Campaign Spot: Nixon's Experience (1960)

Campaign Spot: Nixon's Experience (1960)

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At the end of a long press conference, then President Dwight Eisenhower was asked about his Vice President, Richard Nixon. He hesitated and replied that he couldnt remember Nixons contributions


Richard Milhous Nixon was born on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, in a house built by his father, located on his family's lemon ranch. [1] [5] [6] His parents were Hannah (Milhous) Nixon and Francis A. Nixon. His mother was a Quaker, and his father converted from Methodism to the Quaker faith. Through his mother, Nixon was a descendant of the early English settler Thomas Cornell, who was also an ancestor of Ezra Cornell, the founder of Cornell University, as well as of Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates. [7]

Nixon's upbringing was marked by evangelical Quaker observances of the time such as refraining from alcohol, dancing, and swearing. Nixon had four brothers: Harold (1909–1933), Donald (1914–1987), Arthur (1918–1925), and Edward (1930–2019). [8] Four of the five Nixon boys were named after kings who had ruled in medieval or legendary Britain Richard, for example, was named after Richard the Lionheart. [9] [10]

Nixon's early life was marked by hardship, and he later quoted a saying of Eisenhower to describe his boyhood: "We were poor, but the glory of it was we didn't know it". [11] The Nixon family ranch failed in 1922, and the family moved to Whittier, California. In an area with many Quakers, Frank Nixon opened a grocery store and gas station. [12] Richard's younger brother Arthur died in 1925 at the age of seven after a short illness. [13] Richard was twelve years old when a spot was found on his lung. With a family history of tuberculosis, he was forbidden to play sports. Eventually, the spot was found to be scar tissue from an early bout of pneumonia. [14] [15]

Primary and secondary education

Richard attended East Whittier Elementary School, where he was president of his eighth-grade class. [16] His parents believed that attending Whittier High School had caused Richard's older brother, Harold, to live a dissolute lifestyle before he fell ill of tuberculosis (he died of it in 1933), so they sent Richard to the larger Fullerton Union High School. [17] [18] He had to ride a school bus for an hour each way during his freshman year and received excellent grades. Later, he lived with an aunt in Fullerton during the week. [19] He played junior varsity football, and seldom missed a practice, though he was rarely used in games. [20] He had greater success as a debater, winning a number of championships and taking his only formal tutelage in public speaking from Fullerton's Head of English, H. Lynn Sheller. Nixon later remembered Sheller's words, "Remember, speaking is conversation. don't shout at people. Talk to them. Converse with them." [21] Nixon said he tried to use a conversational tone as much as possible. [21]

At the start of his junior year in September 1928, Richard's parents permitted him to transfer to Whittier High School. At Whittier, Nixon suffered his first election defeat when he lost his bid for student body president. He often rose at 4 a.m., to drive the family truck into Los Angeles and purchase vegetables at the market. He then drove to the store to wash and display them before going to school. Harold had been diagnosed with tuberculosis the previous year when their mother took him to Arizona in the hopes of improving his health, the demands on Richard increased, causing him to give up football. Nevertheless, Richard graduated from Whittier High third in his class of 207. [22]

College and law school education

Nixon was offered a tuition grant to attend Harvard University, but Harold's continued illness and the need for their mother to care for him meant Richard was needed at the store. He remained in his hometown and attended Whittier College with his expenses covered by a bequest from his maternal grandfather. [23] Nixon played for the basketball team he also tried out for football but lacked the size to play. He remained on the team as a substitute and was noted for his enthusiasm. [24] Instead of fraternities and sororities, Whittier had literary societies. Nixon was snubbed by the only one for men, the Franklins many of the Franklins were from prominent families, but Nixon was not. He responded by helping to found a new society, the Orthogonian Society. [25] In addition to the society, schoolwork, and work at the store, Nixon found time for a large number of extracurricular activities, becoming a champion debater and gaining a reputation as a hard worker. [26] In 1933, he became engaged to Ola Florence Welch, daughter of the Whittier police chief. They broke up in 1935. [27]

After graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Whittier in 1934, Nixon received a full scholarship to attend Duke University School of Law. [28] The school was new and sought to attract top students by offering scholarships. [29] It paid high salaries to its professors, many of whom had national or international reputations. [30] The number of scholarships was greatly reduced for second- and third-year students, forcing recipients into intense competition. [29] Nixon not only kept his scholarship but was elected president of the Duke Bar Association, [31] inducted into the Order of the Coif, [32] and graduated third in his class in June 1937. [28]

After graduating from Duke, Nixon initially hoped to join the FBI. He received no response to his letter of application and learned years later that he had been hired, but his appointment had been canceled at the last minute due to budget cuts. [33] Instead, he returned to California and was admitted to the California bar in 1937. He began practicing in Whittier with the law firm Wingert and Bewley, [28] working on commercial litigation for local petroleum companies and other corporate matters, as well as on wills. [34] In later years, Nixon proudly said he was the only modern president to have previously worked as a practicing attorney. Nixon was reluctant to work on divorce cases, disliking frank sexual talk from women. [35] In 1938, he opened up his own branch of Wingert and Bewley in La Habra, California, [36] and became a full partner in the firm the following year. [37]

In January 1938 Nixon was cast in the Whittier Community Players production of The Dark Tower. There he played opposite a high school teacher named Thelma "Pat" Ryan. [28] Nixon described it in his memoirs as "a case of love at first sight" [38] —for Nixon only, as Pat Ryan turned down the young lawyer several times before agreeing to date him. [39] Once they began their courtship, Ryan was reluctant to marry Nixon they dated for two years before she assented to his proposal. They wed in a small ceremony on June 21, 1940. After a honeymoon in Mexico, the Nixons began their married life in Whittier. [40] They had two daughters, Tricia (born 1946) and Julie (born 1948). [41]

In January 1942 the couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Nixon took a job at the Office of Price Administration. [28] In his political campaigns, Nixon would suggest that this was his response to Pearl Harbor, but he had sought the position throughout the latter part of 1941. Both Nixon and his wife believed he was limiting his prospects by remaining in Whittier. [42] He was assigned to the tire rationing division, where he was tasked with replying to correspondence. He did not enjoy the role, and four months later applied to join the United States Navy. [43] As a birthright Quaker, he could have by law claimed exemption from the draft he might also have been deferred because he worked in government service. In spite of that, Nixon sought a commission in the Navy. His application was successful, and he was appointed a lieutenant junior grade in the United States Naval Reserve on June 15, 1942. [44] [45]

In October 1942, he was assigned as aide to the commander of the Naval Air Station Ottumwa in Iowa until May 1943. [44] Seeking more excitement, he requested sea duty and on July 2, 1943, was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 25 and the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command (SCAT), supporting the logistics of operations in the South Pacific Theater. [46] [47] [48] On October 1, 1943, Nixon was promoted to lieutenant. [44] Nixon commanded the SCAT forward detachments at Vella Lavella, Bougainville, and finally at Green Island (Nissan Island). [44] [48] His unit prepared manifests and flight plans for R4D/C-47 operations and supervised the loading and unloading of the transport aircraft. For this service, he received a Navy Letter of Commendation (awarded a Navy Commendation Ribbon, which was later updated to the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal) from his commanding officer for "meritorious and efficient performance of duty as Officer in Charge of the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command". Upon his return to the U.S., Nixon was appointed the administrative officer of the Alameda Naval Air Station in California. In January 1945 he was transferred to the Bureau of Aeronautics office in Philadelphia to help negotiate the termination of war contracts, and received his second letter of commendation, from the Secretary of the Navy [49] for "meritorious service, tireless effort, and devotion to duty". Later, Nixon was transferred to other offices to work on contracts and finally to Baltimore. [50] On October 3, 1945, he was promoted to lieutenant commander. [44] [49] On March 10, 1946, he was relieved of active duty. [44] On June 1, 1953, he was promoted to commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, from which he retired in the U.S. Naval Reserve on June 6, 1966. [44]

Congressional career

California congressman (1947–1950)

Republicans in California's 12th congressional district were frustrated by their inability to defeat Democratic representative Jerry Voorhis. They sought a consensus candidate who would run a strong campaign against him. In 1945, they formed a "Committee of 100" to decide on a candidate, hoping to avoid internal dissensions which had led to previous Voorhis victories. After the committee failed to attract higher-profile candidates, Herman Perry, manager of Whittier's Bank of America branch, suggested Nixon, a family friend with whom he had served on the Whittier College Board of Trustees before the war. Perry wrote to Nixon in Baltimore. After a night of excited talk between Nixon and his wife, he responded to Perry with enthusiasm. Nixon flew to California and was selected by the committee. When he left the Navy at the start of 1946, Nixon and his wife returned to Whittier, where Nixon began a year of intensive campaigning. [51] [52] He contended that Voorhis had been ineffective as a representative and suggested that Voorhis's endorsement by a group linked to Communists meant that Voorhis must have radical views. [53] Nixon won the election, receiving 65,586 votes to Voorhis's 49,994. [54]

In June 1947, Nixon supported the Taft–Hartley Act, a federal law that monitors the activities and power of labor unions, and he served on the Education and Labor Committee. In August 1947, he became one of 19 House members to serve on the Herter Committee, [55] which went to Europe to report on the need for U.S. foreign aid. Nixon was the youngest member of the committee and the only Westerner. [56] Advocacy by Herter Committee members, including Nixon, led to congressional passage of the Marshall Plan. [57]

In his memoirs, Nixon wrote that he joined the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) "at the end of 1947". However, he was already a HUAC member in early February 1947, when he heard "Enemy Number One" Gerhard Eisler and his sister Ruth Fischer testify. On February 18, 1947, Nixon referred to Eisler's belligerence toward HUAC in his maiden speech to the House. Also by early February 1947, fellow U.S. Representative Charles J. Kersten had introduced him to Father John Francis Cronin in Baltimore. Cronin shared with Nixon his 1945 privately circulated paper "The Problem of American Communism in 1945", [58] with much information from the FBI's William C. Sullivan (who by 1961 would head domestic intelligence under J. Edgar Hoover). [59]

By May 1948, Nixon had co-sponsored a "Mundt–Nixon Bill" to implement "a new approach to the complicated problem of internal communist subversion . It provided for registration of all Communist Party members and required a statement of the source of all printed and broadcast material issued by organizations that were found to be Communist fronts." He served as floor manager for the Republican Party. On May 19, 1948, the bill passed the House by 319 to 58, but later it failed to pass the Senate. [60] (The Nixon Library cites this bill's passage as Nixon's first significant victory in Congress.) [61]

Nixon first gained national attention in August 1948, when his persistence as a HUAC member helped break the Alger Hiss spy case. While many doubted Whittaker Chambers's allegations that Hiss, a former State Department official, had been a Soviet spy, Nixon believed them to be true and pressed for the committee to continue its investigation. After Hiss filed suit for defamation, Chambers produced documents corroborating his allegations. These included paper and microfilm copies that Chambers turned over to House investigators after having hidden them overnight in a field they became known as the "Pumpkin Papers". [62] Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950 for denying under oath he had passed documents to Chambers. [63] In 1948, Nixon successfully cross-filed as a candidate in his district, winning both major party primaries, [64] and was comfortably reelected. [65]

U.S. Senate (1950–1953)

In 1949, Nixon began to consider running for the United States Senate against the Democratic incumbent, Sheridan Downey, [66] and entered the race in November. [67] Downey, faced with a bitter primary battle with Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas, announced his retirement in March 1950. [68] Nixon and Douglas won the primary elections [69] and engaged in a contentious campaign in which the ongoing Korean War was a major issue. [70] Nixon tried to focus attention on Douglas's liberal voting record. As part of that effort, a "Pink Sheet" was distributed by the Nixon campaign suggesting that, as Douglas's voting record was similar to that of New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio (believed by some to be a communist), their political views must be nearly identical. [71] Nixon won the election by almost twenty percentage points. [72] During this campaign, Nixon was first called "Tricky Dick" by his opponents for his campaign tactics. [73]

In the Senate, Nixon took a prominent position in opposing global communism, traveling frequently and speaking out against it. [74] He maintained friendly relations with his fellow anti-communist, controversial Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, but was careful to keep some distance between himself and McCarthy's allegations. [75] Nixon also criticized President Harry S. Truman's handling of the Korean War. [74] He supported statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, voted in favor of civil rights for minorities, and supported federal disaster relief for India and Yugoslavia. [76] He voted against price controls and other monetary restrictions, benefits for illegal immigrants, and public power. [76]

Vice president (1953–1961)

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for president by the Republicans in 1952. He had no strong preference for a vice-presidential candidate, and Republican officeholders and party officials met in a "smoke-filled room" and recommended Nixon to the general, who agreed to the senator's selection. Nixon's youth (he was then 39), stance against communism, and political base in California—one of the largest states—were all seen as vote-winners by the leaders. Among the candidates considered along with Nixon were Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, New Jersey Governor Alfred Driscoll and Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen. [77] [78] On the campaign trail, Eisenhower spoke of his plans for the country, leaving the negative campaigning to his running mate. [79]

In mid-September, the Republican ticket faced a major crisis. [80] The media reported that Nixon had a political fund, maintained by his backers, which reimbursed him for political expenses. [81] Such a fund was not illegal but it exposed Nixon to allegations of a possible conflict of interest. With pressure building for Eisenhower to demand Nixon's resignation from the ticket the senator went on television to deliver an address to the nation on September 23, 1952. [82] The address, later termed the Checkers speech, was heard by about 60 million Americans—including the largest television audience up to that point. [83] Nixon emotionally defended himself, stating that the fund was not secret, nor had donors received special favors. He painted himself as a man of modest means (his wife had no mink coat instead she wore a "respectable Republican cloth coat") and a patriot. [82] The speech would be remembered for the gift which Nixon had received, but which he would not give back: "a little cocker spaniel dog . sent all the way from Texas. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers." [82] The speech prompted a huge public outpouring of support for Nixon. [84] Eisenhower decided to retain him on the ticket, [85] which proved victorious in the November election. [79]

Eisenhower gave Nixon responsibilities during his term as vice president—more than any previous vice president. [86] Nixon attended Cabinet and National Security Council meetings and chaired them when Eisenhower was absent. A 1953 tour of the Far East succeeded in increasing local goodwill toward the United States and prompted Nixon to appreciate the potential of the region as an industrial center. He visited Saigon and Hanoi in French Indochina. [87] On his return to the United States at the end of 1953, Nixon increased the amount of time he devoted to foreign relations. [88]

Biographer Irwin Gellman, who chronicled Nixon's congressional years, said of his vice presidency:

Eisenhower radically altered the role of his running mate by presenting him with critical assignments in both foreign and domestic affairs once he assumed his office. The vice president welcomed the president's initiatives and worked energetically to accomplish White House objectives. Because of the collaboration between these two leaders, Nixon deserves the title, "the first modern vice president". [89]

Despite intense campaigning by Nixon, who reprised his strong attacks on the Democrats, the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress in the 1954 elections. These losses caused Nixon to contemplate leaving politics once he had served out his term. [90] On September 24, 1955, President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack his condition was initially believed to be life-threatening. Eisenhower was unable to perform his duties for six weeks. The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution had not yet been proposed, and the vice president had no formal power to act. Nonetheless, Nixon acted in Eisenhower's stead during this period, presiding over Cabinet meetings and ensuring that aides and Cabinet officers did not seek power. [91] According to Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose, Nixon had "earned the high praise he received for his conduct during the crisis . he made no attempt to seize power". [92]

His spirits buoyed, Nixon sought a second term, but some of Eisenhower's aides aimed to displace him. In a December 1955 meeting, Eisenhower proposed that Nixon not run for reelection in order to give him administrative experience before a 1960 presidential run and instead become a Cabinet officer in a second Eisenhower administration. Nixon believed such an action would destroy his political career. When Eisenhower announced his reelection bid in February 1956, he hedged on the choice of his running mate, saying it was improper to address that question until he had been renominated. Although no Republican was opposing Eisenhower, Nixon received a substantial number of write-in votes against the president in the 1956 New Hampshire primary election. In late April, the President announced that Nixon would again be his running mate. [93] Eisenhower and Nixon were reelected by a comfortable margin in the November 1956 election. [94]

In early 1957, Nixon undertook another major foreign trip, this time to Africa. On his return, he helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through Congress. The bill was weakened in the Senate, and civil rights leaders were divided over whether Eisenhower should sign it. Nixon advised the President to sign the bill, which he did. [95] Eisenhower suffered a mild stroke in November 1957, and Nixon gave a press conference, assuring the nation that the Cabinet was functioning well as a team during Eisenhower's brief illness. [96]

