Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
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According to Eric Foner, Richard Nixon capped a remarkable political comeback by winning the Republican nomination. He campaigned as the champion of the "silent majority," -ordinary Americans who believed that change had gone too far-and called for a renewed commitment to "law and order." Nixon won the presidency by a very narrow margin and moved toward the political center on many issues. Nixon was mostly interested in foreign policy, and he had no desire to battle Congress, still under Democratic control on domestic issues.
Just as Eisenhower had helped to institutionalize the New Deal, Nixon accepted and even expanded many elements of the Great Society. Conservatives applauded Nixon's "New Federalism", which offered federal "block grants" to the states to spend as they saw fit, rather than for specific purposes. Nixon created new agencies, such as the Environmental Protection agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board. However, Nixon abolished the Office of Economic Opportunity, which had coordinated Johnson's War on Poverty. Nixon did sign congressional measures that expanded the food stamp program and indexed Social Security benefits to inflation-meaning that they would rise automatically as the cost of living increased. The Endangered Species Act prohibited spending federal funds on any project that might extinguish an animal species.
Perhaps Nixon's most startling imitative was his proposal for a Family Assistance Plan that would replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children by having the federal government guarantee a minimum income for all Americans. Universally known as "welfare," AFDC provided assistance, often quite limited, to poor families who met all eligibility requirements.
The liberal policies of the Nixon administration reflected a number of forces, including the Democrats’ control of Congress and Nixon’s desire to preserve support from moderates from his party and achieve Republican ascendancy by attracting some traditional Democrats. Nixon also acted contrary to his rhetoric against a growing federal bureaucracy by expanding controls over the economy when economic crises and energy shortages induced him to increase the federal government’s power in the marketplace.
In the fall of 1973, the United States faced its first energy crisis when Arab nations, furious at the nation’s support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War, cut off oil shipments to the United States. Nixon authorized temporary emergency measures allocating petroleum and establishing a national fifty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit to save gasoline. Soaring energy prices worsened already severe economic problems, including high rates of inflation and unemployment. The president’s response to these economic problems diverged from conventional Republican doctrine. His policies treated the economy only superficially, however, and by the mid- 1970s, the nation faced the most severe economic crisis since the depression of the 1930s. More successfully, Nixon expanded the government’s regulatory role with a host of environmental protection measures.
The Burger Court
Nixon’s 1968 campaign had exploited antipathy to black protest and new civil rights policies in order to woo white Southerners and northern workers away from the Democratic Party, yet his administration had to answer to the courts and Congress.
Nixon was reluctant to use federal power to compel integration, but the Supreme Court overruled efforts by the Justice Department to delay Court-ordered desegregation and compelled the administration to enforce the law.
The Nixon administration also began to implement affirmative action, requiring contractors and unions to employ more minority workers on federally funded construction projects and awarding more government contracts and loans to minority businesses.
While women as well as minority groups benefited from the implementation of affirmative action and the strengthened EEOC, several measures of the Nixon administration specifically attacked sex discrimination. President Nixon gave more public support for justice for Native Americans than for any other protest group.
When Earl Warren retired as chief justice in 1969, Nixon appointed Warren Burger, a federal court-of-appeals judge to succeed him. An outspoken critic of the "judicial activism" of the Warren Court, Burger was expected to lead the justices in a conservative direction.
In 1971, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which arose in North Caroline, the justices unanimously approved a lower court's plan that required extensive transportation of students to achieve school integration. The decision led to hundreds of cases in which judges throughout the country ordered the use of busing as a tool to achieve integration. The issue of busing was controversial, as white parents enrolled their children in private academies, as in the fight that took place in Boston during the 1970s, when the Irish-American community of South Boston demonstrated vociferously and sometimes violently against a busing plan decreed by a local judge.
In San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez, a 5-4 Court majority ruled that the Constitution did not require equality of school funding. Mexican-American schools in Texas stood far below that of white school.
1968 My Lai massacre/ Oil discovered in Alaska
1969 Warren Burger appointed Chief Justice
1970 United States invades Cambodia/ Ohio National Guard kills four students at Kent State
1971 United States goes off gold standard/Pentagon Papers published
1972 Nixon travels to the People's Republic of China/SALT is signed/Congress approved Title IX/Congress passes the Equal Rights Amendment for ratification/Equal Credit Opportunity Act
1973 War Powers Act/Paris Peace agreement ends war in Vietnam/OPEN embargo placed on oil to the United States/CIA-aided Chilean coup
1974 Nixon resigns in Watergate scandal
1975 Saigon falls to North Vietnamese communists
The administration of Richard Nixon, (1969-1974) announced a new “Doctrine,” which asked other nations to take more responsibility for fighting communism. Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor for Nixon, introduced the concept of détente, a French term meaning the easing of tensions. The Nixon Doctrine modified the Truman Doctrine, and led to a gradual withdrawal from Vietnam. However, as the Paris peace talks stalled in 1969, Nixon secretly ordered an escalation in the bombing of communist positions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1970. In May 1972, President Nixon visited Moscow, and the two leaders signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), marking the beginning of the "detente" era. According to Eric Foner, conservatives viewed Nixon's policy as dangerously "soft" on communism. Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security advisor and secretary of state, continued their predecessor's policy of attempting to undermine governments deemed dangerous to American strategic or economic interests. Attacks on Israel escalated with the creation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964, which murdered several Israeli athletes in 1972 Olympics and attacked Israel in October a year later. Beginning in 1972, Nixon ordered an escalation in the bombing of communist positions in Vietnam. In 1973, the U.S. and Soviet Union signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in Moscow, which stated that each country could only have two ABM deployment areas.
