassador like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had long urged the nation’s leaders to start talking back to America’s detractors. He made more enemies than friends at the U.N. as he branded Uganda President Idi Amin a “racist murderer” and blamed other African governments for supporting him. Moynihan was equally vehement when he denounced the resolution equating Zionism with racism as “infamous.” Soon after he threatened to resign because he did not think he was getting proper support from the State Department. Ford, who could scarcely afford more turmoil in his Administration, had to support Moynihan. Moreover, Moynihan’s outspokenness won him a large following in the U.S. and a possible base for whatever political ambitions he may entertain.

Treasury Secretary William Simon was a principal author of the Administration’s economic policy of curtailing spending to combat inflation. It was a role that could give him some satisfaction as the year ended. The U.S. was recovering from its most severe postwar recession, and the rate of inflation had been cut to 7.3% from 12.2% in 1974. Consistent with his conservative views, Simon had been the strongest counsel in the Administration against federal aid to New York City. Under political pressure, he was forced to moderate his position, but not before the near bankrupt city adopted more prudent fiscal policies.

New York’s Governor Hugh Carey was put to a stern test—and he passed with generally high marks. With New York City on the brink and unable to govern itself, he reluctantly took charge and assembled a group of businessmen, financiers and public officials to overhaul the city’s spending practices and devise a rescue plan. For all the unpopular actions he was forced to take—cutting spending, raising taxes—he won respect by making hard choices with an even temper. But his record was somewhat blemished at year’s end when he abruptly fired Maurice Nadjari, the special prosecutor appointed to ferret out corruption in the criminal justice system (see THE NATION).

A Democratic Governor became a chief spokesman for the new antigovernment conservatism in the U.S. California’s Jerry Brown, 37, surprised everyone by outdoing even his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, in cutting spending and avoiding new taxes. Brown won an approval rating among state voters of better than 7 to 1 by preaching—and practicing—the life of frugality (“We’ll take whatever the revenue is, spend it—and that’s it, folks”). Intellectually agile, he insisted that he had no ready answer for complicated problems, but was trying to get the questions straight. Brown was also staying aloof from the usual political rituals, such as Governors’ conferences. He was widely regarded as the most interesting new politician on the scene.

Leaders abroad demonstrated a similar trend to moderation and practicality v. Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat continued to convert a country that had once been a prime troublemaker into a force for peace and stability. When Kissinger’s diplomacy broke down in March, Sadat kept hope alive by shrewdly announcing that he would reopen the Suez Canal. Finally, he proved strong enough to agree to a second-stage disengagement with Israel. He pledged to refrain from military action. In exchange, the Israelis made a partial withdrawal from the Sinai, giving up key military passes and returning oilfields to Egypt. Sadat also won a promise of $700 million in U.S. aid. But he lost ground with more radical Arab leaders, who accused him of selling out to the enemy.

By leading a conservative coalition to the biggest parliamentary majority in Australian history last month, new Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was given a clear mandate to undo the costly excesses of the Labor government’s welfare state. Runaway taxes, inflation and unemployment had soured the electorate on big spending. Fraser’s stunning upset of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam signaled a return to free-market policies and a retreat from the courting of Communist and Third World countries.

In China, Teng Hsiao-ping made a near miraculous recovery from the political dead. A chief target of the left-wing Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, he was marched through the streets in 1966 with a dunce cap pulled over his ears. Now the cap has shifted heads. A skilled administrator whose only immoderation is an implacable hatred of the Soviet Union, Teng was returned as party vice chairman. With Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Premier Chou En-lai both ill and enfeebled, Teng in most respects was China’s de facto ruler.

In chaotic Portugal, Communists, along with other ultra-leftists, came close to seizing power. Eventually, they were defeated by the moderates, including Socialist Leader Mário Soares. Though the Communists remain the nation’s best-organized political force, they were at least temporarily sidelined because of their militant, Moscow-lining tactics. In sharp contrast, the Communists made dramatic advances in Italy. Their flexible chief, Enrico Berlinguer, preached independence from Moscow and showed a willingness to compromise with other parties. The Communists are given a chance of coming to power democratically, a development that would have dangerous implications for the Western Alliance. In the June regional elections in Italy, Communists won a third of the vote.

One leader held no official position, but gained great moral authority. With Solzhenitsyn driven into exile, Nuclear Physicist Andrei Sakharov remained the most important voice of dissent in the Soviet Union. His pleas for human rights and nuclear disarmament became more insistent in 1975, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Kremlin refused to let him goto Oslo to accept it.

If moderation was the keynote among most of the world’s leaders, the Terrorist had a claim to being Man of the Year. In the name of various causes, fringe groups demonstrated an appalling willingness to sacrifice innocent lives and disrupt the peace of nations. Whether they called themselves the Irish Republican Army, Palestine Liberationists, Basque separatists, South Moluccan independents or the West German Baader-Meinhof gang, they were an alarming force for disorder.

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