On April 27, 1958, Richard and Pat Nixon reluctantly embarked on a goodwill tour of South America. In Montevideo, Uruguay, Nixon made an impromptu visit to a college campus, where he fielded questions from students on U.S. foreign policy. The trip was uneventful until the Nixon party reached Lima, Peru, where he was met with student demonstrations. Nixon went to the historical campus of National University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas, got out of his car to confront the students, and stayed until forced back into the car by a volley of thrown objects. At his hotel, Nixon faced another mob, and one demonstrator spat on him. [97] In Caracas, Venezuela, Nixon and his wife were spat on by anti-American demonstrators and their limousine was attacked by a pipe-wielding mob. [98] According to Ambrose, Nixon's courageous conduct "caused even some of his bitterest enemies to give him some grudging respect". [99] Reporting to the cabinet after the trip, Nixon claimed there was "absolute proof that [the protestors] were directed and controlled by a central Communist conspiracy." Secretary of State John Foster Dulles concurred in this view Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles sharply rebuked it. [100]

In July 1959 President Eisenhower sent Nixon to the Soviet Union for the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow. On July 24, Nixon was touring the exhibits with Soviet First Secretary and Premier Nikita Khrushchev when the two stopped at a model of an American kitchen and engaged in an impromptu exchange about the merits of capitalism versus communism that became known as the "Kitchen Debate". [101]

1960 and 1962 elections wilderness years

In 1960 Nixon launched his first campaign for President of the United States. He faced little opposition in the Republican primaries [102] and chose former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. as his running mate. [103] His Democratic opponent was John F. Kennedy and the race remained close for the duration. [104] Nixon campaigned on his experience but Kennedy called for new blood and claimed the Eisenhower–Nixon administration had allowed the Soviet Union to overtake the U.S. in ballistic missiles (the "missile gap"). [105]

A new political medium was introduced in the campaign: televised presidential debates. In the first of four such debates, Nixon appeared pale, with a five o'clock shadow, in contrast to the photogenic Kennedy. [103] Nixon's performance in the debate was perceived to be mediocre in the visual medium of television, though many people listening on the radio thought Nixon had won. [106] Nixon narrowly lost the election Kennedy won the popular vote by only 112,827 votes (0.2 percent). [103]

There were charges of voter fraud in Texas and Illinois, both states won by Kennedy. Nixon refused to consider contesting the election, feeling a lengthy controversy would diminish the United States in the eyes of the world and the uncertainty would hurt U.S. interests. [107] At the end of his term of office as vice president in January 1961, Nixon and his family returned to California, where he practiced law and wrote a bestselling book, Six Crises, which included coverage of the Hiss case, Eisenhower's heart attack, and the Fund Crisis, which had been resolved by the Checkers speech. [103] [108]

Local and national Republican leaders encouraged Nixon to challenge incumbent Pat Brown for Governor of California in the 1962 election. [103] Despite initial reluctance, Nixon entered the race. [103] The campaign was clouded by public suspicion that Nixon viewed the office as a stepping stone for another presidential run, some opposition from the far-right of the party, and his own lack of interest in being California's governor. [103] Nixon hoped a successful run would confirm his status as the nation's leading active Republican politician, and ensure he remained a major player in national politics. [109] Instead, he lost to Brown by more than five percentage points, and the defeat was widely believed to be the end of his political career. [103] In an impromptu concession speech the morning after the election, Nixon blamed the media for favoring his opponent, saying, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." [110] The California defeat was highlighted in the November 11, 1962, episode of ABC's Howard K. Smith: News and Comment, titled "The Political Obituary of Richard M. Nixon". [111] Alger Hiss appeared on the program, and many members of the public complained that it was unseemly to give a convicted felon air time to attack a former vice president. The furor drove Smith and his program from the air, [112] and public sympathy for Nixon grew. [111]

In 1963 the Nixon family traveled to Europe, where Nixon gave press conferences and met with leaders of the countries he visited. [113] The family moved to New York City, where Nixon became a senior partner in the leading law firm Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. [103] When announcing his California campaign, Nixon had pledged not to run for president in 1964 even if he had not, he believed it would be difficult to defeat Kennedy, or after his assassination, Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson. [114]

In 1964, he supported Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for the Republican nomination for U.S. president when Goldwater won the nomination, Nixon was selected to introduce him at the convention. Although he thought Goldwater unlikely to win, Nixon campaigned for him loyally. The election was a disaster for the Republicans Goldwater's landslide loss to Johnson was matched by heavy losses for the party in Congress and among state governors. [115]

Nixon was one of the few leading Republicans not blamed for the disastrous results, and he sought to build on that in the 1966 Congressional elections. He campaigned for many Republicans, seeking to regain seats lost in the Johnson landslide, and received credit for helping the Republicans make major gains that year. [116]

At the end of 1967, Nixon told his family he planned to run for president a second time. Although Pat Nixon did not always enjoy public life [117] (for example, she had been embarrassed by the need to reveal how little the family owned in the Checkers speech), [118] she was supportive of her husband's ambitions. Nixon believed that with the Democrats torn over the issue of the Vietnam War, a Republican had a good chance of winning, although he expected the election to be as close as in 1960. [117]

One of the most tumultuous primary election seasons ever began as the Tet Offensive was launched in January 1968. President Johnson withdrew as a candidate in March, after doing unexpectedly poorly in the New Hampshire primary. In June, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a Democratic candidate, was assassinated just moments after his victory in the California primary. On the Republican side, Nixon's main opposition was Michigan Governor George Romney, though New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and California Governor Ronald Reagan each hoped to be nominated in a brokered convention. Nixon secured the nomination on the first ballot. [119] He selected Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate, a choice which Nixon believed would unite the party, appealing both to Northern moderates and to Southerners disaffected with the Democrats. [120]

Nixon's Democratic opponent in the general election was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was nominated at a convention marked by violent protests. [121] Throughout the campaign, Nixon portrayed himself as a figure of stability during a period of national unrest and upheaval. [121] He appealed to what he later called the "silent majority" of socially conservative Americans who disliked the hippie counterculture and the anti-war demonstrators. Agnew became an increasingly vocal critic of these groups, solidifying Nixon's position with the right. [122]

Nixon waged a prominent television advertising campaign, meeting with supporters in front of cameras. [123] He stressed that the crime rate was too high, and attacked what he perceived as a surrender by the Democrats of the United States' nuclear superiority. [124] Nixon promised "peace with honor" in the Vietnam War and proclaimed that "new leadership will end the war and win the peace in the Pacific". [125] He did not release specifics of how he hoped to end the war, resulting in media intimations that he must have a "secret plan". [125] His slogan of "Nixon's the One" proved to be effective. [123]

Johnson's negotiators hoped to reach a truce, or at least a cessation of bombings, in Vietnam prior to the election. On October 22, 1968, candidate Nixon received information that Johnson was preparing a so-called "October surprise" to elect Humphrey in the last days of the campaign, and his administration had abandoned three non-negotiable conditions for a bombing halt. [126] Whether the Nixon campaign interfered with any ongoing negotiations between the Johnson administration and the South Vietnamese by engaging Anna Chennault, a prominent Chinese-American fundraiser for the Republican party, remains an ongoing controversy. While notes uncovered in 2016 may support such a contention, the context of said notes remains of debate. [126] It is not clear whether the government of South Vietnam needed much encouragement to opt out of a peace process they considered disadvantageous. [127]

In a three-way race between Nixon, Humphrey, and American Independent Party candidate former Alabama Governor George Wallace, Nixon defeated Humphrey by nearly 500,000 votes (seven-tenths of a percentage point), with 301 electoral votes to 191 for Humphrey and 46 for Wallace. [121] [128] He became the first former vice president to have returned to private life and subsequently be elected president. [129] In his victory speech, Nixon pledged that his administration would try to bring the divided nation together. [130] Nixon said: "I have received a very gracious message from the Vice President, congratulating me for winning the election. I congratulated him for his gallant and courageous fight against great odds. I also told him that I know exactly how he felt. I know how it feels to lose a close one." [131]

Nixon was inaugurated as president on January 20, 1969, sworn in by his onetime political rival, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Pat Nixon held the family Bibles open at Isaiah 2:4, which reads, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks." In his inaugural address, which received almost uniformly positive reviews, Nixon remarked that "the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker" [132] —a phrase that would later be placed on his gravestone. [133] He spoke about turning partisan politics into a new age of unity:

In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading. We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices. [134]

Foreign policy


Nixon laid the groundwork for his overture to China before he became president, writing in Foreign Affairs a year before his election: "There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation." [135] Assisting him in this venture was Kissinger, in charge of his United States National Security Council and future Secretary of State. They collaborated closely, bypassing Cabinet officials. With relations between the Soviet Union and China at a nadir—border clashes between the two took place during Nixon's first year in office—Nixon sent private word to the Chinese that he desired closer relations. A breakthrough came in early 1971, when Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Mao Zedong invited a team of American table tennis players to visit China and play against top Chinese players. Nixon followed up by sending Kissinger to China for clandestine meetings with Chinese officials. [135] On July 15, 1971, it was simultaneously announced by Beijing and by Nixon (on television and radio) that the President would visit China the following February. The announcements astounded the world. [136] The secrecy allowed both sets of leaders time to prepare the political climate in their countries for the contact. [137]

In February 1972, Nixon and his wife traveled to China. Kissinger briefed Nixon for over 40 hours in preparation. [138] Upon touching down, the President and First Lady emerged from Air Force One and greeted Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. Nixon made a point of shaking Zhou's hand, something which then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had refused to do in 1954 when the two met in Geneva. [139] More than a hundred television journalists accompanied the president. On Nixon's orders, television was strongly favored over printed publications, as Nixon felt that the medium would capture the visit much better than print. It also gave him the opportunity to snub the print journalists he despised. [139]

Nixon and Kissinger met for an hour with CCP Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou at Mao's official private residence, where they discussed a range of issues. [140] Mao later told his doctor that he had been impressed by Nixon, whom he considered forthright, unlike the leftists and the Soviets. [140] He said he was suspicious of Kissinger, [140] though the National Security Advisor referred to their meeting as his "encounter with history". [139] A formal banquet welcoming the presidential party was given that evening in the Great Hall of the People. The following day, Nixon met with Zhou the joint communique following this meeting recognized Taiwan as a part of China and looked forward to a peaceful solution to the problem of reunification. [141] When not in meetings, Nixon toured architectural wonders including the Forbidden City, Ming Tombs, and the Great Wall. [139] Americans received their first glimpse into Chinese life through the cameras which accompanied Pat Nixon, who toured the city of Beijing and visited communes, schools, factories, and hospitals. [139]

The visit ushered in a new era of Sino-American relations. [121] Fearing the possibility of a Sino-American alliance, the Soviet Union yielded to pressure for détente with the United States. [142]

Vietnam War

When Nixon took office, about 300 American soldiers were dying each week in Vietnam, [143] and the war was broadly unpopular in the United States, with ongoing violent protests against the war. The Johnson administration had agreed to suspend bombing in exchange for negotiations without preconditions, but this agreement never fully took force. According to Walter Isaacson, soon after taking office, Nixon had concluded that the Vietnam War could not be won and he was determined to end the war quickly. [144] He sought some arrangement that would permit American forces to withdraw while leaving South Vietnam secure against attack. [145]

Nixon approved a secret B-52 carpet bombing campaign of North Vietnamese (and, later, allied Khmer Rouge) positions in Cambodia in March 1969 (code-named Operation Menu), without the consent of Cambodian leader Norodom Sihanouk. [146] [147] [148] In mid-1969, Nixon began efforts to negotiate peace with the North Vietnamese, sending a personal letter to North Vietnamese leaders, and peace talks began in Paris. Initial talks, however, did not result in an agreement. [149] In May 1969 he publicly proposed to withdraw all American troops from South Vietnam provided North Vietnam also did so and for South Vietnam to hold internationally supervised elections with Viet Cong participation. [150]

In July 1969, Nixon visited South Vietnam, where he met with his U.S. military commanders and President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. Amid protests at home demanding an immediate pullout, he implemented a strategy of replacing American troops with Vietnamese troops, known as "Vietnamization". [121] He soon instituted phased U.S. troop withdrawals, [151] but also authorized incursions into Laos, in part to interrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail, which passed through Laos and Cambodia and was used to supply North Vietnamese forces. Nixon announced the ground invasion of Cambodia to the American public on April 30, 1970. [152] Further protests erupted against what was perceived as an expansion of the conflict, and the unrest escalated to violence when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four unarmed students on May 4. [153] Nixon's responses to protesters included an impromptu, early morning meeting with them at the Lincoln Memorial on May 9, 1970. [154] [155] [156] Documents uncovered from the Soviet archives after 1991 reveal that the North Vietnamese attempt to overrun Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge and negotiated by Pol Pot's then-second-in-command, Nuon Chea. [157] Nixon's campaign promise to curb the war, contrasted with the escalated bombing, led to claims that Nixon had a "credibility gap" on the issue. [151] It is estimated that between 50,000 and 150,000 people were killed during the bombing of Cambodia between 1970 and 1973. [147]

In 1971, excerpts from the "Pentagon Papers", which had been leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, were published by The New York Times and The Washington Post. When news of the leak first appeared, Nixon was inclined to do nothing the Papers, a history of United States' involvement in Vietnam, mostly concerned the lies of prior administrations and contained few real revelations. He was persuaded by Kissinger that the Papers were more harmful than they appeared, and the President tried to prevent publication. The Supreme Court eventually ruled for the newspapers. [158]

As U.S. troop withdrawals continued, conscription was reduced and in 1973 ended the armed forces became all-volunteer. [159] After years of fighting, the Paris Peace Accords were signed at the beginning of 1973. The agreement implemented a cease fire and allowed for the withdrawal of remaining American troops without requiring the 160,000 North Vietnam Army regulars located in the South to withdraw. [160] Once American combat support ended, there was a brief truce, before fighting broke out again. North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam in 1975. [161]

Latin American policy

Nixon had been a firm supporter of Kennedy during the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. On taking office in 1969, he stepped up covert operations against Cuba and its president, Fidel Castro. He maintained close relations with the Cuban-American exile community through his friend, Bebe Rebozo, who often suggested ways of irritating Castro. These activities concerned the Soviets and Cubans, who feared Nixon might attack Cuba and break the understanding between Kennedy and Khrushchev which had ended the missile crisis. In August 1970, the Soviets asked Nixon to reaffirm the understanding despite his hard line against Castro, Nixon agreed. The process had not yet been completed when the Soviets began expanding their base at the Cuban port of Cienfuegos in October 1970. A minor confrontation ensued, which was concluded with an understanding that the Soviets would not use Cienfuegos for submarines bearing ballistic missiles. The final round of diplomatic notes, reaffirming the 1962 accord, were exchanged in November. [162]

The election of Marxist candidate Salvador Allende as President of Chile in September 1970 spurred Nixon and Kissinger to pursue a vigorous campaign of covert opposition to Allende, [163] : 25 first designed to convince the Chilean congress to confirm Jorge Alessandri as the winner of the election and then messages to military officers in support of a coup. [163] Other support included strikes organized against Allende and funding for Allende opponents. It was even alleged that "Nixon personally authorized" $700,000 in covert funds to print anti-Allende messages in a prominent Chilean newspaper. [163] : 93 Following an extended period of social, political, and economic unrest, General Augusto Pinochet assumed power in a violent coup d'état on September 11, 1973 among the dead was Allende. [164]

Soviet Union

Nixon used the improving international environment to address the topic of nuclear peace. Following the announcement of his visit to China, the Nixon administration concluded negotiations for him to visit the Soviet Union. The President and First Lady arrived in Moscow on May 22, 1972, and met with Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party Alexei Kosygin, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Nikolai Podgorny, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, among other leading Soviet officials. [165]

Nixon engaged in intense negotiations with Brezhnev. [165] Out of the summit came agreements for increased trade and two landmark arms control treaties: SALT I, the first comprehensive limitation pact signed by the two superpowers, [121] and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned the development of systems designed to intercept incoming missiles. Nixon and Brezhnev proclaimed a new era of "peaceful coexistence". A banquet was held that evening at the Kremlin. [165]

Nixon and Kissinger planned to link arms control to détente and to the resolution of other urgent problems through what Nixon called "linkage." David Tal argues:

The linkage between strategic arms limitations and outstanding issues such as the Middle East, Berlin and, foremost, Vietnam thus became central to Nixon's and Kissinger's policy of détente. Through the employment of linkage, they hoped to change the nature and course of U.S. foreign policy, including U.S. nuclear disarmament and arms control policy, and to separate them from those practiced by Nixon's predecessors. They also intended, through linkage, to make U.S. arms control policy part of détente . His policy of linkage had in fact failed. It failed mainly because it was based on flawed assumptions and false premises, the foremost of which was that the Soviet Union wanted strategic arms limitation agreement much more than the United States did. [166]

Seeking to foster better relations with the United States, China and the Soviet Union both cut back on their diplomatic support for North Vietnam and advised Hanoi to come to terms militarily. [167] Nixon later described his strategy:

I had long believed that an indispensable element of any successful peace initiative in Vietnam was to enlist, if possible, the help of the Soviets and the Chinese. Though rapprochement with China and détente with the Soviet Union were ends in themselves, I also considered them possible means to hasten the end of the war. At worst, Hanoi was bound to feel less confident if Washington was dealing with Moscow and Beijing. At best, if the two major Communist powers decided that they had bigger fish to fry, Hanoi would be pressured into negotiating a settlement we could accept. [168]

