As the United States shifted toward a peacetime economy, inflation and unemployment beset it. In 1971 Nixon temporarily froze wages and prices, cut federal spending, and announced that the United States would no longer convert foreign-held dollars into gold. The subsequent decline in the value of the dollar in relation to other major currencies made American goods less expensive abroad. Throughout 1972, signs of an economic recovery multiplied. Unemployment dropped. As the administration alternately tightened and loosened controls in a series of “phases,” the price of food, notably beef, rose sharply. The battle against inflation was complicated by shortages of some products, including gasoline, and foods. Nixon blamed inflation on Congress, and he vetoed bills that exceeded his budgetary recommendations.
Policies adopted by Arab countries in 1973 and 1974 jeopardized the U.S. economy. To dramatize their strategic position in world affairs, the Mideast oil-producing countries imposed a brief embargo on petroleum products and then sharply increased their prices. Inflationary pressures and the unemployment rate increased in the United States. Nixon advocated greater exploitation of U.S. energy reserves. He hoped the United States could end its use of foreign oil.
Efforts by Nixon to reform the nation’s welfare system met resistance in Congress, but in 1972 he won approval of a program to share federal revenues with the states.
Continued dissatisfaction with “establishment” values was translated into opposition to the Nixon administration. College students overwhelmingly opposed the war. Black and white radical movements, while condemning racism and U.S. foreign policy in Asia, occasionally resorted to bombings and other acts of terrorism. Nixon, Vice President Agnew, and Attorney General John Mitchell deplored lawlessness while upholding the right of peaceful dissent. Nixon ignored massive antiwar rallies in Washington and elsewhere in 1969, but after the deaths of students at Kent State University and other colleges in 1970 during clashes with authorities, he sought to broaden his ties with the academic community. As the war came to a close, radical movements declined. Statistics indicated that the use of hard drugs was lessening, but that the administration was making little headway in its fight against crime.
Nixon supported the conservationists on many issues. However, he also favored the development at federal expense of a supersonic transport plane (SST), which he said would maintain America’s supremacy in world aviation. Many persons thought that a fleet of SSTs would harm the environment, and Congress terminated the project.
President Nixon led the nation in honoring American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, who walked on the moon in July 1969.
Despite efforts “to bring us together,” the war contributed in part to the strained relationship between the Nixon administration and the press. Vice President Agnew delivered speeches criticizing the news analysis of some newspapers and television networks. Early in 1971 the president objected to news reports that the U.S.-supported invasion of Laos had not gone well. Later that year, several newspapers published secret documents from an analysis of the Vietnam War prepared at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during the Johnson administration. Arguing that some of the revelations in these “Pentagon Papers” were a threat to national security, the Department of Justice tried to halt their publication. The U.S. Supreme Court held, in light of strong constitutional protection of the press, that the government had failed to justify any restraint on publication.