I lived in Manhattan in 1977, during the “Summer of Sam.” After decades of leftist governance, the city was a cesspool. The Son of Sam serial killer, who terrorized the boroughs, caught the public imagination, at least in part, because he was emblematic of a metropolis awash in crime. You were wary leaving your home at night. You did not go into the parks after dark; they belonged to the bad guys. The FALN — Puerto Rican terrorists whom Bill Clinton would later scurrilously pardon — were bringing business to a halt with bombs and bomb threats. And when, on my birthday, the city suffered a blackout, people — mostly black people — seized the moment to burn and loot their neighborhoods.
Conservative Mayor Rudy Giuliani transformed that city in the ’90s. It was Giuliani’s policies — including the policy called “broken window policing” enforced by commissioner William Bratton — that turned the cesspool into something very like America the Beautiful’s ”alabaster cities… undimmed by human tears.” The young professionals and artists who enjoy the town today don’t appreciate the change. At the time, it seemed a miracle of nearly Biblical proportions.
It was not only New York that nearly died in the seventies. In the wider world, too, the thugs were on the march. The fall of the Communist slave state called the Soviet Union may seem inevitable now, but in that decade its imperialistic Brezhnev Doctrine was in the ascendant. A massive Soviet naval buildup. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Soviet coups in Yemen and Nicaragua. A Vietnamese incursion into Thailand. Barack Obama’s pals the Cubans acting as Soviet proxies in Angola, Ethiopia, Central and East Africa. And of course the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All while the U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, lectured Americans about our “inordinate fear of Communism.”
Carter’s prideful sanctimony also helped free the bottled demon of Islamism in the Middle East. When Carter withdrew U.S. support for the sometimes brutal but pro-American shah of Iran, the result was an Islamic revolution followed by a hostage crisis that humiliated America for 444 days. It was just the beginning of Islam’s awful rise.
Conservative President Ronald Reagan turned back that rising tide of tyranny. His aggressive stance against the Soviet Union and his willingness to use the profits of capitalism to outspend ever-stagnant socialism brought the evil Soviet empire to its knees. His patriotic optimism trumped the seventies’ leftist breast-beating. And his tax cuts set a broken American economy into motion again. All of which led to an American quarter century of unprecedented prosperity and peace, including that Reagan-created triumph that the media like to call “The Clinton Years.”