Robert S. Litwak, Détente and the Nixon Doctrine: American Foreign Policy and the Pursuit of Stability, 1969-1976, (1984), argued that Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger developed a strategy for withdrawing from war in Vietnam honorably without damaging the United States credibility. Litwak noted that agreements reached with the Soviet Union were essential to this strategy, and until Arab-Israeli war of 1973, the strategy of détente worked.
Richard C. Thornton, The Nixon-Kissinger Years: Reshaping America’s Foreign Policy, (1989) argued that Kissinger shaped Nixon’s foreign policy as he controlled the withdrawal from Vietnam. Thornton stated that Kissinger took advantage of Watergate and gained complete control of foreign policy as Nixon focuses were elsewhere.
Norman Friedman, The Fifty Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War. (2000) argued that the 1972 SALT agreements between the U.S. and the Soviets symbolized a new stage for Soviet-American relations. Friedman stated that Brezhnev preferred détente and found SALT extremely valuable, as the U.S. had to acknowledge the Soviet Union as equal.
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (2007) argued that détente was the natural outgrowth of containment, the development of Soviet nuclear parity with the West and the Chinese challenge to Russia national security. Dallek noted that détente opened Russia to Western influence and eroded communism’s hold on parts of the global community. Dallek stated that the Kissinger’s diplomacy in 1973-74 in addressing Israeli tensions with Egypt and Syria laid the foundation for the Camp David Accords in 1978. Dallek suggested that while détente did not end the Cold War, it did set in motion a process that came to fruition under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s.
Nixon and Vietnam
According to Eric Foner, when Nixon ran for president in 1968, he declared that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. On taking office, he announced a new policy, "Vietnamization." Under this plan, American troops would gradually be withdrawn while South Vietnamese soliders, backed by continued American bombing did more and more of the fighting. But Vietnamization neither limited the war nor ended the anti-war movement. Hoping to cut North Vietnamese supply lines, Nixon in 1970 ordered American troops into neutral Cambodia. The invasion did not achieve its military goals, but it destabilized the Cambodian government and set in motion a chain of events that eventually brought to power the Khmer Rouge. Before being ousted by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979, this local communist movement attempted to force virtually all Cambodians into rural communes and committed widespread massacres in that unfortunate country.
As the war escalated, protests again spread on college campuses. In the wake of the killing of four antiwar protesters at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard and two by police at Jackson State University in Mississippi, the student movement reached its high-mark. In the spring of 1970, more than 350 colleges and universities experienced strikes, and troops occupied 21 campuses. The protests at Kent State, a public university with a largely working-class student body, and Jackson State, a Black institution, demonstrated how antiwar sentiment had spread far beyond elite campuses like Berkeley and Columbia.
At the same time, troop moral in Vietnam decreased. The army predominantly composed of working class whites and persons of color. Eric Foner noted that unlike in previous war, Blacks complained not about exclusion from the army but about the high number of Black soldiers among the casualties. In 1965 and 1966 Blacks accounted for over 20 percent of American casualties, double their proportion in the army as a whole. After protests from Black leaders, President Johnson ordered the number of Black soldiers in combat units reduced. For the war as a while, Blacks made up 14 percent of deaths among enlisted men.
Public support for the war was rapidly waning. In 1969, the "New York Times" published details of the My Lai massacre of 1968, in which a company of American troops had killed some 350 South Vietnamese civilians. After the military investigation, one solider, Lt. William Calley, was found guilty of directing the atrocity. However, Nixon released him from prison in 1974. In 1971, the "Times" began publishing the "Pentagon Papers", a classified report prepared by the Department of Defense that traced American involvement in Vietnam back to WWII and revealed how successive presidents had misled the American people about it. In a landmark freedom-of-the-press decision, the Supreme Court rejected Nixon's request for an injunction to halt publication. In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which was the most vigorous assertion of congressional control over foreign policy in the nation's history, as this act required the president to seek congressional approval for the commitment of American troops overseas.