American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations

By Lester D. Friedman | Go to book overview

1977
Movies and a Nation
in Transformation

PAULA J. MASSOOD

The year began with Jimmy Carter's presidential inauguration, initiating a significant shift in the nation's political and cultural landscape as articulated by the new president himself: “This inauguration ceremony marks a new beginning, a new dedication within our Government, and a new spirit among us all.” Indeed, Carter's presidency was a change from the preceding Republican administrations, both of which were tainted by Watergate. His devout religious beliefs and homespun persona distinctly differed from Richard Nixon's arrogance or Gerald Ford's ineptitude, and represented a symbolic transformation in Washington. This change was not only symbolic, however, and in his first days in office Carter marked his administration's difference from Nixon's “imperial presidency” by cutting the number of members of the White House staff, by insisting that cabinet members drive themselves to work, and by generally “depomping” the White House (Schulman 122), acts foreshadowed in his decision to walk from the Capitol to the White House after the inauguration. In short, the year began as a year of transformation.

Yet Carter did not begin his administration from a position of strength. Though there were Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House, the former Georgia governor's status as outsider hardly guaranteed him the support of his party. In addition, ambitious contenders for the next election, particularly the popular former governor of California, Ronald Reagan, who had nearly defeated an incumbent president the previous year, were already dogging at his heels. This environment severely limited how successful Carter could be in implementing his policies.

For all this there is no doubt that when he was sworn into office, Jimmy Carter struck a chord with a nation still reeling from the horrors of Vietnam, the lies and deceptions of Watergate, the cutbacks and shortages of the oil-induced recession of 1974–75, and a rising inflation rate. According to Bruce Schulman, Carter's “modesty and wholesomeness spoke to a

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