During the previous two years, Nixon had made considerable progress in U.S.–Soviet relations, and he embarked on a second trip to the Soviet Union in 1974. [169] He arrived in Moscow on June 27 to a welcome ceremony, cheering crowds, and a state dinner at the Grand Kremlin Palace that evening. [169] Nixon and Brezhnev met in Yalta, where they discussed a proposed mutual defense pact, détente, and MIRVs. Nixon considered proposing a comprehensive test-ban treaty, but he felt he would not have time to complete it during his presidency. [169] There were no significant breakthroughs in these negotiations. [169]

Middle Eastern policy

As part of the Nixon Doctrine, the U.S. avoided giving direct combat assistance to its allies and instead gave them assistance to defend themselves. During the Nixon administration, the U.S. greatly increased arms sales to the Middle East, particularly Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. [170] The Nixon administration strongly supported Israel, an American ally in the Middle East, but the support was not unconditional. Nixon believed Israel should make peace with its Arab neighbors and that the U.S. should encourage it. The president believed that—except during the Suez Crisis—the U.S. had failed to intervene with Israel, and should use the leverage of the large U.S. military aid to Israel to urge the parties to the negotiating table. The Arab-Israeli conflict was not a major focus of Nixon's attention during his first term—for one thing, he felt that no matter what he did, American Jews would oppose his reelection. [a]

On October 6, 1973, an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria, supported with arms and materiel by the Soviet Union, attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Israel suffered heavy losses and Nixon ordered an airlift to resupply Israeli losses, cutting through inter-departmental squabbles and bureaucracy and taking personal responsibility for any response by Arab nations. More than a week later, by the time the U.S. and Soviet Union began negotiating a truce, Israel had penetrated deep into enemy territory. The truce negotiations rapidly escalated into a superpower crisis when Israel gained the upper hand, Egyptian President Sadat requested a joint U.S.–USSR peacekeeping mission, which the U.S. refused. When Soviet Premier Brezhnev threatened to unilaterally enforce any peacekeeping mission militarily, Nixon ordered the U.S. military to DEFCON3, [171] placing all U.S. military personnel and bases on alert for nuclear war. This was the closest the world had come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Brezhnev backed down as a result of Nixon's actions. [172]

Because Israel's victory was largely due to U.S. support, the Arab OPEC nations retaliated by refusing to sell crude oil to the U.S., resulting in the 1973 oil crisis. [173] The embargo caused gasoline shortages and rationing in the United States in late 1973, and was eventually ended by the oil-producing nations as peace in the Middle East took hold. [174]

After the war, and under Nixon's presidency, the U.S. reestablished relations with Egypt for the first time since 1967. Nixon used the Middle East crisis to restart the stalled Middle East Peace Negotiations he wrote in a confidential memo to Kissinger on October 20:

I believe that, beyond a doubt, we are now facing the best opportunity we have had in 15 years to build a lasting peace in the Middle East. I am convinced history will hold us responsible if we let this opportunity slip by . I now consider a permanent Middle East settlement to be the most important final goal to which we must devote ourselves. [175]

Nixon made one of his final international visits as president to the Middle East in June 1974, and became the first President to visit Israel. [176]

Domestic policy


At the time Nixon took office in 1969, inflation was at 4.7 percent—its highest rate since the Korean War. The Great Society had been enacted under Johnson, which, together with the Vietnam War costs, was causing large budget deficits. Unemployment was low, but interest rates were at their highest in a century. [177] Nixon's major economic goal was to reduce inflation the most obvious means of doing so was to end the war. [177] This could not be accomplished overnight, and the U.S. economy continued to struggle through 1970, contributing to a lackluster Republican performance in the midterm congressional elections (Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress throughout Nixon's presidency). [178] According to political economist Nigel Bowles in his 2011 study of Nixon's economic record, the new president did little to alter Johnson's policies through the first year of his presidency. [179]

Nixon was far more interested in foreign affairs than domestic policies, but he believed that voters tend to focus on their own financial condition and that economic conditions were a threat to his reelection. As part of his "New Federalism" views, he proposed grants to the states, but these proposals were for the most part lost in the congressional budget process. However, Nixon gained political credit for advocating them. [178] In 1970, Congress had granted the President the power to impose wage and price freezes, though the Democratic majorities, knowing Nixon had opposed such controls throughout his career, did not expect Nixon to actually use the authority. [179] With inflation unresolved by August 1971, and an election year looming, Nixon convened a summit of his economic advisers at Camp David. He then announced temporary wage and price controls, allowed the dollar to float against other currencies, and ended the convertibility of the dollar into gold. [180] Bowles points out,

by identifying himself with a policy whose purpose was inflation's defeat, Nixon made it difficult for Democratic opponents . to criticize him. His opponents could offer no alternative policy that was either plausible or believable since the one they favored was one they had designed but which the president had appropriated for himself. [179]

Nixon's policies dampened inflation through 1972, although their aftereffects contributed to inflation during his second term and into the Ford administration. [180]

After Nixon won re-election, inflation was returning. [181] He reimposed price controls in June 1973. The price controls became unpopular with the public and businesspeople, who saw powerful labor unions as preferable to the price board bureaucracy. [181] The controls produced food shortages, as meat disappeared from grocery stores and farmers drowned chickens rather than sell them at a loss. [181] Despite the failure to control inflation, controls were slowly ended, and on April 30, 1974, their statutory authorization lapsed. [181]

Governmental initiatives and organization

Nixon advocated a "New Federalism", which would devolve power to state and local elected officials, though Congress was hostile to these ideas and enacted few of them. [182] He eliminated the Cabinet-level United States Post Office Department, which in 1971 became the government-run United States Postal Service. [183]

Nixon was a late supporter of the conservation movement. Environmental policy had not been a significant issue in the 1968 election, and the candidates were rarely asked for their views on the subject. Nixon broke new ground by discussing environmental policy in his State of the Union speech in 1970. He saw that the first Earth Day in April 1970 presaged a wave of voter interest on the subject, and sought to use that to his benefit in June he announced the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). [184] He relied on his domestic advisor John Ehrlichman, who favored protection of natural resources, to keep him "out of trouble on environmental issues." [185] Other initiatives supported by Nixon included the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the National Environmental Policy Act required environmental impact statements for many Federal projects. [185] [184] Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act of 1972—objecting not to the policy goals of the legislation but to the amount of money to be spent on them, which he deemed excessive. After Congress overrode his veto, Nixon impounded the funds he deemed unjustifiable. [186]

In 1971, Nixon proposed health insurance reform—a private health insurance employer mandate, [b] federalization of Medicaid for poor families with dependent minor children, [187] and support for health maintenance organizations (HMOs). [188] A limited HMO bill was enacted in 1973. [188] In 1974, Nixon proposed more comprehensive health insurance reform—a private health insurance employer mandate [b] and replacement of Medicaid by state-run health insurance plans available to all, with income-based premiums and cost sharing. [189]

Nixon was concerned about the prevalence of domestic drug use in addition to drug use among American soldiers in Vietnam. He called for a War on Drugs and pledged to cut off sources of supply abroad. He also increased funds for education and for rehabilitation facilities. [190]

As one policy initiative, Nixon called for more money for sickle-cell research, treatment, and education in February 1971 [191] and signed the National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act on May 16, 1972. [192] [193] [c] While Nixon called for increased spending on such high-profile items as sickle-cell disease and for a War on Cancer, at the same time he sought to reduce overall spending at the National Institutes of Health. [194]

Civil rights

The Nixon presidency witnessed the first large-scale integration of public schools in the South. [195] Nixon sought a middle way between the segregationist Wallace and liberal Democrats, whose support of integration was alienating some Southern whites. [196] Hopeful of doing well in the South in 1972, he sought to dispose of desegregation as a political issue before then. Soon after his inauguration, he appointed Vice President Agnew to lead a task force, which worked with local leaders—both white and black—to determine how to integrate local schools. Agnew had little interest in the work, and most of it was done by Labor Secretary George Shultz. Federal aid was available, and a meeting with President Nixon was a possible reward for compliant committees. By September 1970, less than ten percent of black children were attending segregated schools. By 1971, however, tensions over desegregation surfaced in Northern cities, with angry protests over the busing of children to schools outside their neighborhood to achieve racial balance. Nixon opposed busing personally but enforced court orders requiring its use. [197]

Some scholars, such as James Morton Turner and John Isenberg, believe that Nixon, who had advocated for civil rights in his 1960 campaign, slowed down desegregation as president, appealing to the racial conservatism of Southern whites, who were angered by the civil rights movement. This, he hoped, would boost his election chances in 1972. [198] [199]

In addition to desegregating public schools, Nixon implemented the Philadelphia Plan in 1970—the first significant federal affirmative action program. [200] He also endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment after it passed both houses of Congress in 1972 and went to the states for ratification. [201] He also pushed for African American civil rights and economic equity through a concept known as black capitalism. [202] Nixon had campaigned as an ERA supporter in 1968, though feminists criticized him for doing little to help the ERA or their cause after his election. Nevertheless, he appointed more women to administration positions than Lyndon Johnson had. [203]

Space policy

After a nearly decade-long national effort, the United States won the race to land astronauts on the Moon on July 20, 1969, with the flight of Apollo 11. Nixon spoke with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their moonwalk. He called the conversation "the most historic phone call ever made from the White House". [204]

Nixon was unwilling to keep funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the high level seen during the 1960s as NASA prepared to send men to the Moon. NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine drew up ambitious plans for the establishment of a permanent base on the Moon by the end of the 1970s and the launch of a crewed expedition to Mars as early as 1981. Nixon rejected both proposals due to the expense. [205] Nixon also canceled the Air Force Manned Orbital Laboratory program in 1969, because unmanned spy satellites were a more cost-effective way to achieve the same reconnaissance objective. [206] NASA cancelled the last three planned Apollo lunar missions to place Skylab in orbit more efficiently and free money up for the design and construction of the Space Shuttle. [207]

On May 24, 1972, Nixon approved a five-year cooperative program between NASA and the Soviet space program, culminating in the 1975 joint mission of an American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft linking in space. [208]

Reelection, Watergate scandal, and resignation

1972 presidential campaign

Nixon believed his rise to power had peaked at a moment of political realignment. The Democratic "Solid South" had long been a source of frustration to Republican ambitions. Goldwater had won several Southern states by opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but had alienated more moderate Southerners. Nixon's efforts to gain Southern support in 1968 were diluted by Wallace's candidacy. Through his first term, he pursued a Southern Strategy with policies, such as his desegregation plans, that would be broadly acceptable among Southern whites, encouraging them to realign with the Republicans in the aftermath of the civil rights movement. He nominated two Southern conservatives, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court, but neither was confirmed by the Senate. [209]

Nixon entered his name on the New Hampshire primary ballot on January 5, 1972, effectively announcing his candidacy for reelection. [210] Virtually assured the Republican nomination, [211] the President had initially expected his Democratic opponent to be Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy (brother of the late President), who was largely removed from contention after the July 1969 Chappaquiddick incident. [212] Instead, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie became the front runner, with South Dakota Senator George McGovern in a close second place. [210]

On June 10, McGovern won the California primary and secured the Democratic nomination. [213] The following month, Nixon was renominated at the 1972 Republican National Convention. He dismissed the Democratic platform as cowardly and divisive. [214] McGovern intended to sharply reduce defense spending [215] and supported amnesty for draft evaders as well as abortion rights. With some of his supporters believed to be in favor of drug legalization, McGovern was perceived as standing for "amnesty, abortion and acid". McGovern was also damaged by his vacillating support for his original running mate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, dumped from the ticket following revelations that he had received treatment for depression. [216] [217] Nixon was ahead in most polls for the entire election cycle, and was reelected on November 7, 1972, in one of the largest landslide election victories in American history. He defeated McGovern with over 60 percent of the popular vote, losing only in Massachusetts and D.C. [218]


The term Watergate has come to encompass an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. Those activities included "dirty tricks," such as bugging the offices of political opponents, and the harassment of activist groups and political figures. The activities were brought to light after five men were caught breaking into the Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972. The Washington Post picked up on the story reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward relied on an informant known as "Deep Throat"—later revealed to be Mark Felt, associate director at the FBI—to link the men to the Nixon administration. Nixon downplayed the scandal as mere politics, calling news articles biased and misleading. A series of revelations made it clear that the Committee to Re-elect President Nixon, and later the White House, were involved in attempts to sabotage the Democrats. Senior aides such as White House Counsel John Dean faced prosecution in total 48 officials were convicted of wrongdoing. [121] [219] [220]

In July 1973, White House aide Alexander Butterfield testified under oath to Congress that Nixon had a secret taping system and recorded his conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. These tapes were subpoenaed by Watergate Special Counsel Archibald Cox Nixon provided transcripts of the conversations but not the actual tapes, citing executive privilege. With the White House and Cox at loggerheads, Nixon had Cox fired in October in the "Saturday Night Massacre" he was replaced by Leon Jaworski. In November, Nixon's lawyers revealed that a tape of conversations held in the White House on June 20, 1972, had an 18 + 1 ⁄ 2 minute gap. [220] Rose Mary Woods, the President's personal secretary, claimed responsibility for the gap, saying that she had accidentally wiped the section while transcribing the tape, but her story was widely mocked. The gap, while not conclusive proof of wrongdoing by the President, cast doubt on Nixon's statement that he had been unaware of the cover-up. [221]

Though Nixon lost much popular support, even from his own party, he rejected accusations of wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office. [220] He admitted he had made mistakes but insisted he had no prior knowledge of the burglary, did not break any laws, and did not learn of the cover-up until early 1973. [222] On October 10, 1973, Vice President Agnew resigned for reasons unrelated to Watergate: he was convicted on charges of bribery, tax evasion and money laundering during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Believing his first choice, John Connally, would not be confirmed by Congress, [223] Nixon chose Gerald Ford, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, to replace Agnew. [224] One researcher suggests Nixon effectively disengaged from his own administration after Ford was sworn in as vice president on December 6, 1973. [225]

On November 17, 1973, during a televised question-and-answer session, [226] with 400 Associated Press managing editors Nixon said, "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." [227]

The legal battle over the tapes continued through early 1974, and in April Nixon announced the release of 1,200 pages of transcripts of White House conversations between himself and his aides. The House Judiciary Committee opened impeachment hearings against the President on May 9, 1974, which were televised on the major TV networks. These hearings culminated in votes for impeachment. [222] On July 24, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the full tapes, not just selected transcripts, must be released. [228]

The scandal grew to involve a slew of additional allegations against the President, ranging from the improper use of government agencies to accepting gifts in office and his personal finances and taxes Nixon repeatedly stated his willingness to pay any outstanding taxes due, and later paid $465,000 (equivalent to $2.4 million in 2020) in back taxes in 1974. [229]

Even with support diminished by the continuing series of revelations, Nixon hoped to fight the charges. But one of the new tapes, recorded soon after the break-in, demonstrated that Nixon had been told of the White House connection to the Watergate burglaries soon after they took place, and had approved plans to thwart the investigation. In a statement accompanying the release of what became known as the "Smoking Gun Tape" on August 5, 1974, Nixon accepted blame for misleading the country about when he had been told of White House involvement, stating that he had had a lapse of memory. [230] Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Senator Barry Goldwater, and House Minority Leader John Jacob Rhodes met with Nixon soon after. Rhodes told Nixon he faced certain impeachment in the House. Scott and Goldwater told the president that he had, at most, only 15 votes in his favor in the Senate, far fewer than the 34 needed to avoid removal from office. [231]


In light of his loss of political support and the near-certainty that he would be impeached and removed from office, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974, after addressing the nation on television the previous evening. [222] The resignation speech was delivered from the Oval Office and was carried live on radio and television. Nixon said he was resigning for the good of the country and asked the nation to support the new president, Gerald Ford. Nixon went on to review the accomplishments of his presidency, especially in foreign policy. [232] He defended his record as president, quoting from Theodore Roosevelt's 1910 speech Citizenship in a Republic:

Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, "whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly". [233]

Nixon's speech received generally favorable initial responses from network commentators, with only Roger Mudd of CBS stating that Nixon had not admitted wrongdoing. [234] It was termed "a masterpiece" by Conrad Black, one of his biographers. Black opined that "What was intended to be an unprecedented humiliation for any American president, Nixon converted into a virtual parliamentary acknowledgement of almost blameless insufficiency of legislative support to continue. He left while devoting half his address to a recitation of his accomplishments in office." [235]

Pardon and illness

Following his resignation, the Nixons flew to their home La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, California. [236] According to his biographer, Jonathan Aitken, "Nixon was a soul in torment" after his resignation. [237] Congress had funded Nixon's transition costs, including some salary expenses, though reducing the appropriation from $850,000 to $200,000. With some of his staff still with him, Nixon was at his desk by 7:00 a.m.—with little to do. [237] His former press secretary, Ron Ziegler, sat with him alone for hours each day. [238]

