In popular culture, the Seventies are often considered a joke decade, defined by shag carpet, pet rocks, streaking, polyester leisure suits, and the thumpthump of Beethoven to a disco beat. Nevertheless, it was also a time when Americans looked seriously inward too, trying to assess the legacy of the Sixties. For older teens, it opened with the hail of National Guard gunfire which, on May 4, 1970, killed four college students at Kent State University while they held a rally to protest the Vietnam War. Colleges, and possibly even high schools, were no longer havens where kids could express themselves freely and where their parents could count on their physical safety. On the night of May 9, 1970, when hundreds of students held a vigil at the Lincoln Memorial to honor their dead, President Richard Nixon unexpectedly appeared among them, apparently in a sincere effort to understand their objections to his government, but his smiles and superficial remarks only underscored the impossibility of such understanding between the generations at this time.
The flawed presidency of Richard M. Nixon forever marked Seventies politics. Swept into office for a second term by a landslide victory in 1972, having defeated the young people's antiwar candidate George McGovern of South Dakota, Nixon had already set in motion the events that forced his resignation. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, had to resign in less than a year because of financial improprieties. The Watergate story was breaking in