Frank Rich in The New York Times:
Next to the more apocalyptic spells of American history, the dismal span of 1973 to 1976 would seem a relative blip of national dyspepsia. A period that yielded the blandest of modern presidents, Gerald Ford — “a Ford, not a Lincoln,” as he circumspectly described himself — is not to be confused with cataclysmic eras like the Civil War, the Great Depression and the Vietnam ‘60s. The major mid-70s disruptions — the Watergate hearings and Richard Nixon’s abdication, Roe v. Wade, the frantic American evacuation of Saigon, stagflation, the dawn of the “energy crisis” (then a newly minted term) — were adulterated with a steady stream of manufactured crises and cheesy cultural phenomena. Americans suffered through the threat of killer bees, “Deep Throat,” the Symbionese Liberation Army, a national meat boycott, “The Exorcist,” Moonies and the punishing self-help racket est, to which a hustler named Werner Erhard (né Jack Rosenberg) attracted followers as diverse as the Yippie Jerry Rubin and the Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Even the hapless would-be presidential assassins of the Ford years, Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, were B-list villains by our national standards of infamy.
“I must say to you that the state of our Union is not good,” our unelected president told the nation in January 1975. That was true enough. America’s largest city was going bankrupt. Urban crime was metastasizing. The C.I.A. was exposed as a snake pit of lethal illegality. The nostalgic canonization of the Kennedy presidency, the perfect antidote to the Nixon stench, was befouled by the revelation of Jack Kennedy’s mob-moll paramour. Yet the mood of the union was not so much volatile as defeated, whiny and riddled by self-doubt. As Americans slouched toward the Bicentennial celebrations of July 4, 1976, pundits were wondering whether the country even deserved to throw itself a birthday party. “Everyone wanted to be somewhere else,” Rick Perlstein writes in “The Invisible Bridge.”It says much about Perlstein’s gifts as a historian that he persuasively portrays this sulky, slender interlude between the fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan (as his subtitle has it) not just as a true bottom of our history but also as a Rosetta stone for reading America and its politics today.