Nixon's resignation had not put an end to the desire among many to see him punished. The Ford White House considered a pardon of Nixon, even though it would be unpopular in the country. Nixon, contacted by Ford emissaries, was initially reluctant to accept the pardon, but then agreed to do so. Ford insisted on a statement of contrition, but Nixon felt he had not committed any crimes and should not have to issue such a document. Ford eventually agreed, and on September 8, 1974, he granted Nixon a "full, free, and absolute pardon", which ended any possibility of an indictment. Nixon then released a statement:

I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy. No words can describe the depth of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have caused the nation and the presidency, a nation I so deeply love, and an institution I so greatly respect. [239] [240]

In October 1974, Nixon fell ill with phlebitis. Told by his doctors that he could either be operated on or die, a reluctant Nixon chose surgery, and President Ford visited him in the hospital. Nixon was under subpoena for the trial of three of his former aides—Dean, Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman—and The Washington Post, disbelieving his illness, printed a cartoon showing Nixon with a cast on the "wrong foot". Judge John Sirica excused Nixon's presence despite the defendants' objections. [241] Congress instructed Ford to retain Nixon's presidential papers—beginning a three-decade legal battle over the documents that was eventually won by the former president and his estate. [242] Nixon was in the hospital when the 1974 midterm elections were held, and Watergate and the pardon were contributing factors to the Republican loss of 43 seats in the House and three in the Senate. [243]

Return to public life

In December 1974, Nixon began planning his comeback despite the considerable ill will against him in the country. He wrote in his diary, referring to himself and Pat,

So be it. We will see it through. We've had tough times before and we can take the tougher ones that we will have to go through now. That is perhaps what we were made for—to be able to take punishment beyond what anyone in this office has had before particularly after leaving office. This is a test of character and we must not fail the test. [244]

By early 1975, Nixon's health was improving. He maintained an office in a Coast Guard station 300 yards from his home, at first taking a golf cart and later walking the route each day he mainly worked on his memoirs. [245] He had hoped to wait before writing his memoirs the fact that his assets were being eaten away by expenses and lawyer fees compelled him to begin work quickly. [246] He was handicapped in this work by the end of his transition allowance in February, which compelled him to part with many of his staff, including Ziegler. [247] In August of that year, he met with British talk-show host and producer David Frost, who paid him $600,000 (equivalent to $2.9 million in 2020) for a series of sit-down interviews, filmed and aired in 1977. [248] They began on the topic of foreign policy, recounting the leaders he had known, but the most remembered section of the interviews was that on Watergate. Nixon admitted he had "let down the country" and that "I brought myself down. I gave them a sword and they stuck it in. And they twisted it with relish. And, I guess, if I'd been in their position, I'd have done the same thing." [249] The interviews garnered 45–50 million viewers—becoming the most-watched program of its kind in television history. [250]

The interviews helped improve Nixon's financial position—at one point in early 1975 he had only $500 in the bank—as did the sale of his Key Biscayne property to a trust set up by wealthy friends of Nixon, such as Bebe Rebozo. [251] In February 1976, Nixon visited China at the personal invitation of Mao. Nixon had wanted to return to China but chose to wait until after Ford's own visit in 1975. [252] Nixon remained neutral in the close 1976 primary battle between Ford and Reagan. Ford won, but was defeated by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in the general election. The Carter administration had little use for Nixon and blocked his planned trip to Australia, causing the government of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to withhold its official invitation. [253]

In 1976, Nixon was disbarred by the New York State Bar Association for obstruction of justice in the Watergate affair. Nixon chose not to present any defense. [254] In early 1978, Nixon went to the United Kingdom. He was shunned by American diplomats and by most ministers of the James Callaghan government. He was welcomed, however, by the Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, as well as by former prime ministers Lord Home and Sir Harold Wilson. Two other former prime ministers, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, declined to meet him. Nixon addressed the Oxford Union regarding Watergate:

Some people say I didn't handle it properly and they're right. I screwed it up. Mea culpa. But let's get on to my achievements. You'll be here in the year 2000 and we'll see how I'm regarded then. [255]

Author and elder statesman

In 1978, Nixon published his memoirs, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the first of ten books he was to author in his retirement. [236] The book was a bestseller and attracted a generally positive critical response. [256] Nixon visited the White House in 1979, invited by Carter for the state dinner for Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping. Carter had not wanted to invite Nixon, but Deng had said he would visit Nixon in California if the former president was not invited. Nixon had a private meeting with Deng and visited Beijing again in mid-1979. [257]

On August 10, 1979, the Nixons purchased a 12‐room condominium occupying the seventh floor of 817 Fifth Avenue New York City [258] after being rejected by two Manhattan co-ops. [259] When the deposed Shah of Iran died in Egypt in July 1980, Nixon defied the State Department, which intended to send no U.S. representative, by attending the funeral. Though Nixon had no official credentials, as a former president he was seen as the American presence at its former ally's funeral. [260] Nixon supported Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, making television appearances portraying himself as, in biographer Stephen Ambrose's words, "the senior statesman above the fray". [261] He wrote guest articles for many publications both during the campaign and after Reagan's victory. [262] After eighteen months in the New York City townhouse, Nixon and his wife moved in 1981 to Saddle River, New Jersey. [236]

Throughout the 1980s, Nixon maintained an ambitious schedule of speaking engagements and writing, [236] traveled, and met with many foreign leaders, especially those of Third World countries. He joined former Presidents Ford and Carter as representatives of the United States at the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. [236] On a trip to the Middle East, Nixon made his views known regarding Saudi Arabia and Libya, which attracted significant U.S. media attention The Washington Post ran stories on Nixon's "rehabilitation". [263] Nixon visited the Soviet Union in 1986 and on his return sent President Reagan a lengthy memorandum containing foreign policy suggestions and his personal impressions of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. [236] Following this trip, Nixon was ranked in a Gallup poll as one of the ten most admired men in the world. [264]

In 1986, Nixon addressed a convention of newspaper publishers, impressing his audience with his tour d'horizon of the world. [265] At the time, political pundit Elizabeth Drew wrote, "Even when he was wrong, Nixon still showed that he knew a great deal and had a capacious memory, as well as the capacity to speak with apparent authority, enough to impress people who had little regard for him in earlier times." [265] Newsweek ran a story on "Nixon's comeback" with the headline "He's back". [266]

On July 19, 1990, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California opened as a private institution with the Nixons in attendance. They were joined by a large crowd of people, including Presidents Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, as well as their wives, Betty, Nancy, and Barbara. [267] In January 1994, the former president founded the Nixon Center (today the Center for the National Interest), a Washington policy think tank and conference center. [268] [269]

Pat Nixon died on June 22, 1993, of emphysema and lung cancer. Her funeral services were held on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. Former President Nixon was distraught throughout the interment and delivered a tribute to her inside the library building. [270]

Nixon suffered a severe stroke on April 18, 1994, while preparing to eat dinner in his Park Ridge, New Jersey home. [271] A blood clot resulting from the atrial fibrillation he had suffered for many years had formed in his upper heart, broken off, and traveled to his brain. [272] He was taken to New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, initially alert but unable to speak or to move his right arm or leg. [271] Damage to the brain caused swelling (cerebral edema), and Nixon slipped into a deep coma. He died at 9:08 p.m. on April 22, 1994, with his daughters at his bedside. He was 81 years old. [271]

Nixon's funeral took place on April 27, 1994, in Yorba Linda, California. Eulogists at the Nixon Library ceremony included President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, California Governor Pete Wilson, and the Reverend Billy Graham. Also in attendance were former Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and their wives. [273]

Richard Nixon was buried beside his wife Pat on the grounds of the Nixon Library. He was survived by his two daughters, Tricia and Julie, and four grandchildren. [271] In keeping with his wishes, his funeral was not a full state funeral, though his body did lie in repose in the Nixon Library lobby from April 26 to the morning of the funeral service. [274] Mourners waited in line for up to eight hours in chilly, wet weather to pay their respects. [275] At its peak, the line to pass by Nixon's casket was three miles long with an estimated 42,000 people waiting. [276]

John F. Stacks of Time magazine said of Nixon shortly after his death,

An outsize energy and determination drove him on to recover and rebuild after every self-created disaster that he faced. To reclaim a respected place in American public life after his resignation, he kept traveling and thinking and talking to the world's leaders . and by the time Bill Clinton came to the White House [in 1993], Nixon had virtually cemented his role as an elder statesman. Clinton, whose wife served on the staff of the committee that voted to impeach Nixon, met openly with him and regularly sought his advice. [277]

Tom Wicker of The New York Times noted that Nixon had been equalled only by Franklin Roosevelt in being five times nominated on a major party ticket and, quoting Nixon's 1962 farewell speech, wrote,

Richard Nixon's jowly, beard-shadowed face, the ski-jump nose and the widow's peak, the arms upstretched in the V-sign, had been so often pictured and caricatured, his presence had become such a familiar one in the land, he had been so often in the heat of controversy, that it was hard to realize the nation really would not "have Nixon to kick around anymore". [278]

Ambrose said of the reaction to Nixon's death, "To everyone's amazement, except his, he's our beloved elder statesman." [279]

Upon Nixon's death, almost all the news coverage mentioned Watergate, but for the most part, the coverage was favorable to the former president. The Dallas Morning News stated, "History ultimately should show that despite his flaws, he was one of our most farsighted chief executives." [280] This offended some columnist Russell Baker complained of "a group conspiracy to grant him absolution". [281] Cartoonist Jeff Koterba of the Omaha World-Herald depicted History before a blank canvas, his subject Nixon, as America looks on eagerly. The artist urges his audience to sit down the work will take some time to complete, as "this portrait is a little more complicated than most". [282]

Hunter S. Thompson wrote a scathing piece denouncing Nixon for Rolling Stone, entitled "He Was a Crook" (which also appeared a month later in The Atlantic). [283] In his article, Thompson described Nixon as "a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy." [283]

Historian and political scientist James MacGregor Burns asked of Nixon, "How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?" [284] Nixon's biographers disagree on how he will be perceived by posterity. According to Ambrose, "Nixon wanted to be judged by what he accomplished. What he will be remembered for is the nightmare he put the country through in his second term and for his resignation." [285] Irwin Gellman, who chronicled Nixon's Congressional career, suggests, "He was remarkable among his congressional peers, a success story in a troubled era, one who steered a sensible anti-Communist course against the excess of McCarthy." [286] Aitken feels that "Nixon, both as a man and as a statesman, has been excessively maligned for his faults and inadequately recognised for his virtues. Yet even in a spirit of historical revisionism, no simple verdict is possible." [287]

Some historians say Nixon's Southern Strategy turned the Southern United States into a Republican stronghold, while others deem economic factors more important in the change. [209] Throughout his career, Nixon moved his party away from the control of isolationists, and as a Congressman he was a persuasive advocate of containing Soviet communism. [288] According to his biographer Herbert Parmet, "Nixon's role was to steer the Republican party along a middle course, somewhere between the competitive impulses of the Rockefellers, the Goldwaters, and the Reagans." [289]

Nixon's stance on domestic affairs has been credited with the passage and enforcement of environmental and regulatory legislation. In a 2011 paper on Nixon and the environment, historian Paul Charles Milazzo points to Nixon's creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and to his enforcement of legislation such as the 1973 Endangered Species Act, stating that "though unsought and unacknowledged, Richard Nixon's environmental legacy is secure". [290] Nixon himself did not consider the environmental advances he made in office an important part of his legacy some historians contend that his choices were driven more by political expediency than any strong environmentalism. [185]

Nixon saw his policies on Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union as central to his place in history. [170] Nixon's onetime opponent George McGovern commented in 1983, "President Nixon probably had a more practical approach to the two superpowers, China and the Soviet Union, than any other president since World War II [. ] With the exception of his inexcusable continuation of the war in Vietnam, Nixon really will get high marks in history." [291] Political scientist Jussi Hanhimäki disagrees, saying that Nixon's diplomacy was merely a continuation of the Cold War policy of containment by diplomatic, rather than military means. [170] Kissinger noted similarities between Nixon's opening of China in 1972 and President Donald Trump's Middle East diplomacy. [292] Historian Christopher Andrew concludes that "Nixon was a great statesman on the world stage as well as a shabby practitioner of electoral politics in the domestic arena. While the criminal farce of Watergate was in the making, Nixon's inspirational statesmanship was establishing new working relationships both with Communist China and with the Soviet Union." [293]

Historian Keith W. Olson has written that Nixon left a legacy of fundamental mistrust of government, rooted in Vietnam and Watergate. [294] In surveys of historians and political scientists, Nixon is generally ranked as a below average president. [295] [296] [297] During the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, both sides tried to use Nixon and Watergate to their advantage: Republicans suggested that Clinton's misconduct was comparable to Nixon's, while Democrats contended that Nixon's actions had been far more serious than Clinton's. [298] Another legacy, for a time, was a decrease in the power of the presidency as Congress passed restrictive legislation in the wake of Watergate. Olson suggests that legislation in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks restored the president's power. [294]

Nixon's career was frequently dogged by his persona and the public's perception of it. Editorial cartoonists and comedians often exaggerated his appearance and mannerisms, to the point where the line between the human and the caricature became increasingly blurred. He was often portrayed with unshaven jowls, slumped shoulders, and a furrowed, sweaty brow. [299]

Nixon had a complex personality, both very secretive and awkward, yet strikingly reflective about himself. He was inclined to distance himself from people and was formal in all aspects, wearing a coat and tie even when home alone. [300] Nixon biographer Conrad Black described him as being "driven" though also "uneasy with himself in some ways". [301] According to Black, Nixon

thought that he was doomed to be traduced, double-crossed, unjustly harassed, misunderstood, underappreciated, and subjected to the trials of Job, but that by the application of his mighty will, tenacity, and diligence, he would ultimately prevail. [302]

Nixon sometimes drank to excess, especially during 1970 when things were not going well for him. He also had trouble battling insomnia, for which he was prescribed sleeping pills. According to Ray Price, he sometimes took them in together. Nixon also took dilantin, recommended by Jack Dreyfus. That medicine is usually prescribed to treat and prevent seizures, but in Nixon's case it was to battle depression. His periodic overindulgences, especially during stressful times such as during Apollo 13, concerned Price and others, including then-advisor Ehrlichman and long-time valet Manolo Sanchez. [303] Author and former British politician David Owen deemed Nixon an alcoholic. [304] [305]

Biographer Elizabeth Drew summarized Nixon as a "smart, talented man, but most peculiar and haunted of presidents". [306] In his account of the Nixon presidency, author Richard Reeves described Nixon as "a strange man of uncomfortable shyness, who functioned best alone with his thoughts". [307] Nixon's presidency was doomed by his personality, Reeves argues:

He assumed the worst in people and he brought out the worst in them . He clung to the idea of being "tough". He thought that was what had brought him to the edge of greatness. But that was what betrayed him. He could not open himself to other men and he could not open himself to greatness. [308]

In October 1999, a volume of 1971 White House audio tapes was released which contained multiple statements by Nixon deemed derogatory toward Jews. [309] In one conversation with H. R. Haldeman, Nixon said that Washington was "full of Jews" and that "most Jews are disloyal", making exceptions for some of his top aides. [310] He then added, "But, Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you. Am I wrong or right?" [310] Elsewhere on the 1971 recordings, Nixon denies being anti-Semitic, saying, "If anybody who's been in this chair ever had reason to be anti-Semitic, I did . And I'm not, you know what I mean?" [310]

Nixon believed that putting distance between himself and other people was necessary for him as he advanced in his political career and became president. Even Bebe Rebozo, by some accounts his closest friend, did not call him by his first name. Nixon said of this,

Even with close friends, I don't believe in letting your hair down, confiding this and that and the other thing—saying, "Gee, I couldn't sleep . " I believe you should keep your troubles to yourself. That's just the way I am. Some people are different. Some people think it's good therapy to sit with a close friend and, you know, just spill your guts . [and] reveal their inner psyche—whether they were breast-fed or bottle-fed. Not me. No way. [311]

When Nixon was told that most Americans felt they did not know him even at the end of his career, he replied, "Yeah, it's true. And it's not necessary for them to know." [311]

Richard Nixon: Life Before the Presidency

While courting common voters, Nixon made the most of his common origins biographers, both sympathetic and critical, have tended to follow suit. He was born in one small California town (Yorba Linda) and grew up in another (East Whittier). His parents were in some ways opposites—Frank Nixon was as argumentative as Hannah Nixon was sweet-tempered. Richard Nixon suffered two great personal losses as a young man: the deaths of his younger brother Arthur after a short illness and his older brother Harold after a long one.

His school life brought a string of successes in endeavors common to politicians in training. He won debates and elections and leading roles in school dramatic productions. His grades were excellent, at both Whittier College and Duke University's law school. His scholastic achievements were not enough, however, to get him the jobs he applied for with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and with several prestigious law firms.

Nixon ended up in California, joining a Whittier law firm, the Whittier College board of trustees, and the Whittier Community Players. He fell romantically for a fellow cast member, Thelma Catherine "Pat" Ryan they wed in 1940. Opportunities for work led Nixon back east, as a law professor's recommendation got Nixon a job with the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. Following Pearl Harbor, Nixon enlisted in the Navy. His naval career ended with the war and in 1945 he was looking for his next job just as a group of prominent Southern California Republicans were looking for a suitable congressional candidate.

