By the end of the decade, many were so frustrated by the turn American public life had taken that they withdrew from it altogether. They embraced popular fads and joined community organizations that did not require them to depend on the government's good intentions or good decisions.
When Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968, he was the candidate of the "silent majority" - all the white, middle-class Americans who felt alienated from the radical movements they saw around them. They were sick of spoiled hippies and SDSers always getting their way; they were tired of urban blacks getting all the attention. It wasn't the government's job to be coddling these people, they thought. Everyone should be responsible for his or her own problems. Nixon capitalized on this resentment, promising to restore stability at home and honor abroad. He started by dismantling many of the social programs of Johnson's Great Society. For example, in 1973 he abolished the Office of Equal Opportunity, an essential weapon in the War on Poverty, and he tried (but failed) to get Congress to prohibit the use of compulsory busing to desegregate public schools.
But 1960s liberalism was not entirely dead. In particular, the environmental movement flourished in the 1970s. All kinds of people joined the fight against environmental depredations in their own backyards: highways through city neighborhoods; toxic waste at Love Canal, New York; the near-calamity at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania; and the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. They celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 and the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act that same year. Two years later, they welcomed the Clean Water Act. The oil crisis of the late 1970s made conservation seem even more important. The movement was so mainstream that the U.S. Forest Service's Woodsy Owl interrupted Saturday morning cartoons to remind kids to "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute."