Our Sag Harbor summer softball game held its 30th anniversary dinner the other night in Manhattan. The entertainment was a good-natured roast featuring jokes about our foibles, mishaps and legendary incompetence. (Sample slogans: "The game in which you can't possibly be the worst player" and "The most important Long Island softball game launched during the Ford administration.")
To let the younger players know how different America was when the game began, we offered this summary of important events in 1976:
*The president was a not-very-articulate and not-very-popular Republican, derided by opponents for having been "appointed, not elected."
*Democrats were unusually restive, having controlled the White House for only 8 years of the entire preceding generation.
* When controversy blew up about the administration's practice of conducting warrantless surveillance, the justice department put out a formal statement declaring that authority for such surveillance is inherent in the office of the presidency.
*The administration seriously considered going after a New York Times reporter (Sy Hersh) after the disclosure of sensitive classified information.
* A key White House official was Dick Cheney (chief of staff).
* The secretary of defense was Donald Rumsfeld.
* Neocons were arguing that the U.S. had to bring more diplomatic pressure, and perhaps military pressure, to bear in the Middle east.
* The U.S. offered aid to Iran in developing nuclear power but expressed concern over the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
* Some scientists warned about the threat of global warming. Other scientists were deeply worried about a possible worldwide pandemic of animal-borne influenza that had jumped to humans (swine flu).
* A bitter controversy arose over whether to pull the plug on a woman who had lapsed into a persistent vegetative state (Karen Ann Quinlan).
* Heavy Muslim immigration was transforming Europe's work force.
*In entertainment, Americans were checking out the new remake of "King Kong" and a new kind of popular music, called rap.
* Concern about the crumbling wall between news and entertainment became part of the national consciousness (thanks in part to the movie "Network").
* Apprehension over the rising use of steroids by athletes led to pre-event testing (at the Olympics in Montreal).
* The Knicks were awful and the Yankees, who hadn't won anything in years, were nervous about the rise of the Red Sox, who had recently managed the rarity of making it into a World Series.
*The Steelers won the Superbowl.
How distant. How different.