Ever notice how hindsight can educate you? How many times have we said to ourselves and others, “If I’d known then what I know now…”? Plundering through some old issues of LIFE Magazine, there was no shortage of those moments for me. It got me to thinking about how much things have changed – until I realized that when it gets right down to it, not much has changed at all.
I was reading an interview with Richard Nixon right before voters put him back in office. Soon, Watergate would emerge and it would annihilate not only Nixon, but several others as well. Before then, though, he had support that crossed party lines and more importantly, he had the respect of a nation. I know – that’s a hard sell in retrospect, but stay with me here -
In the September 1972 issue of LIFE, you’ll find this:
For the U.S. to play a proper role in world affairs we must, in the President’s view, not only be strong militarily, but strong in spirit, strong in self respect. We must be able to govern ourselves if we are to help govern the world. The U.S. does not maintain its strength in order to push people around. It does so in order to play a role which only the U.S. can. We must maintain the strength of our military establishment, and of our economy and we must show that we can govern ourselves.
Nixon then goes on to speak of his disappointment in himself for not being able to accomplish as much as he’d wished during the first four years. He explained that an American president “can do things in foreign affairs and then ask to be judged on his performance. In domestic matters, he can only propose to do things.” In three years, he continued, Congress didn’t reject his bills, but instead, they simply did not act on them. He ended that aspect of the interview by saying these kinds of failures, to him, mean as a country, we faced a crisis in our ability to govern and then suggested that the machine of the government is obsolete.
Any of it sound familiar? I searched out the text from Obama’s 2008 Strategy to Promote Global Development and Democracy. It was interesting to see the contrasting beliefs, word choices and overall sentiments of the two. Here’s part of what you’ll find in that presentation:
Barack Obama will restore America’s standing in the world by providing a new American leadership to meet the challenges of a new century. American leadership is urgently needed. This century’s threats are as dangerous as and in some ways more complex than those we confronted in the past… weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people; from extreme poverty and repressive governance that can foment instability; and; from a warming planet that would spur new diseases, spawn more devastating natural disasters, and catalyze deadly conflicts.
The point is to mirror the two references in order to gain a different perspective, especially when you consider the various recent decisions that have come out of the Obama Administration.
Finally, take a look at these two comparisons. The first one highlights the mindset of Americans from the early 1970s (from the same LIFE issue) regarding the union’s growing influence. It also mentions poverty and unemployment.
Reese Orlosky worked in a knife factory and put himself through college. It took eleven years, but he graduated in 1971 with his psychology degree. By then, he’d married and both he and his wife had accepted jobs as teachers as it was difficult to find a job in his chosen career. He discovered that both he and his wife made, in combined salaries, just $600 above the national poverty line. He returned to the knife factory and accepted position on the assembly line earning $4.78 per hour just to earn a living.
OK – so jump ahead more than three decades later -
Millions of college graduates who saw a degree as their ticket to a good-paying career and a secure life are working in jobs that do not require their education or even a high school diploma, sometimes leaving them with small wages to pay thousands in student loan debt, according to a new study.
About 48 percent of all working college alumni – not just recent graduates – were underemployed in 2010 as the United States began a slow recovery from the Great Recession, including 5 million graduates in jobs that require less than a high school diploma, according to a study from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. (See the entire Denver Post story here)
Also, in an October 2012 report titled, America’s near poor: 30 million and struggling the number of those living at or just below the poverty level has grown by 10%. For those who are officially living in poverty, those numbers have skyrocketed a whopping 24% in the past couple of years. Interestingly enough, there’s even a label for these families; the ones who are doing all of the right things, but still are unable to to climb out. They’re referred to as “the missing class”. These are the families that lawmakers and policymakers dismiss and they’re also the ones who are probably not going to be able to afford things like medical insurance, especially once Obama Care kicks in. In fact, many have already had to drop previous policies because their employers could no longer pay the premiums.
Did I mention those in this missing class group include teachers? In other words, if you transplanted a 1972 Orlosky into current day, he and his wife would likely face the same problems they did three decades ago.
The times were different, the motives were different and society as a whole was different, until, of course, you dig a bit deeper.