From the Tet offensive, to the Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations, to the student protests sparking up all over the country, 1968 was certainly a tumultuous year in American history. Although there are many to choose from, no event in 1968 was more significant than Richard Nixon’s 1968 election win. The events leading up to and following the 1968 election would captivate the country and usher in a new era of American politics.
Nixon was born in 1913 in Yorba Linda, California, a small community near Whittier. Nixon came from humble beginnings as the son of a small businessman who held various jobs in his youth such as ranch hand, janitor, sweeper, and gas station attendant. Nixon’s hard work and determination earned him a spot at Duke University Law school after his time at Whittier College. Nixon excelled so much at Duke he earned admission into a fraternity for honor students and was even voted president of the university’s bar association. Much like Republican men before him, Nixon had military roots. Shortly after marrying his wife in 1940, Nixon joined the Navy as lieutenant. In 1946 after the war Nixon won a seat in California Congress, and went on to win a seat on the Senate. It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine though as he had embarrassing losses in the 1960 Presidential election as well as the 1962 race for California governor. Nixon certainly had a legendary work ethic and great people skills to be able to excel at the highest level in his law studies. In the 1968 election Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in both the popular vote and electoral college, 31,770,237 to 31,270,533 and 302 to 191 respectively.
Perhaps one of the most exciting moments of Nixon’s presidency came on July 20th 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon. He famously said, “That’s one small step for a man — one giant leap for mankind’.
The moon landing was a big unifying event for the American people. Regardless of gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, nearly everyone in America was glued to their black and white televisions to view what would one day be considered one of the most iconic moments in American.
The landing also represented a big win over the Soviet Union as the United States was in a technological arms race to explore space before our rivals. The United State’s technological advancements to make it to the moon before any other country asserted their dominance in exploring the unknown frontiers of space. The moon landing was such an impressive feat at the time that some believed, and still do to this day, that the moon landing was faked. The moon landing can be seen as the spark that ignited the fire of United States space travel and a real turning point as far as technological advances go.
In 1969 President Nixon issued Executive Order 11478 which was an affirmative action plan that called for equal opportunity hiring practices in the workplace. The Civil Service Commission released a survey on minority group employment, and the numbers certainly supported the notion that Nixon’s affirmative action efforts had paid off. Between November of 1969 and 1970 the number of minorities employed by federal agencies rose by 4,527 while overall federal employment had decreased by 30,107 jobs. In that same time period minority employment in white collar jobs increased by 7,177. The survey also stated that 84% of people who moved up to a particular pay grade during this period were members of minority groups.
While overall employment was going down, minority employment as well as minority wages were increasing. These statistics prove that President Nixon’s affirmative action plan was extremely successful. This affirmative action plan laid the basis for the equal opportunity policies in school admissions as well as places of employment.
The war in Vietnam was at the top of the list of concerns for Nixon when he was elected and he vowed to end the war within a year. He ultimately failed as United States troops were not completely removed until January of 1973 during Nixon’s second term . One of his first moves in regards to Vietnam was the secret B-52 bombings of North Vietnamese camps in Cambodia. Nixon also ordered the military to increase pressure on the battlefield.
Nixon is essentially sending mixed signals here. In all his speeches and public addresses Nixon talks all about how ending the war is his ultimate goal, yet at the beginning of his presidency he increasingly becomes more militant in his Vietnam strategic moves. It’s no wonder the Nixon administration took so long to end the war.
In June of 1969 Nixon began to withdraw troops from Vietnam and would continue to gradually do so until 1973 when all United States troops were officially withdrawn. President Nixon then began what was called the ‘Vietnamization” process, basically building up the South Vietnamese military so that one day they could be self sufficient and take on North Vietnamese opposition on their own. On November 3rd 1969 Nixon delivered his “Silent Majority” speech urging Americans to support a prolonged Vietnam war as the United States very gradually withdraws from Vietnam.
Lots of Americans simply wanted out of Vietnam immediately. They saw the death and destruction the war had caused and didn’t want one more life to be lost. But Nixon, looked at the situation not just from the United State’s point of view but from the South Vietnamese point of view. He knew that the effect of immediate withdrawal would be catastrophic, and instead of abandoning the war effort altogether he puts forth a schedule of gradual withdrawal, to work for a solution that would benefit all parties. Also certainly playing a part in the decision to prolong the war was a fear of the spread of communism, as no president wants to admit defeat in a war against the communists.
On December 14th 1972 Nixon dropped B-52 bombs on North Vietnam in what would be known as the “Christmas Bombings”. These bombings led to a peace agreement being signed on January 23rd 1973 finally ending United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Although the end of the war was somewhat delayed, Nixon did eventually succeed in his goal of ending the Vietnam War.
In 1971 President Nixon launched his war on drugs, but some say this war on drugs had ulterior motives. Nixon’s former Chief Domestic Advisor John Ehrlichman once said, ‘The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did’.
Although Nixon may have helped African Americans with his affirmative action policy, they were clearly a target for the war on drugs. The Nixon administration painted hippies and African Americans as hardcore criminals, and thus could easily and legally destroy the communities that opposed them while maintaining the moral high ground in regards to media coverage.
Looking at it from today’s perspective, the war on drugs is a complete and utter failure. Marijuana, which was once one of most vilified and evil substances in the country is now completely legal in some states. Marijuana is even used to help treat many conditions including opioid addiction. The opioid crisis is probably at its worst at this point in history and gives no indication of slowing down. The war on drugs was started from a place of hatred and bigotry and has been a giant failure.
In the scandal that would ultimately lead to Nixon’s demise as president, on June 17th 1972 burglars were arrested in the office of the Democratic National Committee. They had been caught red handed wiretapping phones and stealing documents. Later it would come out that these burglars were actually connected to Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President. After they were caught Nixon gave thousands of dollars in order to keep them quiet and keep his involvement a secret. Nixon also planned on telling the CIA to interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the break in. After two years of scandal Nixon finally resigned in August of 1974, becoming the first and only president to ever do so.
Much like his vow to end the Vietnam war in a year, Nixon was untruthful and deceitful in his handling of the Watergate scandal. He resigned, but it wasn’t like he had a choice as he was facing almost certain impeachment. His acts to cover up his involvement in the scandal were almost worse than the involvement itself. This horrible abuse of power would tarnish Nixon’s legacy forever.
In conclusion, the Nixon presidency was quite an eventful one. Nixon did many good things such as sending the first man to the moon, and his executive order for affirmative action. But the bad outweighs the good as Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War, started the war on drugs with ulterior motives, and eventually was so enveloped in the Watergate scandal he was forced to resign. Nixon’s failures will live forever in infamy.
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