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The "Me decade" is portrayed as a happy and laid back extended episode of The Brady Bunch. with flared collars and denim jumpsuits and disco and skinny joints rolled with weak marijuana.
And yet David Frum makes a solid case for exactly that, and by the time his statistics heavy tale is finished, one wonders how it is that the 70s ended up a mere historical parenthesis.
For it was in the 70s - not the 60s - that teen sex and divorce rates first went through the roof, that Americans overwhelming stopped trusting in their government, that psychobabble entered the nation's daily vocabulary, that the dollar's dominant role in the world ended and the national economy stalled, that the environment became a political issue, that gays were accepted, that hard-core pornography became a common site in corner stores, that racial tensions exploded with debates over bussing and affirmative action.
Frum anchors his thesis that the 70s were the true pivot decade with an impressive amount of data and so many revealing anecdotes that one wonders if there is a single cultural document he did not turn inside out in his research.
Exploring the social and political revolutions of the 70s is half the book, with the other half exploring the economic continuities the 70s shared with the previous three decades: a strong labor movement and belief in the government's obligation to intervene in the economy, culminating with the notorious price controls of the oil crisis. Frum's analysis of these trends is deeply colored by his politics.
An editor at the neoconservative Weekly Standard, his polemical thrusts are at warp speed when the subject is the breakdown of the family, welfare rights or the meddling of the liberal Brennan Supreme Court. Openly brandishing this conservatism often leads an otherwise formidable intelligence astray.
He blames, for example, the loss of patriotic values on flag burning anti-Vietnam protestors rather than the war itself and lying politicians; he sees the failure of the Democratic Congress to continue US support for "South Vietnam" in 1975 as a manifestation of liberal cowardice and betrayal; he blames the increased social activism of Protestant clergy on declining religiosity; he sees the revelations about the CIA forced by the Church committee as a disaster for democracy. And so on.
But Frum is also capable of slaying conservative sacred cows, and whatever one's politics, How We Got Here shows the reader how very serious the 70s were, Marsha Brady's pants notwithstanding.