The Denigrative Method

As a campaigner, Nixon mastered early what historian Garry Wills called "The Denigrative Method" and what later analysts called "negative campaigning." Simply put, he attacked his opponents—sometimes unscrupulously, always effectively. His first campaign set the pattern.

His opponent was Jerry Voorhis, a New Dealer elected five times by voters of California's 12th congressional district. Voorhis was an anticommunist and refused to accept the endorsement of any political action committee unless the PAC renounced any and all communist influence. That stance deprived him of backing from the Congress of Industrial Organizations' PAC—CIO PAC—a communist-infiltrated labor group. When a newspaper falsely accused Voorhis of having the CIO PAC's endorsement, the congressman took out an ad proclaiming that the CIO PAC had refused to endorse him on account of his opposition to communists in the labor movement. "I can not accept the support of anyone who does not oppose them as I do," Voorhis said.

Nixon's campaign manager, however, claimed to have proof that Voorhis had the PAC's endorsement. During a debate with Nixon, Voorhis asked to see the proof. Nixon dramatically stepped forward with a bulletin of the local branch of the National Citizens Political Action Committee that included Voorhis among its recommendations. Voorhis pointed out that Nixon's evidence was about the NCPAC, not the CIO PAC, but the damage was done. Nixon had successfully linked Voorhis in the minds of voters to "the PAC," a tactic that helped him defeat Voorhis in November.

The House GOP rewarded Nixon with a seat on the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he rose to national stardom during the investigation of Alger Hiss. Through the presentation of evidence before HUAC and at two trials, Hiss, a prominent employee in the U.S. State Department, was revealed to have passed information to the Soviets. Proof of this espionage has only grown more overwhelming in recent years with the declassification of the "Venona" intercepts, decrypted Soviet cables on communist activities in America. Nixon won reelection in 1948 with the endorsement of both parties.

In 1950, his reputation buoyed by the Hiss case, Nixon ran for the Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas in a campaign that echoed his race with Voorhis. This time, the Nixon campaign manual included a "pink sheet" comparing his opponent's voting record to that of Communist Party-liner Vito Marcantonio—what Nixon referred to as the "Douglas-Marcantonio axis." Nixon won a seat in the Senate and an indelible sobriquet—"Tricky Dick."The next rung up the ladder was the most important. In 1952, Dwight David Eisenhower, war hero and political phenomenon, gave Nixon the vice presidential nomination on the Republican ticket after the junior senator did some pre-convention maneuvering to lure California delegates into the Ike column. Then scandal struck, but not very hard. "SECRET RICH MEN'S TRUST FUND KEEPS NIXON IN STYLE FAR BEYOND HIS SALARY," screamed the New York Post. Nixon linked his troubles to the Reds. "You folks know the work that I did investigating Communists in the United States," he said at his next campaign stop. "When I received the nomination for the vice presidency I was warned that if I continued to attack the Communists in this government they would continue to smear me." Actually, the story came not from Communists but from Republicans—specifically, some disgruntled California politicos who thought Nixon should have been more steadfastly behind the favorite son presidential candidacy of Governor Earl Warren.

Nixon's fund may have been unseemly—it was actually used to keep him on the campaign trail, not living "in style"—but it was not illegal. The candidate defended it in a nationally televised address whose emotional high point—a promise made to his little daughter Tricia never to return one campaign gift, a cocker spaniel puppy named Checkers—made it forever known as the "Checkers Speech." Public response to the speech was overwhelmingly positive. A political star was reborn. Ike and Dick won the 1952 election in a landslide.

As vice president, Nixon burnished his reputation for foreign policy expertise with international travel to dozens of countries. His South American tour garnered international headlines when a mob in Caracas, Venezuela, stoned his motorcade. The confrontations with the demonstrators abroad only made him more popular at home. His 1959 trip to the Soviet Union was even more dramatic and politically helpful. While taking in an exhibit showcasing a General Electric model kitchen at the U.S. Trade and Cultural Fair in Sokolniki Park, Nixon and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev traded words about the merits of their respective countries. Their exchange became known as the "kitchen debate":Nixon: There are some instances where you may be ahead of us, for example in the development of the thrust of your rockets for the investigation of outer space there may be some instances in which we are ahead of you—in color television, for instance.

Khrushchev: No, we are up with you on this, too. We have bested you in one technique and also in the other.

Nixon: You see, you never concede anything.

Khrushchev: I do not give up.

Nixon: Wait till you see the picture. Let's have far more communication and exchange in this very area that we speak of. We should hear you more on our televisions. You should hear us more on yours.

Khrushchev: That's a good idea. Let's do it like this. You appear before our people. We will appear before your people. People will see and appreciate this.

Earlier, when President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, Nixon's calm, understated performance as temporary steward of the nation's business won him glowing reviews in the news media. But the President's medical problem gave Democrats the opening to claim that a vote to re-elect Eisenhower in 1956 might be, in effect, a vote for Nixon to become President. Ike's popularity with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, however, made it difficult for the opposition party to take him on directly. Nixon, the partisan politician, made a much more tempting political target. In the end, such arguments had little effect on the voters, who re-elected Eisenhower and Nixon in a second landslide.

The Election of 1960

The presidential election of 1960 is best remembered for the first televised debate between Nixon and the Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy. For many observers, the contrast between the pale, sweaty Nixon and the bronze, poised Kennedy captures the importance of image in politics, though the vote totals for the candidates—it was the closest election of the twentieth century—indicates that image is far from everything. (See Kennedy biography, "Campaign and Election" section for details.)Nixon blamed his defeat on other factors. An economic recession had bottomed-out shortly before Election Day. Also, Kennedy had the advantage of the challenger, the ability to stay on the offensive, while Nixon had to defend the record of the Eisenhower administration. And, fatefully, Nixon convinced himself that he was the victim of the Kennedys' ruthlessness:"We were faced in 1960 by an organization that had equal dedication to ours and unlimited money, that was led by the most ruthless group of political operatives ever mobilized for a presidential campaign. Kennedy's organization approached campaign dirty tricks with a roguish relish and carried them off with an insouciance that captivated many politicians overcame the critical faculties of many reporters. . . . From this point on I had the wisdom and wariness of someone who had been burned by the power of the Kennedys and their money and by the license they were given by the media. I vowed that I would never again enter an election at a disadvantage by being vulnerable to them—or anyone—on the level of political tactics."For Garry Wills, this passage from Nixon's memoirs suggests the inevitability of Watergate.

Nixon spent much of 1961 writing a book, Six Crises, and contemplating his return to politics. In 1962, he ran for governor of California and lost big. After his last defeat, he held what he claimed was his "last press conference," angrily telling reporters, "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more."


In the summer of 1952, veteran adman Rosser Reeves approached a group of Dwight Eisenhower supporters with a revolutionary idea: why not run television commercials touting their presidential candidate? Reeves -- a hard-sell prophet celebrated for his "melts in your mouth, not in your hands" commercials for M&MÕs and his hammer-pounding spots for Anacin -- had approached Republican presidential hopeful Thomas Dewey about running ads four years earlier, but Dewey had dismissed the idea as undignified. Resistance was initially stiff within the Eisenhower camp as well, but Reeves ultimately prevailed, and later that year Eisenhower taped a series of spots titled "Eisenhower Answers America" -- the first presidential commercials ever to run on television.

While the ads probably had little impact on EisenhowerÕs victory over Adlai Stevenson -- Reeves himself once said, "It was such a landslide that it didnÕt make a goddamn bit of difference whether we ran the spots or not" -- they heralded a revolution in American politics. Just four years before, Harry Truman had trekked 31,000 miles across America to shake the hands of 500,000 people in 1952 Eisenhower made a single trip to New York to film three dozen commercials, each of which could be seen on as many as 19,000,000 television sets across the country. The age of the whistle-stop campaign was ending the era of the televised campaign had begun. Today, political ads may well be the dominant means by which presidential candidates communicate their messages to voters. Certainly, they are a vital component of any serious campaign each candidate must shell out over a hundred million dollars to create and air ads if he or she has any hope at all of winning.

Madison Avenue Goes to Washington: The History of Presidential Campaign Advertising, presented by the Museum in association with the University Library and the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, is a compendium of the most memorable and historically significant presidential commercials created from 1952 through 1996 for twelve general elections. This screening, which includes narration placing the ads in historical context, traces the evolution of presidential advertising from crudely produced, hastily thrown together novelty items featuring candidates in stilted studio shots to intricately researched, rigorously tested spots featuring state-of-the-art production and marketing techniques.

Viewed together as they are here, these commercials also offer a remarkable opportunity to bear witness to the evolving preoccupations of American politicians and, by extension, the American people, from the "red scare" of the fifties to the domestic upheaval of the sixties, from the Watergate-induced anomie of the seventies to the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a new world order in the eighties and nineties. Equally fascinating is the way in which so many themes resurface time and again. One case in point: When Bill ClintonÕs campaign advisers insisted that it was "the economy, stupid" in 1992, they essentially were making the same point Eisenhower had made forty years earlier when responding to a question about the high cost of living in an "Eisenhower Answers America" commercial.

The 1950s: Although the 1952 election introduced the presidential-campaign spot, most paid political broadcasts were fifteen or thirty minutes long, preempting regular programming. The most famous of these -- the so-called Checkers speech -- aired on September 23, 1952, when Republicans purchased a half-hour block for vice-presidential hopeful Richard Nixon, who had been accused of having a slush fund. The 1956 contest -- also between Eisenhower and Stevenson -- featured the first-ever negative commercials, from StevensonÕs campaign. Key Ads of this decade: "Eisenhower Answers America" NixonÕs Checkers speech StevensonÕs "Man from Liberty" spot.

The 1960s: With sets in nine of every ten American homes, the 1960 campaign between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon demonstrated that television had become a significant force in American politics. Nixon, seeking to keep his distance from Madison Avenue, formed an in-house agency, Campaign Associates -- the first agency ever spawned solely to run a campaign -- and technological advances led to the first on-location campaign commercials. The 1964 campaign between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater was the first dominated by communications specialists like Tony Schwartz, who eschewed hard-sell advertising in favor of emotion-based appeals, and it was -- in the opinion of scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson -- the most negative campaign in American politics until 1988. Key Ads of this decade: Kennedy dismisses fears about his Catholicism Eisenhower cannot cite a significant contribution from Nixon over the previous eight years NixonÕs dramatic still-photo spots of 1968 appeal to "forgotten Americans" JohnsonÕs "daisy" spot questions GoldwaterÕs emotional stability.

The 1970s: In 1972, Richard NixonÕs ad-hoc November Group -- burdened by polls showing Nixon was respected but not well-liked -- settled on the campaign theme "You Need Nixon," emphasizing his incumbency and experience. George McGovernÕs ads, from cinema veritŽ pioneer Charles Guggenheim, addressed the Vietnam War but largely skirted Watergate, as evidence had yet to emerge linking Nixon to the scandal. Key Ads of this decade: NixonÕs trio of "Democrats for Nixon" spots McGovernÕs cinema veritŽ spots and the unaired spot by Tony Schwartz in which a Vietnamese woman clutches a dead infant in her arms.

The 1980s: In the 1984 campaign, featuring Ronald Reagan and George Bush against Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, a popular incumbent parlayed peace and prosperity into reelection. The 1988 contest between George Bush and Michael Dukakis is now widely considered the most negative presidential campaign in American history. Key Ads of this decade: ReaganÕs "Morning in America" and bear spots MondaleÕs Reaganomics spots the RepublicansÕ 1988 Willie Horton, Boston Harbor, and tank spots.

The 1990s: The 1992 campaign among George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot -- coming on the heels of the 1988 contest -- received greater press scrutiny than any previous campaign, with newspapers and television networks launching "adwatches" evaluating campaign spots for fairness and accuracy. PerotÕs attention-grabbing long-form commercials were a throwback to the earliest days of presidential advertising. Key Ads of this decade: Bush spots highlighting his own military career and attacking ClintonÕs explanation for escaping the draft Clinton reminding voters of BushÕs pledge not to raise taxes PerotÕs chart-enhanced budget analyses.

MALE NARRATOR: In his historic debate with Richard Nixon, Senator John F. Kennedy has made an impression by being direct, by being specific, by facing the issues squarely. He is meeting the challenge of the '60s he's offering new American leadership for the country, for the world.

KENNEDY: This is a great country, but I think it could be a greater country. And this is a powerful country, but I think it could be a more powerful country. I'm not satisfied to have 50 percent of our steel mill capacity unused. I'm not satisfied when the United States had, last year, the lowest rate of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world. Because economic growth means strength and vitality. It means we're able to sustain our defenses. It means we're able to meet our commitments abroad.

I'm not satisfied when we have over nine billion dollars of food, some of it rotting, even though there is a hungry world, and even though four million Americans wait every month for a food package from the government which averages five cents a day per individual. I saw places in West Virginia, here in the United States, where children took home part of their school lunch in order to feed their families. I don't think we're meeting our obligations towards these Americans.

I'm not satisfied when the Soviet Union is turning out twice as many scientists and engineers as we are. I'm not satisfied when many of our teachers are inadequately paid, and many of our students go in part-time shifts. I think we should have an educational system second to none.

I'm not satisfied until every American enjoys his full constitutional rights. When a Negro baby is born, he has about one half as much chance to get through high school as a white baby. He has one third as much chance to get through college as a white student. He has about a third as much chance to be a professional man. About half as much chance to own a house. He has about four times as much chance that he'll be out of work in his life as the white baby. I think we can do better. I don't want the talents of any Americans to go to waste.

I know that there are those who say that we want to turn everything over to the government. I don't at all. I want the individual to meet their responsibility. And I want the states to meet their responsibilities. But I think there is also a national responsibility.

If you feel that everything that is being done now is satisfactory, that the relative power and prestige and strength of the United States is increasing in relation to that of the Communists, that we are gaining more security, that we are achieving everything as a nation that we should achieve, that we are achieving a better life for our citizens and greater strength, then I agree. I think you should vote for Mr. Nixon. But if you feel that we have to move again in the '60s, that the function of the president is to set before the people the unfinished business of our society, as Franklin Roosevelt did in the '30s, the agenda of our people, what we must do as a society to meet our needs in this country and protect our security and help the cause of freedom.

As I said in the beginning, the question before us all, that faces all Republicans and all Democrats, is: can freedom in the next generation conquer? Or are the Communists going to be successful? That's the great issue. And if we meet our responsibilities, I think freedom will conquer. If we fail--if we fail to move ahead, if we fail to develop significant military, economic, and social strength in this country--then I think that the tide could begin to run against us. And I don't want historians ten years from now to say: These were the years when the tide ran out from the United States. I want them to say: These were the years when the tide came in. These were the years when the United States started to move again. That's the question before the American people, and only you can decide what you want--what you want this country to be, what you want to do with the future. I think we're ready to move. And it is to that great task that, if we are successful, we will address ourselves.

MALE NARRATOR: You have been watching an important excerpt from the Kennedy-Nixon debates presented by Citizens for Kennedy. Vote for new American leadership. (Cheering) The country needs it, the world needs it. John Kennedy for president.


"Debate 2," Citizens for Kennedy-Johnson, 1960

Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012. (accessed June 27, 2021).


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Nixon’s 1960 sandwich kicked around again

Some might call the leftovers of a sandwich ordered by Vice President Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago trash. But Steve Jenne thought he saw a piece of history and has held on to it since.

Jenne retrieved the left-behind lunch item after Nixon dined at a political rally in Sullivan, Ill., during his 1960 presidential campaign. Over the years, the item piqued the public interest.

In 1988, the sandwich landed Jenne a guest spot on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." It also qualified him for a write-up in the recently published "Weird Illinois," a travelogue of the state's oddities.

Recently Jenne, 59, was invited to be a guest on an updated version of the classic 1950s and '60s television game show "I've Got a Secret," in which celebrity panelists attempt to guess a contestant's secret.

The show's producers wanted Jenne to be a guest after reading his tale in "Weird Illinois." He flew to Hollywood for the show's taping last month.

"It ain't easy," Jenne said of taking the sandwich on the road. "First of all, to fly with dry ice I would have had to go through all different channels of security. So I forgot the dry ice and rigged up a way to keep it frozen in a cooler as part of my luggage and made sure it never left my side."

On the day of the taping, Jenne whispered the secret, "I have Nixon's half-eaten sandwich," to host Bill Dwyer while it was simultaneously broadcast to the audience. The show's four panelists then took turns asking him "yes" or "no" questions about his secret.

Jenne said contestants were given one clue, which in his case was that he had something of historic value. They also were told a few personal facts about him, including that he is a Los Angeles Dodgers fan and occasionally likes to do metal detecting.

The clues initially confused the panelists, Jenne said. One asked if he had found a mystery bullet from the Kennedy assassination. Because they knew he was from Springfield, they wondered if he found the bullet that killed Lincoln.

