As The Times prepares to endorse a presidential candidate for the first time in more than 35 years, the editorial board will examine the candidates' stances on issues through our own sense of the meaning of some essential American values. How much have The Times' values changed since its 1972 endorsement of Richard Nixon? We'll find out by looking through editorials from that year. Earlier, we went through The Times' positions on the powers of the earth, life, liberty and justice and the pursuit of happiness.
Today The Times wonders how to ensure domestic tranquility. While the framers were more concerned with rebellions and relations between states, the modern candidates, The Times says, should explain how they would ease poverty and improve infrastructure. Hurricane Katrina, hitting partway through Bush's second term, highlighted the urgency of those issues. The board of 1972 saw a number of disasters, and, much like the modern board, advocated for more preparedness and generous but accountable government assistance.
The board started the year by remembering a 6.6 earthquake that hit San Fernando Valley in 1971, killing 58. On Feb. 6, The Times published an editorial titled "Much, Much More Remains to Be Done":
Southern Californians haven't scheduled any particular celebrations for next week even though it happens, quite appropriately, to be Seismic Safety Week. Yet there will be much to remember and much to discuss. For Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the San Fernando earthquake . Immediately after the quake, while emergency work was under way, the Board of Supervisors appointed a commission to assess the weaknesses in disaster response and, equally important, recommend preventive measures to keep as low as possible the usual death and devastation that always accompanies major temblors that rack this densely populated section of earthquake country . But so far, only minor progress has been achieved in carrying out its recommendations . The awesome threat of power and water shortages remains. Nearly 100,000 Los Angeles school children continue to occupy unsafe classrooms. City and county building codes, despite some minor revisions, have yet to undergo the extensive upgrading recommended by the commission.
On March 13, The Times reacted to a bomb planted on a plane:
Certain kinds of violence, more than others, instill a sense of fear that exceeds the danger confronted. They leave one with a strange disquietude, a feeling that things are beyond control. Such was the planting of bombs aboard two TWA planes. The perpetrators wanted $2 million. But what kind of human beings are they to put the lives of hundreds of other human beings in jeopardy? And how many of them are out there somewhere, ticking away, primed with grandiose psychopathic dreams? Some defense measures can be taken before any airplane leaves the ground. President Nixon's immediate implementation of the new federal rules was necessary . John A. Volpe, secretary of transportation, suggested that legislation may be needed to prohibit the payment of ransom by airlines. The validity of the proposal is dubious. While such demands should not be met, as they were by the West German government to recover an airplane, they would be difficult to resist in an emergency, with hundreds of lives in the balance . In the meantime, we must learn to live with the situation and try not to exaggerate the threat. We have come to understand in recent years that a complex, technological society is more vulnerable than we had thought. Yet life has always been surrounded by danger, but less so now for millions than ever before.
On April 11, the board expressed its disapproval of the Small Business Administration's response to disaster:
The federal disaster program, designed to help citizens caught in the aftermaths of earthquakes, floods, storms and fires, has become a source of scandal as well as social service . . . The government should not be in the business of handing out money to all comers for all kinds of damage, large or small. We see no sound reason of public policy for the government's reimbursing a citizen for, say, a cracked driveway. Better than the emergency relief and loan system would be a coherent program of earthquake insurance. . .
May brought two major disasters. The board reacted to the first, a flood in Appalachia that left 118 dead and 4,000 homeless, on May 14:
An Interior Department investigating team has now returned a different verdict. The disaster might have been averted, the investigators report, had the Bureau of Mines enforced its own regulations . . . So much for that. Another disaster. Lives needlessly lost. Another report, a report which, significantly, did not explain why the bureau failed to take even the most elementary precautions to avert this tragedy.
And on May 21 a mine fire killed 91, prompting the board to repeat its preparedness point and criticize the Bureau of Mines:
There had been no fire drills, no rescue training and no maps plainly marked with secondary escape routes. There were enough oxygen masks for half the workers and "many of these self-rescuers did not work." The mine had only a "primitive" telephone system to the lower shafts.
On July 17, the board revisited "skyjackings", advocating a security precaution that's routine today:
Several airlines will check all hand baggage carried aboard Boeing 727s, a favorite of skyjackers because the 727 has a tail door that permits escape by parachute. Perhaps this precaution should be extended to all planes by all airlines. That would be costly and time consuming, but skyjackings must be stopped . . . A disaster has not occurred yet in the skyjackings of 152 U.S. planes in the past decade. We have been lucky so far, but there is no guarantee that our luck will continue.
Nine days later, the board responded to yet another mining disaster, an electrical fire that trapped nine in West Virginia:
Safety regulations apparently were ignored by the operating companies and not enforced by the U.S. Bureau of Mines . . . After the latest disaster, the Blacksville explosion, it was announced that operators of the mine had received nearly 500 citations for federal safety violations in four years of operation.
Fifteen months after the San Fernando quake, the region still needed help. The board wrote on May 23:
The Small Business Administration, under intense pressure and criticism from many sides, has embarked at last on a complete reform of its entire disaster loan and grant program . . . It took intense political pressure to melt the loan freeze. Now all applications and loans are being closely monitored to make sure they are used to repair genuine quake damage. This is the standard procedure that should have been followed in the first place. This is the same procedure that must be followed the next time disaster strikes.
By Aug. 10 the board was treating the Small Business Administration with harsher words in an editorial called "The Great Disaster Giveaway":
Because of evidence of widespread fraud turned up by a team of investigative reporters from The Times, Congress ordered the Small Business Administration to tighten its loan and grant procedures. And the Administration moved to eliminate the forgiveness clause . . . These proper steps were taken before two more disasters struck, Hurricane Agnes, which devastated portions of six Eastern states, and the flood which swept through South Dakota . . . We can endorse low-interest loans for those who suffered and will suffer from quake, flood, hurricane or fire. But we believe retention of the forgiveness is a serious mistake, the more so as it is increased.
But the board wasn't always dreary that year. On July 19, it offered a bit of reassurance:
It seems that hardly a week goes by without another warning from some prominent person that the nation is on the road to ruin. Take your pick, we are about to be done in either a) environmentally, b) morally, c) militarily, d) economically, the mode of predicted destruction depending on who is talking and what he is trying to sell . . . Most informed persons eventually come to regard forecasts of disaster with skepticism that may be as much a matter of boredom as of rational examination. The uninformed, on their part, divide into those who will believe anything if it's scary enough and those who are too busy with the workaday world to much care . . . The plain fact is that messages of peril and doom are virtually inescapable . . . There is a vast difference between, say, an ecologist's warning of planetary harm from misuse of resources and a huckster's warning of social unpopularity from the non-use of a particular deodorant. But each in its way is a threatening message, and each probably contributes to a general sense of concern, an erosion of confidence . . . None of this is to argue that there are not serious problems to be perceived, discussed, confronted, that there are not well-informed concerns about issues and events, or that ignorance is preferable to information. What we do suggest, and particularly in this political season of rhetorical superlatives, is a renewed need for responsibility . . . What we seek, if only temporarily, is relief from casual prophecies of disaster, respite from assaults on our faith in ourselves and in the future. We have heard them all before anyway, and still the Republic has survived.