Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator

By Leon Friedman; William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

Discussant: Sallyanne Payton

I am grateful for an opportunity to respond to Professor Graham's very stimulating and informative paper. Professor Graham's central insight, as I understand it, is that the Nixon administration's civil rights policy was characterized by theoretical inconsistency and some political opportunism. The "policy" included a federal commitment to enforcing affirmative action, at the same time that it included the encouragement of a constitutional amendment against busing. It included both a vigorous effort to help Southern school districts dismantle their dual schools [sic] systems and opposition to legislation that would have vested cease-and-desist enforcement powers in the EEOC. The Nixon administration created the Office of Minority Business Enterprise while attempting to weaken the Voting Rights Act. There was the Philadelphia Plan, but at the same time President Nixon made two attempts to place a Southern conservative on the Supreme Court of the United States. On balance, the record cannot be characterized as "liberal," but neither can it be thought of as "conservative," certainly not in the sense in which the nation has experienced a purer conservatism under the Reagan administration. Professor Graham argues that the Nixon record is, taken as a whole, "incoherent," and that what Nixon administration officials lacked was "an enunication of Republican principles to guide their policies."

By way of introduction, I should say that I am a lawyer, and now a law professor. I came from private practice to John Ehrlichman's domestic council staff in April 1971, and served as staff assistant to the president for two years, after which I moved to the Department of Transportation. I was not at the time and have never been a civil rights professional, and civil rights policy was never in my portfolio. However, as one of the two Blacks on the White House staff at the time ( Bob Brown being the other) I did have both the opportunity and, I thought, the obligation to understand what was going on in civil rights, and I participated in the women's movement as one of the Republican women so involved. It is as an interested inside bystander rather than as a participant, therefore, that I respond to Mr. Graham's paper.

Mr. Graham has discovered the eternal truth that events that seem from afar to be planned systematically frequently appear from a closer distance to be random. The latter impression may be as misleading as the former, however, because the pattern of action that one actually observes, and the principles that have guided the actors' selection of alternatives, may be based in unspoken assumptions and implicit world views. A coherent pattern can emerge from discrete actions even though the actors appear to be unaware of the pattern they are creating. I do not propose to argue with Professor Graham's data, only to suggest another way of describing the pattern.

Professor Graham's thesis seems to have been stimulated by his surprise that the Nixon civil rights policy was not as wholly unsatisfactory as he expected to

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