Jenne said he grew up watching the original version of the television show with his parents.

"My dad is 89, and my mom is 86. They're getting a big kick out of this," he said.

The Speech that Made Nixon's Dog Famous

Mr. Olshaker is a longtime freelance writer whose work has appeared in many publications including the New York Times and

How did Nixon work such magic? And what kind of precedent did his performance and its dramatic aftermath set for future candidates for high office?

According to the conventional wisdom, the media and even modern technology in general were Nixon's repeated undoing-the televised 1960 presidential debates that gave the telegenic John F. Kennedy the edge the press coverage which Nixon believed to be unfairly slanted against him, treating him as someone to "kick around" even his own personally controlled media-the White House audiotape system-which brought him down in the end. Yet if we judge his 1952 financial explanation by its results, a compelling case could be made that Nixon was a uniquely gifted media genius.

The fund furor had begun five days earlier when a New York Post article stated that Nixon had received $18,235 from a total of 76 contributors. Was the money, as the New Republic charged, "a subsidy from wealthy Republicans who have a certain political axe they want young Nixon to wield," or were the donations intended merely to defray the political expenses of a poor-but-honest young senator? The New Republic pointed out that the contributors included real estate men, and that Nixon had voted against public housing and rent control. Also included were oil executives, whose interests Nixon had championed. The article noted that "the business firms with which [the contributors] are connected and the fields of industry and finance represented are very familiar to those who follow pressure politics in Washington and are informed about how much they invest in regular lobbying activities."

When the story of the fund unfolded, General Dwight Eisenhower was in the Midwest, spreading the word that as president he would clean up the "mess in Washington" by driving out the "crooks and cronies" of the Truman administration. Aides informed Eisenhower that it was the almost unanimous view of newsmen aboard the campaign train that he would lose unless he dropped Nixon as running mate.

Nixon's immediate reaction was to label the story of the fund a "typical left-wing smear." Campaigning in California, Nixon declared, "The purpose of those smears is to make me…relent and let up on my attacks on the Communists and crooks in the present administration."

However, it was clear to Nixon that his continued presence on the ticket would make a mockery of the anti-corruption theme unless he cleared his name. "The course he chose was so improbable that even Hollywood might have hesitated to accept such a script," Life magazine reported at the time.

When he arrived at the El Capitan Theater, an NBC television studio in Hollywood, Nixon had no written script. At his insistence, spectators were barred from the broadcast. Nixon told no one what he planned to say. Extra cameras were activated because the details of his speech were not known, and the technicians were uncertain as to whether he would remain seated at his desk. His wife Pat was seated on the stage several feet from him. As if the pressure weren't already high, a few minutes earlier Governor Thomas Dewey had called and told Nixon that Eisenhower's staff wanted him to submit his resignation at the end of the broadcast.

Speaking to more than 30 million television viewers and a huge radio audience, Nixon "exposed his life story with a strange mixture of pathos and condor," Life reported. "All the television lens saw was an earnest young man the opening words revealed a deep hurt and a troubled heart." Nixon stated that the 76 contributors had asked for no special favors, expected none, and got none. All of the money had gone to "political expenses I did not think should be charged to the taxpayers of the United States."

"I am going to give this television and radio audience a complete financial history everything I've earned, everything I've spent, everything I owe, and I want you to know the facts," he said. Most of his early life was spent in his family's grocery store. "The only reason we were able to make it go was because my mother and dad had five boys and we all worked in the store." He described his financial standing at each point in his life-college, marriage, law school, Navy, U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator. He went on to detail his modest holdings and considerable debts. The camera panned to his wife when Nixon said, "Pat doesn't own a mink coat."

Nixon announced that he would not quit as Ike's running mate unless the Republican National Committee asked him to, and called on listeners to send letters and wires to "help them decide."

After explaining his debts, Nixon added, "One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don't they'll probably be saying this about me, too-we did get something, a gift, after the election…the day before we left on this campaign trip, we got a message from the Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. It was a little cocker-spaniel dog…and our little girl Tricia, the six-year-old, named it Checkers. And you know the kids, like all kids, love the dog and…regardless of what they say about it, we're going to keep it."

At this point, Nixon had used only 15 minutes of his allotted time. He devoted the second half of the broadcast to an attack on the Truman administration and the Democratic ticket of Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman. When he ran overtime, technicians cut him off in mid-sentence. By pure accident, the speech ended in the midst of an appeal for Eisenhower: "And remember, folks, Eisenhower is a great man, believe me. He's a great man .…"

He was deeply disappointed with his performance. "I couldn't do it. I wasn't any good," said Nixon, and he broke into sobs. He was especially upset that he was cut off before having a chance to give the address of the RNC. Studio technicians reassured him some of the camera crew were weeping.

Eisenhower, with his wife Mamie and her mother, watched Nixon's broadcast in the manager's office of the Cleveland Public Auditorium, where he had delayed his speech on inflation so that Nixon's speech could be piped into the auditorium. Men and women in the auditorium wept openly as they listened to Nixon's voice. In the office, Mamie and her mother wept, and Eisenhower's eyes reportedly filled with tears.

When the speech ended, Eisenhower's press aide, James C. Hagerty, said, "General, you'll have to throw your speech away. Those people out there want to hear about Nixon." While Ike wrote notes for another speech, the crowd chanted, "We want Nixon." Rep. George Bender, who was presiding, shouted: "Are you in favor of Nixon?" and the crowd, as Newsweek reported, "went wild, screaming, whistling, and leaping from their seats." Eisenhower appeared and stated, "Tonight, I saw an example of courage. I have seen many brave men in tough situations. I have never seen any come through in better fashion than Senator Nixon did tonight…" He recalled a dramatic parallel from World War II. "In my command, I had a singularly brave and skillful leader…" He went on to compare young Nixon with the deceased General George Patton.

Significantly, despite such praise for Nixon, Eisenhower reserved judgment on whether or not to keep him on the ticket, asserting authority over his running mate by summoning him to meet him in Wheeling, West Virginia. Not about to be humiliated, Nixon insisted on flying to Missoula, Montana for a scheduled speech, declaring, "What more does he want? I'm not going to crawl on my hands and knees to him." Fortunately for Nixon, the enormously favorable emotional clamor his broadcast had created saved him from such a fate. After a call explaining that he was still on the ticket, Nixon flew to Wheeling and was greeted by Eisenhower. "Dick," Ike said, extending his hand, "you're my boy." Amid the cheering of the airport crowd, Nixon broke down in tears. Life stated, "This extraordinary moment was the extraordinary climax of a national outpouring of emotion which was without parallel in American politics."

While Republicans hailed the speech as a masterpiece, Democrats called it "soap opera." But no one disputed that it had been phenomenally effective. The RNC was flooded with telegrams, letters, and telephone calls which, by week's end, reached two million. The mail was 350 to 1 in favor of keeping Nixon on the ticket.

Editorial comment on the "Checkers" speech varied widely. The New York Post stated that "the corn overshadowed the drama," and that the question still unanswered was "whether it is ethical, defensible, or desirable for a member of the U.S. Senate to accept an 'expense fund' from members of wealthy special-interest groups that have a direct stake in the legislative business of the Senate."

The New York Journal American saw it differently: "Senator Nixon spoke from his heart in an eloquent and manly explanation of his financial affairs down to the last detail. He was fighting against what…amounted to a colossal smear…He was, in our opinion, simply magnificent."

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, "Only a man of colossal nerve would undertake to convert the liability of his 'trust fund' into an asset by arguing with a straight face that he used it to save the taxpayers' money."

And the Dallas Morning News stated, "…no one who heard his frank talk to his country Tuesday night could fail to recognize that the man who faced his critics was the sort of he-man who has made the country what it is."

CBS Board Chairman William S. Paley once stated that 1952 was the first election year in which television was "a dominating factor," and "the degree to which it shaped the mind and behavior of the individual American voter, the electorate as a whole, and the candidates themselves, still remains to be fully comprehended." He called television "a contributing factor of enormous weight" in achieving a record voter turnout of 63 million. According to the Nielsen Television Index, the Nixon financial explanation was the most widely viewed event of the 1952 campaign.

Nixon had commanded the attention of "the largest television audience ever for any campaign speech," according to Kurt and Gladys Lang in their book Politics and Television, and had used the medium artfully to reach millions of hearts. Some observers have gone so far as to delve into the symbolism he used. Media critic Gilbert Seldes posed the question, "Did the camera panning over to Mrs. Nixon add the image of 'Whistler's Mother' (the pose was similar) to the verbal stimulus of Nixon's emphasis on 'Pat' and March 17 as her birthday?" The Langs also pointed out that Nixon's television appearance had transformed an issue of political morality into an issue of personal honesty and likability. This effect was revealed in "man in the street" reactions:

"The people who own dogs like I do are for Nixon. That story about the dog for his children made me love him."

"Nixon was so utterly sincere that no one could doubt his honesty."

September 23, 1952 was the day that a revolutionary new reality--the triumph of image and personality over ideas and substance in the television age--arrived to change the face of American politics forever. While "likability" is a factor that defies measurement, a strong case can be made that the matinee-idol charm of Presidents Reagan and Clinton helped both of them to win two terms and to weather the multiple scandals of their administrations. In the same vein, Al Gore's defeat of George W. Bush in three presidential-election debates was overshadowed by the negative focus on Gore's mannerisms and personality, ultimately working in Bush's favor. The likability factor was also dramatically evident in a New York Times-CBS poll taken last July-nearly 60 percent of respondents believed Bush wasn't coming clean on his controversial Harken Oil dealings, yet the same poll gave Bush a 70-percent approval rating.

Kurt and Gladys Lang also noted, "While there was much criticism of Nixon's unscrupulous use of theatrics, his 'soap-opera' appeal, the low level of intelligence at which he pitched his defense, and the use of show business methods in politics, no one could deny that his political technique had been effective. But what about 'appealing' one's case to the great American 'jury,' when there were no rules of evidence? Was television's capacity for revealing the truth so inescapable?"

The use of emotion-inciting propaganda techniques in a medium whose effects were so immediate had arguably created an instance of what legendary journalist Walter Lippmann called "mob law by modern electronics." Lippmann expressed dismay that a television audience was allowed to be judge of charges "so serious that for five days General Eisenhower reserved his own judgment on whether to clear him or condemn him." According to Lippmann, the personal defense should have been given to Eisenhower, not to the television audience. "What the viewers should have been given was General Eisenhower's decision, backed by a full and objective account of the facts and the points of law and of morals which are involved."

Nixon's broadcast truly overshadowed and even dissolved his scandal, as he succeeded in making the average voter-the citizen with a mortgage, bills, and pet dog-identify with his own financial predicament as a young legislator. Adding to this his emotional assertion that his integrity had been questioned and that he was deeply in trouble, he won the sympathy and support of millions, transforming himself from a liability into what Life called "a new force in the party with a prestige seldom enjoyed by a vice-presidential candidate." The half-hour speech still referred to by the name of a cocker spaniel worked an unlikely miracle almost certainly unmatched by any campaign speech in American politics before or since.

American Social Policy in the 1960’s and 1970’s

As the decade of the 1960s began, the United States had the “highest mass standard of living” in world history. 1 The strong American postwar economy of the late 1940s and 1950s continued into the 1960s. In fact, from 1940 to 1960, the U.S. gross national product increased fivefold. 2 There were several reasons for this economic growth. As previously discussed, the military spending during World War II finally pulled the economy out of the Great Depression. The temporary curtailment in production of many consumer products during the war resulted in a burst of consumer demand at war’s end. Servicemen rushed home to take a job, buy a car, purchase a home in the suburbs, and start a family. This led to a “baby boom” and further consumer demand for products. During this period, growing U.S. corporations were well positioned to meet both domestic and foreign demand for products, given the crumbled economic infrastructure of foreign competitors such as Japan and Germany. Military spending during the “Cold War” rivalry with the Soviet Union added further to this economic expansion, creating a formidable “military-industrial complex” in the United States. 3

Leading intellectuals began to deliberate on the nature of this society and the impact it was having on American citizens. In 1958, economist John Kenneth Galbraith published “The Affluent Society” in which he described the growing power of American corporations, their success at producing material goods, their ability to create consumer demand through advertising, and the growing “New Class” of highly educated business and professional people for whom work was no longer dirty and menial, but interesting and rewarding. 4 Galbraith argued that, in the old world, poverty was an “all-pervasive fact” of life, but that in the contemporary United States, social and economic policies should be based on the fact that “the ordinary individual has access to amenities – foods, entertainment, personal transportation, and plumbing – in which not even the rich rejoiced a century ago.” 5

Four years later, in 1962, social critic (and Socialist) Michael Harrington chose to emphasize “The Other America” and its “culture of poverty.” 6 This, he argued, was a land of between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 relatively invisible poor people, the unskilled workers, the migrant farm workers, minorities, people for whom work was sporadic, demeaning, and demoralizing. To be sure, the other America is not impoverished in the same sense as those poor nations where millions cling to hunger as a defense against starvation. This country has escaped such extremes. That does not change the fact that tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human decency. If these people are not starving, they are hungry, and sometimes fat with hunger, for that is what cheap foods do. They are without adequate housing and education and medical care. But even more basic, this poverty twists and deforms the spirit. The American poor are pessimistic and defeated, and they are victimized by mental suffering to a degree unknown in Suburbia. 7

Civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., explaining the cause of the 1965 riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles, also focused on the poor in a land of plenty. I believe what happened in Los Angeles was of grave national significance. What we witnessed in the Watts area was the beginning of a stirring of a deprived people in a society who had been by-passed by the progress of the previous decade. I would minimize the racial significance and point to the fact that these were the rumblings of discontent from the “have-nots” within the midst of an affluent society. 8

In the early 1960s, poverty for a family of four was officially defined as living on an income of less than $3,000.>sup>9 Populations at high risk of poverty in the 60s included rural Americans, minorities, low-paid workers, and female-headed families. (The poverty status of older Americans improved considerably during the 60s thanks to increases in Social Security benefits.) To illustrate, in 1966, the percentage of rural Americans in poverty was 19 percent, compared to 14 percent for urban Americans. In that same year, the percent of nonwhite Americans in poverty was 41 percent, in contrast to 12 percent of white Americans. Furthermore, 32 percent of poor families in 1967 contained a head of the household that worked full-time, and another 25 percent of poor “breadwinners” worked part-time. What is more, many poor female heads of households, because of child-rearing duties and lack of child care, could not work outside the home, leaving 11 million of the poor in 1963 in these families.

The Political Agenda

Kennedy and the New Frontier

Democrat John F. Kennedy won a close presidential election over the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon, in 1960. Kennedy, the first Catholic President in American history, won by 2/10 of 1 percent of the popular vote. 10 Much like the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Albert Gore, the 1960 election was so close that there was talk of a recount in certain disputed states, but Nixon discouraged the effort, noting how impractical and disruptive a recount would be, and declaring, “No one steals the presidency of the United States.” 11

John Kennedy was often criticized for his wealthy father’s heavy financing of his political campaigns. Showing his sense of humor during public speeches, John (called “Jack” by relatives and friends) would pretend to have just received a wire from his father. Reading it to the audience, John would say: “Dear Jack, Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary – I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide victory.” 12

Although a Democrat and an activist relative to his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy at first did not share the passion for social reform characteristic of traditional Roosevelt Democratic supporters. Given his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. was FDR’s Ambassador to England, Kennedy appeared more interested in foreign affairs than domestic policy. 13

In any case, most of Kennedy’s legislative agenda, called “the New Frontier,” was not approved by Congress during his lifetime. The reasons for this included his congressional inexperience and low-status with older politicians in Congress. 14

In getting elected, Kennedy, to a significant extent, had circumvented the traditional political process and appealed directly to the American people through the media. His career in Congress (or any political position) had not been long or distinguished, typical qualifications for a serious presidential bid.

Yet, both John and his father were familiar with Hollywood and the modern media. 15 Most television viewers who watched the first 1960 debate between candidates Kennedy and Nixon thought that Kennedy with his movie star appearance had won, while radio listeners gave the edge to Nixon. As such, John Kennedy became the first made-for-television presidential candidate. But there was more than the television advantage. The Kennedy campaign adroitly used his photogenic qualities to appeal to the editors and readers of many popular magazines. During the campaign, the nation’s newsstands were filled with positive articles on Kennedy, his wife, and family.

And there was more to Kennedy than glamour. Setting a trend in modern American politics, the Kennedy family was the first to use private polling to ascertain local voter concerns during the campaign. 16 As a result, Kennedy was able to directly address key issues of local communities as he traveled the nation in search of the presidency. These advantages in addition to the Kennedy family wealth got him elected, but Congressional leaders, given the razor-thin victory, saw no significant mandate for Kennedy’s legislative agenda.

