Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator

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

Part III
The Politics of the Presidency

Richard M. Nixon changed the face of American politics in the five plus years that he held the office of president. Before his disgraceful resignation as a result of Watergate and the humiliating withdrawal from the war in Vietnam, Nixon managed to detach from the Democratic party important constituent groups that had traditionally supported its candidates. He did so despite his own personal stiffness and distance from the voters. Although the election of 1968 was extremely close, with union members, blue-collar workers, Catholic and ethnic voters, and important parts of the South generally supporting Hubert Humphrey, by 1972 that pattern was changed. (Nixon's Southern Strategy in 1968, described in a paper by Glen Moore, presaged the appeal to traditional values that was to become so marked in later years.) The shift of these traditional Democratic groups (and other parts of middle America) to the Republicans was established during the Nixon term and continued into the future, leading to Republican control of the presidency in sixteen out of the next twenty years. Thomas W. Evans, John Herbers, and John H. Kessel analyze these electoral developments.

Whether this shift was planned or not, Nixon and the shrewd political operatives in the White House, led by Charles W. Colson, knew which way the wind was blowing and how to take advantage of the social changes and emotional currents of the time. Michael P. Balzano, Jr., an important aide of Colson's in the Office of Public Liaison, argues that the "New Majority" came to the Republicans because the Democrats had rejected the "achievement ethic" and the merit system, which were at the center of the belief systems of these groups in this country: work hard and you will be rewarded. Democratic support of affirmative action and sexual and racial quotas, its perceived softness on crime and support of permissiveness among the youth, and the excessiveness of the protest movements of the time (seemingly condoned by the Democrats) all undermined and threatened the traditional values of ethnic Americans and union members. They became ripe for Republican appeals to patriotism and the achievement ethic. Colson and Philip K. Straw point out how the Nixon Administration

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