Despite this disadvantage, the Kennedy Administration did enjoy some legislative success. 17 The Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 was the country’s first major job training program. Also, the Kennedy Administration increased federal funding to local welfare departments for casework, job training, and job placement through passage in 1962 of the Public Welfare Amendments to the Social Security Act (also known as the “Social Service Amendments”). Reflecting a stronger economy than the 1930s, the focus on job training was more conservative than Franklin Roosevelt’s emphasis on public employment during the Great Depression. It should also be noted that the Kennedy Administration allowed states to include two-parent, unemployed families in their AFDC programs. The change was called Aid to Families with Dependent Children – Unemployed Parent, or simply, AFDC-UP.

During his campaign, Kennedy had visited the rural poverty areas of Appalachia. (A famous photo contrasts a handsome, well-polished Kennedy standing in front of a destitute Appalachian family on its front porch.) 18 Once elected, Kennedy created the Area Redevelopment Agency in 1961. 19 This agency provided support in the form of loans, subsidies, and public works to local businesses in poverty areas such as Appalachia.

The Kennedy family had also been sensitized to needs of people with mental illness, given that one of John’s sisters had suffered with this problem. Consequently, the Community Mental Health Centers Act was passed in 1963. 20 This act provided federal funds to public or private nonprofit organizations for construction, and later staffing, of community mental health centers providing outpatient and prevention services.

Another Kennedy legislative success was the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act of 1961. 21 This program, although small and less well known, became a model for many of the Great Society programs. It sought to reduce juvenile delinquency by providing federal funding for local demonstration projects (such as “Mobilization for Youth” in New York) that created opportunities for youth education and training. These opportunities would be created through a comprehensive and rationally planned set of services to youth and their neighbors. These services might include individual, family, and group work as well as community organization.

Furthermore, in 1962, the Kennedy Administration passed tax credits for business investment and increased business depreciation allowances. 22 These policy changes, along with an income tax cut passed in 1964, contributed to the continued economic growth of the 1960s.

The night of his nomination for President, Kennedy decided to select Senator Lyndon Johnson from Texas as his Vice Presidential running mate. Some people close to Kennedy were shocked and angry with the selection. When confronted, Kennedy responded: “I’m 43 years old and I’m the healthiest candidate for President in the United States… I’m not going to die in office. So the vice presidency doesn’t mean anything.” 23 Four years later in November of 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Although his legislative successes were few, Kennedy created a significant policy agenda before his death for his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ). 24 This agenda included legislation dealing with civil rights, poverty, food stamps, health care, public school aid, and further tax reform. All of these were Kennedy initiatives in various stages of progress when he was assassinated in 1963.

Kennedy and Johnson, as a result, turned out to be a great team for the development of social programs. Kennedy created the agenda. He and his advisers were the intellectuals, the idea generators, the brains behind the legislative proposals. 25 In fact, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, the long-time Speaker of the House, believed that one of Kennedy’s greatest achievements as President was the talented people he brought to government.

Lyndon Johnson, who scoffed at intellectualism, subsequently pushed Kennedy’s agenda through Congress. Johnson became the idea champion before Congress, the political muscle needed to pass legislation in the 1960s. 26 In contrast to Kennedy, Johnson had much congressional experience and knew how to get things done in Congress. He consulted many members of Congress during the legislative process. He gave credit to individual members of Congress for legislative successes. In short, Johnson was a better “politician” than was Kennedy in the traditional sense of negotiation and compromise. The result was the successful passage of much federal legislation during the Johnson Administration.

Johnson and the Great Society

President Lyndon Johnson significantly expanded the federal partnership in American social welfare, a partnership of the federal government with private and other public institutions to promote social welfare. As discussed in earlier chapters, when traditional institutions in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors failed during the Great Depression, the federal government under President Franklin Roosevelt was forced to create new institutional relationships in an attempt to solve the crisis. That is, Roosevelt was forced to establish a significant role for the federal government in maximizing social welfare throughout the country. The “Great Society,” as Johnson called his legislative agenda, greatly expanded this role.

The agenda of the Great Society consisted of numerous pieces of legislation. The first, and perhaps most important, was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When Johnson took office, the “Civil Rights Movement” was already well underway through court action and the voluntary efforts of various groups in the nonprofit sector. In 1954, the Supreme Court had ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. 27 Then in 1955, the refusal of an African American woman named Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white rider on a Montgomery Alabama bus lead to a “boycott” of all public buses in that city by African Americans. The Montgomery Improvement Association, headed by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the successful boycott, in which African Americans refused to spend their money on bus transportation until the buses were desegregated.

This civil rights victory led to further efforts to challenge segregation in southern states. African American college students began to use a “sit-in” strategy to desegregate lunch counters in stores across the south, refusing to leave their seats until served or jailed.28 In 1961, eleven youth calling themselves “Freedom Riders” began a protest of segregated bus stations and other discriminatory interstate travel laws. Then, in 1963, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by King, and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights lead a campaign to protest segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, the largest industrial city in the South. King’s coalition used a nonviolent strategy, employing peaceful mass marches, sit-ins, and business boycotts to achieve their objectives. His advocacy effort attracted media attention nationwide (indeed, worldwide), forcing the cooperation of the federal government in enforcing African American civil rights.

Jailed during the Birmingham campaign, King wrote a famous letter to a group of clergy that had publicly criticized King’s coalition for moving too quickly for social change. Here is part of his letter written in response while in jail:

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sister and brothers at whim… when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority
beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”… when your first name becomes “nigger…” when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” 29

King believed public pressure generated from the Birmingham demonstrations contributed greatly to the Johnson Administration’s passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 30 The act promoted black voting rights by outlawing poll taxes and literacy tests. It also called for desegregation of public facilities and prohibited employment discrimination in organizations receiving federal money. To oversee the employment requirements, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established. In addition, the U.S. Attorney General was given the right to file suits to desegregate schools. A weakness of the legislation was that enforcement was done on a case-by-case basis (i.e., individual law suits). This feature of the bill made it more difficult to enforce antidiscrimination.

To expedite legal action, the Civil Rights Act of 1965 was passed. 31 This act gave the federal government the right to presume discrimination in any state (or its subdivisions) where less than 50% of minorities voted in the latest federal election. The act also presumed discrimination in any area using screening tests such as literacy tests. In these cases, federal authorities could directly administer elections. Within one week from the bills signing, the federal Justice Department had filed suits to have poll taxes voided in Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama. 32 In addition, voter screening tests were suspended in several states.

Did You Know?

The Reverend Martin Luther King credited the civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama with the passing of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Indeed, President Johnson encouraged King to go ahead with the march in an effort to build mass public support for the legislation. 33 They both hoped no one would get hurt, but Alabama state troopers used tear gas, clubs, and whips to stop the march. Television coverage of the graphic violence served to generate support for the civil rights legislation, just as Johnson and King had hoped it would. In any case, the 1965 Civil Rights Act is a clear example of government and nonprofit voluntary groups working in partnership to produce social change.

A third major piece of legislation passed during the Johnson Administration was Medicare (Title 18 of the Social Security Act). 34 Medicare made health care more affordable for older Americans. The mandatory part of the program, Part A, covered various hospital costs and was financed by a payroll tax on employers and employees. Another characteristic of the bill is that it required no means test (i.e., no income requirements for eligibility). Some of its weaker characteristics were its failure to cover many chronic or long-term conditions. Furthermore, it did not cover preventative and outreach services and contained few cost controls.

To assist the poor with health care, the Johnson Administration passed Medicaid (Title 19 of the Social Security Act). 35 This legislation was funded through matching grants with states. States had to provide emergency care and certain other basic services. In addition, each state had to accept people receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Beyond these requirements, it was left to each state to determine eligibility requirements and any additional services. The weaknesses of Medicaid were similar to those of Medicare. It did not promote outreach and preventative services and there were few cost controls in the legislation.

A fifth major piece of legislation passed as part of Johnson’s Great Society was the Older Americans Act of 1965. Title 3 of this act authorized the creation of a national network of Area Agencies on Aging. These agencies coordinate and subsidize services such as homecare and nutrition programs for older Americans.

The Johnson Administration also passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. 36 Johnson, a former public school teacher, had been sensitized to the needs of low-income schools working in Texas. This act provided federal assistance to low-income public school districts. In so doing, the legislation allowed private schools to share books and supplies with public schools.

Other Great Society programs included the Work Incentive Program and the Food Stamp Program. The Work Incentive Program was part of the welfare amendment of 1967. This program funded training programs and child care for women on welfare. 37 It was one of the first punitive pieces of welfare reform in that clients could be cut off from AFDC if they refused job training or employment. Yet, the program allowed clients to keep part of their employment earnings without a reduction in benefits. Also, as stated, the Johnson Administration passed the Food Stamp Act, which established a Food Stamp Program to assist the poor in purchasing food. This program was later expanded, standardized (in terms of eligibility), and made mandatory on all states during the Nixon Administration.

The centerpiece of Johnson’s Great Society legislative agenda, however, was the “War On Poverty.” This antipoverty legislation, officially entitled The Economic Opportunity Act of 1965, consisted of several programs including Job Corps and the Neighborhood Youth Corps. 38 Job corps provided urban school dropouts with alternative educational and training programs, while the Neighborhood Youth Corps provided part-time jobs to youth in local agencies.

The War on Poverty also offered a Work-Study Program that provided poor college students with campus jobs. 39 In addition, the Volunteers in Service to America program, better known as “VISTA,” was initiated. VISTA was a domestic version of the popular Peace Corps program. Instead of sending Americans to work in foreign countries for a stipend, VISTA sent them to do community organizing in poor U.S. neighborhoods. Furthermore, the “War” included legal aid to the poor and the creation of medical clinics in poor neighborhoods.

The most controversial piece of the War On Poverty was the “Community Action Programs,” referred to as “CAP” agencies. 40 Housed in the Office of Economic Opportunity, these CAP agencies were given several objectives: to plan and coordinate local services for the needy, to fund and deliver certain services (such as the preschool program, Head Start), and to advocate for the poor. Not only were the CAP agencies supposed to advocate for the poor, they were instructed to encourage “maximum feasible participation” of the poor in their programs. Maximum feasible participation of the poor was viewed as a way to bridge social reform and individual change. More specifically, proponents reasoned that empowerment through participation in social change activities would lead to better mental health for the individual. To promote empowerment and maximum feasible participation of the poor, many of the CAP agencies employed paraprofessionals from their neighborhoods and client populations.

Although CAP programs such as Head Start have proven very successful over time, the CAP agencies suffered from several weaknesses. 41 Their objectives proved to be too broad, and at times, contradictory, therefore confusing the mission of the agencies. Were they a planning agency or an advocacy agency or a direct service agency? This ambiguity led to problems in implementing the programs at the local level. To illustrate, the Johnson Administration wanted to reduce welfare dependency, while clients used Great Society legal aid services to challenge welfare denials. What is more, many CAP agencies suffered from poor management practices, including inefficiency, patronage, and corruption.

The CAP agencies were indicative of the weaknesses of the Great Society legislation in general. Johnson wanted to be a great president, even greater than his hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, although many social programs were established under Johnson, his administration did not pay enough attention to adequate funding and proper implementation. 42 Fewer programs, better funded and implemented may have been more effective in the long run for American social welfare. Instead, many Americans got the impression that the federal government was just “throwing money” at social problems. This perception, along with Johnson’s prolonging of the Vietnam War, turned popular opinion against him and undermined his Great Society programs. In the end, he decided not to run for reelection.

Yet, those close to Johnson maintain that his commitment to the poor and civil rights was genuine. 43 He accomplished in civil rights and national health care what Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal did not. In so doing, millions of needy Americans have benefited from the right to vote, Medicare, Medicaid, legal aid, Head Start, student financial aid, and other Great Society programs.

Critical Analysis: Was the Johnson Presidency a Failure?

Some historians consider the presidency of Lyndon Johnson to be a failure, but is this a fair and accurate assessment? True, Johnson significantly expanded the United State’s war in Vietnam, stating: “I am not going to be the President who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went meaning communist.” 44 Yet, at least four presidents – Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon – can share some of the blame for the Vietnam War.45 They all contributed to American involvement in the Vietnam War. In any case, haven’t the Great Society programs helped millions of Americans at risk of racial discrimination and poverty? These programs weren’t perfectly designed in hind sight, but weren’t they critically needed? Does foreign policy failure outweigh domestic policy progress when evaluating a presidency?

Nixon and the Federal Social Welfare Partnership

Richard M. Nixon succeeded Lyndon Johnson as President of the United States in 1968. Although a Republican who was highly critical of Johnson’s Great Society, Nixon continued expanding the federal partnership in social welfare. 46 Nixon’s policy views on the Great Society reflected the anger and resentment of the middle class and many local community leaders with the concept of maximum feasible participation of the poor in local services. That is, the practical realities of empowering the poor to take more control of local community institutions and services threatened local community politicians and administrators, leaving a resentment that Nixon capitalized on politically.

President Richard Nixon detested social workers! He felt that they coddled the undeserving poor. He also felt that many of the Great Society services were ineffective programs that served bureaucrats and social workers more than the country. 47

At the same time, however, Nixon sought to build voter support for his presidency and the Republican Party by enacting more and better social legislation than the Democratic Party. 48 He did so by promoting legislation that helped the working poor and what America has historically viewed as the “deserving poor” – older Americans, people with disabilities, and children. Nixon pursued his strategy, to a considerable extent, by adding expansive amendments to Democratic policy proposals, by out-bidding them on certain pieces of legislation that assisted the working and/or deserving poor. In short, he tried to beat the Democrats at their own game as he saw it. The result was the passage of a considerable amount of health and human service legislation during Nixon’s presidency and a substantial addition to the federal government’s responsibility for social welfare.

Legislation enacted by the Nixon Administration included the Supplemental Security Income program in 1972. 49 This legislation brought Old Age Assistance, Aid to the Blind, and Aid to the Disabled under the sole administration of the Social Security Administration of the federal government. Most of the cost for the program was assumed by the federal government. Supplemental Security Income, better known as “SSI,” provided assistance to people with mental and physical disabilities. This clientele included deinstitutionalized mental health patients. An important point to remember with SSI is that Nixon, the Great Society critic, greatly expanded the number of people receiving assistance in the various categorical services that comprise SSI.

Nixon also expanded the federal government’s role in the Food Stamp Program by passing reforms to the program in 1970 and 1973. 50 He made funding and administrative oversight of the program a responsibility of the federal government. In doing this, Nixon established national eligibility standards for Food Stamps which included the working poor. Nixon also made participation in the Food Stamp Program mandatory for all states.

During his first term, Nixon also approved a 20 percent increase in Social Security benefits and indexed Social Security to inflation. 51 This meant that as the cost of living went up, benefits would also rise. Unfortunately, the legislation did not include a corresponding increase in the payroll tax to fund the benefit increase. This, along with double digit inflation and an increase in retired people per worker, contributed to an eventual funding crisis in the Social Security Program.

Nixon also pioneered in the use of Revenue Sharing and Block Grants. 52 “General Revenue Sharing” provided federal funds to local government for general operating expenses, while “Special Revenue Sharing” (including Block Grants) contributed federal funds to local government for broad categorical areas.

Examples of Nixon’s Special Revenue Sharing were the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) and the Housing and Community Development Act. CETA was a consolidation of job training programs, some of which included public service jobs. (Hence, CETA funds could only be used by local government for this purpose.) The 1974 Housing and Community Development Act contained the Community Development Block Grant Program. These federal grants could be used by local communities for neighborhood improvement.

Title XX of the Social Security Act, passed during the Nixon Administration, was also designed as a block grant. This legislation contributed federal funds to states for a broad array of social services – including critically needed services such as child care and domestic violence shelters. (It should be noted here that many local private nonprofit health and human service providers ultimately received these funds through service contracts with state government – part of the federal, state, and local partnership in social welfare!)
Nixon was also the first president to pass legislation which used the tax system to give resources to the poor. This was the “Earned Income Tax Credit.” 53 The credit was a payment to the working poor with dependent children of up to $400 based on a percentage of their earned income for the year.

Other legislation passed during the Nixon Administration included the Rehabilitation Act (1973), the Education for All Handicapped Act (1975), the Health Maintenance Act (1973), the Family Planning Services and Population Act (1974), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970), the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act (1974), and the Child Abuse Prevention Act (1974). 54 The Rehabilitation Act led to major efforts to make buildings, public transportation, and jobs accessible to people with disabilities, while the Education for All Handicapped Act subsequently “mainstreamed” students with disabilities in public schools. A bill that would lead to significant changes in the U.S. health care system, the Health Maintenance Act provided funding for the development of Health Maintenance Organizations. Another Nixon health bill, the Family Planning Services and Population Act helped low-income women obtain family planning services. And the Occupational Safety and Health Act provided federal oversight of safety standards in industry through the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, better known as “OSHA.”

The final two pieces of legislation dealt with child welfare-related issues. In the early 70s, there was a growing concern in America with child abuse. Part of this concern was the physical abuse of children guilty of minor delinquencies, but institutionalized in adult facilities. Consequently, amendments to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act in 1974 offered support to local juvenile diversion services for runaway and truant youth, while the Child Abuse Prevention Act provided funding to universities and demonstration projects for research on child abuse and neglect.

It should also be noted that Nixon took some positive steps on the issue of civil rights. 55 For example, he followed through on desegregation of southern schools. In addition, the Nixon Administration’s “Philadelphia Plan” promoted affirmative action in the employment of women and minorities. Yet, Nixon’s agenda in his second term became more conservative with respect to federal spending on programs that might benefit these groups. Public opinion polls showed that many white ethnic, blue-collar, and middle-class groups resented the militant tactics of activist groups and opposed further social spending. Thus, during his second term, Nixon attempted to focus more on the concerns of this “silent majority” – issues such as inflation, government spending, and ironically, crime. Facing the possibility of impeachment because of his involvement in the cover-up of a burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Nixon was forced to resign the presidency in 1974. 56

Discussion: Politics, Social Workers, and Ethics

The June 17th 1972 burglary that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon took place in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. hence, the scandal came to be known as “Watergate.” 57 It took place during Nixon’s campaign for re-election. One of the men arrested in the break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters, James McCord, was a “security consultant” for the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) and “security coordinator” for the “Committee to Re-elect the President” meaning Nixon. As later revealed, Watergate was only part of a vast array of break-ins, wiretaps, and sabotage connected to Nixon. 58 Nixon’s rationalization of the Watergate burglary was that this type of political behavior was not unique to him, except that he got caught. In fact, in his first congressional campaign, all of his pamphlets were stolen in a break-in at Republican Party Headquarters in California. The pamphlets, costing $3,000, had been purchased with money received from his wife’s sale of a piece of land. 59 Was Nixon’s conduct in political office pretty much standard or was it significantly different and unethical? Does gaining and maintaining public office in America often involve unethical behavior? In any case, what lessons and concerns should social workers involved in politics derive from the Nixon story?

Developments in the Social Sector

The Women’s Movement

The Civil Rights Movement of the 60s helped to rekindle the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. 60 Women have often been empowered to organize around their own specific issues by prior involvement in other social movements. Women were very active in the Civil Rights Movement just as they were in the Abolition Movement, the Temperance Movement, and the Antipauper Movement.

But the Civil Rights Movement was not the only factor contributing to the growth in the Women’s Movement. 61 Other factors included the publication of Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique.” This best seller discussed “the problem that had no name.” This problem was the lack of identity of women in America. That is, American women at the time gained recognition only through the achievements of their husbands and children. For middle class women in the 50s and 60s, working outside the home was not an option. Thus the homemaker living in the dream home in the suburbs with all the latest labor-saving appliances was, in fact, suffering from depression.

Another influential book was Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, published in 1975. This book discussed the various ways that women throughout history have been the victims of domestic violence and rape. The prevention of violence against women, therefore, became a key issue for the women’s movement.

Another issue underlying the women’s movement was discrimination in the workplace. Those women who did work outside the home were paid a lower wage than men doing the same work – about 69 cents for every dollar the male was paid. Furthermore, the 1973 Roe verses Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion and the fact that the Great Society had failed to adequately address women’s issues served to galvanize women across America. These kind of issues came up again and again in the growing number of women’s groups and women’s studies courses. The result was a major campaign to pass an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. In the end, the Amendment was not passed, but the campaign helped women to see their common interests, leading to successful efforts in the 1980s and 90s for increased women’s rights and services.

Personal Profiles: Fannie Lou Hamer and Shirley Chisholm

One of the most high profile civil rights activists of the 60s was a woman named Fannie Lou Hamer. Born in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie dropped out of school at age 6 to help support her family by picking cotton.62 Yet, during her civil rights career, she would receive honorary degrees from two colleges, including the prestigious Howard University.

In August of 1962, Hamer tried to register to vote, but was rejected when she failed to interpret a section of the Constitution correctly. 63 She finally passed the screening test in December of 1962. However, when she tried to vote in August of 1963, she was rejected again, because she had not paid a poll tax for two years. This occurred after she had been arrested in June of 1963 in Winona, Mississippi while trying to integrate a segregated bus terminal with a busload of other African Americans. While in jail, she was severely beaten by two inmates on orders from police officers.

Showing incredible courage, Hamer continued her community organizing around voter registration and other social issues throughout her life. In September of 1965, she was asked to testify at a closed hearing of the House Elections Committee. During her testimony, Hamer stated that if “Negroes were allowed to vote freely, I could be sitting up here with you right now as a Congresswoman.” 64

A second prominent female activist in the 1960s was Shirley Chisholm. Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York to immigrants from Barbados and Guiana, Chisholm went on to earn a Masters Degree in Education from Columbia University. 65 She was elected to Congress in 1969 while emphasizing such social issues as job training, equal education, adequate housing, enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, child care, and an end to the Vietnam War. In 1971, Chisholm ran for President of the United States, becoming the first viable female candidate of color. She ended up receiving 151 delegate votes for the presidential nomination. After the campaign, Chisholm stated, “What I hope most, is that now there will be others who will
feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male.” 66

Impact on Professional Social Work

By the 1960s, social workers were no longer leaders in developing social policy on a national level. As discussed previously, social work was more concerned with casework and professionalization in the 1950s. Therefore, with the possible exception of H.E.W. Secretary Wilbur Cohen and social workers involved in a few influential projects such as Mobilization for Youth, social work, as a profession, was not at the forefront of policymaking during the Great Society as it had been in the New Deal. According to John Ehrenreich, there were very few articles on civil rights in Social Work before 1963. 67 Those most influential in 1960s social policy, people such as Michael Harrington and the Reverend Martin Luther King, were not social workers.

In fact, the profession of social work came under attack. 68 The National Welfare Rights Organization, established in 1967, advocated for the rights of public welfare clients. The target of this advocacy was often social workers in administrative positions in the public welfare bureaucracy. In addition, social work students began to protest against schools of social work. Given key social issues such as civil rights and welfare rights during the 1960s, many students believed social work curriculums to be irrelevant. As a result, schools of social work started adding courses in community organization, social planning, as well as race, cultural, and oppression. Furthermore, social work courses started to include more information on systems theory, prevention, and the causes of social problems.

During the 1960s, casework, itself, was attacked for either ignoring the poor or controlling the poor. 69 Those who criticized casework for ignoring the poor pointed to all of the caseworkers serving the middle class in family service agencies around the country. The poor, critics contended, did not benefit from these agencies. Those who claimed that casework was overly controlling of the poor based their claims on “social control theory.” They pointed to America’s system of philanthropy, of services based on the wealthy giving to the poor, as another form of colonialism – philanthropic colonialism. In response, schools of social work began emphasizing “client advocacy” and “radical casework.”

Later, the Women’s Movement also had an impact on professional social work. The theoretical base of casework (with its heavy Freudian emphasis) was criticized for being sexist. 70 In any case, during the 60s and early 70s, social work once again began to reflect the sociopolitical environment at the time. This environment emphasized systemic causes of social problems and social action to remedy these problems.

We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Reuters.

This is part of a special series about great rivalries: between tech titans, sports franchises, and even dinosaur hunters. Read about the series here.

In 1962, Avis was in search of a new advertising campaign. Since its inception, the car rental company had trailed behind the market leader, Hertz. So the ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach decided to embrace Avis’ second-place status as a sneaky way to tout the brand’s customer service. “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder,” went the new tagline. “Or else.”

The “We Try Harder” ads were an instant hit. Within a year, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million—the first time it had been profitable in more than a decade. From 1963 to 1966, as Hertz ignored the Avis campaign, the market-share percentage gap between the two brands shrunk from 61–29 to 49–36. Terrified Hertz executives projected that by 1968 Avis might need a new ad campaign—because it would no longer be No. 2.

The rivalry between Avis and Hertz dates back to the mid-1940s, when Air Force officer Warren Avis, as he traveled around the country and overseas, spotted an unexploited niche in the rental car market. Avis’ killer idea: Put the cars inside airports. At the time, most rental lots—including Hertz’s—were located in downtowns. Avis thought he could cater to the growing ranks of business travelers who wished to fly into cities, drive to a series of meetings, and fly out the same day. “Even as we grew by leaps and bounds, the Hertz people vowed up and down that our approach wouldn’t work,” Avis recalled in his 1986 autobiography, Take a Chance to Be First. That eventually changed. “They jumped in and began to copy everything that we had pioneered. I honestly don’t think that Hertz has come up with an original idea yet in the airport car-rental field.”

Avis’ book is chock full of other truculent jabs at his sworn corporate enemy. Though Avis had sold his namesake firm and exited the rental business 32 years before, his loyalty remained fierce. He accuses Hertz of renting “near-jalopies,” caricatures “the Hertz mentality,” and describes the market-share struggle as “the war with Hertz.” But it was the “We Try Harder” ad campaign, launched well after Mr. Avis had left the scene, that kicked the car rental race into another gear. Avis ads never called out Hertz by name, but the accusations were implicit. “Avis can’t afford not to be nice.” “Avis can’t afford to make you wait.” “Avis can’t afford dirty ashtrays.” The campaign would run for the next 50 years, all over the globe.

Acknowledging any sort of brand weakness used to be anathema to Madison Avenue. Why encourage consumers to wonder why you’re stuck in second place? Better to project unflappable confidence. At the risk of ascribing too much to the dynamics of 1960s gender roles: Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a woman devised the Avis slogan. DDB copywriter Paula Green—a real-life Peggy Olson—came up with the “When you’re only No. 2” construction. It was revolutionary because, as Green said in later interviews, “It went against the notion that you had to brag.” (Green has also acknowledged, in what sounds like a nod to the workplace obstacles she faced, “ ‘We Try Harder’ is somewhat the story of my life.”)

Famed ad man David Ogilvy praised Green’s Avis ads as a feat of “diabolical positioning,” and DDB became known for these judo-style campaigns, in which a foe’s putative strengths are turned against him. When American cars were growing massive and show-offy and comically tail-finned, DDB pitched the Volkswagen Beetle with a now legendary 1961 print ad. “Think Small,” read the copy, with a teensy image of the car floating against an expanse of white space. “It’s ugly but it gets you there,” another VW ad confessed. DDB partner Bill Bernbach had sized up the cultural moment: Americans were weary of earnest, bigger-is-better, 1950s-style consumerism. The audience was receptive to a humble message that tweaked authority.

Even after the ’60s zeitgeist faded, advertisers—particularly those who worked for second-place brands—continued to recognize the genius of the DDB approach. You see it in Pepsi’s long-running tagline, “The choice of a new generation,” which positioned Coke as the choice of establishment fogeys. You saw it in Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl spot, in which a lone, colorful rebel dares to resist a monochromatic horde of IBM users, and in Virgin Airlines’ cheeky campaigns, in which a fun and sexy upstart thumbs its nose at staid and respectable airline brands.

Green’s insight into the power of humility remains influential as well. Consider the Domino’s campaign from a few years back, in which the pizza maker allowed that its crust used to taste like “cardboard.” Or think of ads for the Bing search engine that acknowledged the brand’s perceived inferiority to Google. Both the Domino’s and Bing campaigns came from Crispin Porter + Bogusky I’ve had my issues with CPB’s work, but there’s no doubt the agency knows how to make ads that win attention for its clients.

How does the Avis and Hertz story end? The “We Try Harder” assault went unanswered for years, as Hertz tried to float above the fray. But in 1966—hemorrhaging market share, its back against the wall—Hertz began to fight back. “For years, Avis has been telling you Hertz is No. 1,” read the copy on the first response ad. “Now we’re going to tell you why.”

Further retorts followed. “No. 2 says he tries harder. Than who?” And “Hertz has a competitor who says he’s only No. 2. That’s hard to argue with.” The ads almost immediately stanched the bleeding. Hertz’s “We’re No. 1” slogan, accompanied by a raised index finger, soon infiltrated the larger culture—even getting co-opted by fans at sporting events. The market-share gap stabilized by 1969, settling in at a steady 48–35.

In ensuing decades, the two firms continued to battle. The last year has seen an acquisitions arms race: Hertz bought Dollar Thrifty, and Avis snapped up Zipcar. But the tone has mellowed. Back in the day, these companies were run by car rental guys,” says Neil Abrams, an industry consultant. “Today, neither the Hertz or Avis CEOs grew up in the rental business.” The feud isn’t nearly as personal or intense.

It’s been a half-century since the “We Try Harder” campaign debuted, and Avis never did catch up to Hertz. Instead, Enterprise passed them both. Because Hertz and Avis had focused so fiercely on the airport market, they became vulnerable when first 9/11 and then the recession slammed the air travel industry. Fewer folks deplaning meant fewer customers. The car rental business came full circle: Suddenly, Enterprise’s slew of downtown locations—used by people whose cars are in the shop or who don’t own cars at all—offered a less cyclical, more profitable model. Enterprise made smart agreements with insurance companies, funneling in business from folks in need of loaner cars after auto accidents.

Hertz is No. 2 these days, and Avis lags in third place. It was a terrific 20 th -century rivalry. But in the end, trying harder for five decades straight must have gotten a little exhausting: Last year, Avis finally dropped the “We Try Harder” tagline from its ads.

"The First Civil Right"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate - Transcript
"The First Civil Right," Nixon, 1968

(Music with snare drum and dissonant piano chords)

MALE NARRATOR: It is time for an honest look at the problem of order in the United States. Dissent is a necessary ingredient of change, but in a system of government that provides for peaceful change, there is no cause that justifies resort to violence. Let us recognize that the first civil right of every American is to be free from domestic violence. So I pledge to you, we shall have order in the United States.



"The First Civil Right," Nixon-Agnew Victory Committee, 1968

Video courtesy of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012. (accessed June 27, 2021).


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By 1968, one of the most turbulent years in American history, the number of American troops in Vietnam had risen from 16,000 (in 1963) to more than 500,000. Nightly TV coverage of the "living-room war" ignited an antiwar movement. After a weak showing in the New Hampshire primary, President Johnson shocked the country on March 31 by announcing that he would not seek reelection. Just four days later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, sparking riots in more than 100 cities. In June, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who entered the race late and had not won any primaries, became the Democratic nominee at a tumultuous convention in Chicago marred by disorder inside the convention hall and by the televised spectacle of violent confrontations between police and antiwar protesters.

The Republicans nominated Richard M. Nixon, who was attempting a political comeback after losing the 1960 presidential election and the 1962 California gubernatorial race. Nixon claimed to speak for the "silent majority" of law-abiding citizens whose voices were presumably drowned out amidst the social upheaval, and he promised a return to the stability of the Eisenhower years.

Discontent with major-party candidates led to an independent run by Alabama Governor George Wallace, who waged the most successful third-party candidacy since 1924.

"Vote Like Your Whole World Depended on It"

The centerpiece of the Nixon advertising campaign was a superbly crafted series of spots by filmmaker Eugene Jones. With carefully orchestrated montages of still photographs accompanied by jarring, dissonant music, his ads created an image of a country out of control, with crime on the rise, violence in the streets, and an unwinnable war raging overseas. The ads implicitly linked these problems to the Democratic administration, of which Humphrey was a part.

Nixon’s ad campaign was part of a carefully managed television effort that was detailed in Joe McGinnis’s The Selling of the President 1968. The book made the public aware for the first time of the critical role of consultants and advertising executives in creating a candidate’s image. The campaign designed a strategy by which Nixon appeared only in controlled situations. He limited his public appearances and press conferences, and refused to debate Humphrey. Instead, he appeared in a series of hour-long programs, produced by Roger Ailes, in which he was interviewed live by panels of carefully selected citizens. Nixon occasionally faced tough questions, but the discussions took place in front of partisan audiences from which the press was barred.

"Humphrey-Muskie, Two You Can Trust"

The strategy behind the 1968 Democratic commercials was to convince the public that Hubert Humphrey could be trusted and Richard Nixon could not. While Nixon claimed that he had gained a fresh perspective during his eight years out of public office, the Humphrey ads capitalized on the popular notion that Nixon was an enigmatic figure with little record of public service. The press frequently wondered whether there really was a "New Nixon," and attacked his refusal to reveal the specifics of his "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. As the sitting vice president in an unpopular administration, it was easier, and safer, for Humphrey to attack Nixon than to promote his own accomplishments. His campaign produced several powerful negative ads reminiscent of Johnson’s anti-Goldwater campaign. One spot , which evoked the famous "Daisy Girl" ad by showing images of mushroom cloudes while criticizing Nixon’s opposition to the signing of a nuclear nonproliferation treaty, aired during a broadcast of Dr. Strangelove.

Humphrey’s positive ads stressed his personality, portraying him as a trustworthy, compassionate man with a commitment to domestic issues such as civil rights, education, and Social Security. One spot, "Voting Booth" , openly acknowledged voter apathy, with a narrator wondering aloud about the differences between the candidates, and coming to favor Humphrey only after articulating a lengthy decision-making process.

It was essential for Wallace, the least known candidate, to build public recognition. The Alabama governor appeared in all of his ads, speaking directly from a podium. In simple, straightforward style, Wallace outlined his conservative views, including an opposition to busing as a means of forced integration, a demand for an all-out war on crime, and a call for massive bombing in Vietnam to bring about a quick end to the war.

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