Pat Buchanan: The day Nixon routed the establishment
What are the roots of our present disorder, of the hostilities and hatreds that so divide us? When did we become this us vs. them nation?
Many trace the roots of our uncivil social conflict to the 1960s and the Johnson years when LBJ, victorious in a 61% landslide in 1964, could not, by 1968, visit a college campus without triggering a violent protest.
The morning after his narrow presidential victory in 1968, Richard Nixon said his goal would be to “bring us together.” And in early 1969, he seemed to be succeeding.
His inaugural address extended a hand of friendship to old enemies. He withdrew 60,000 troops from Vietnam. He left the Great Society largely untouched and proposed a Family Assistance Plan for the poor and working class.
America approved. Yet the elites seethed. For no political figure of his time was so reviled and hated by the establishment as was Richard Nixon.
By the fall of 1969, that establishment, which had led us into Vietnam and left 500,000 U.S. troops there as of January 1969, had turned against its own war.
David Broder of The Washington Post was one who saw clearly what was happening: “It is becoming more obvious with every passing day that the men and movement that broke Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in 1968 are out to break Richard Nixon in 1969. The likelihood is great that they will succeed again.”
On Oct. 15, some 250,000 descended on the capital for the largest demonstration in history. A stunned Time declared that, instead of resisting its demands, Nixon should prepare “the country for the trauma of distasteful reversal.”
Time wanted Nixon to declare Vietnam a lost cause.
But by now, Nixon, realizing his presidency was in danger of being broken like LBJ’s had decided to fight.
On Nov. 3, 1969, Nixon delivered an Oval Office address that was carried live on every network. After reciting the case Ike, JFK and LBJ had all made for resisting a Communist takeover of South Vietnam, Nixon laid out his own policy and urged the “great silent majority” to stand by him for peace with honor.
An instant poll found that 70% of the country supported Nixon’s declared policy. A coalition of 300 House members endorsed Nixon’s stand. Liberal Democrats in the Senate rejected Nixon’s policy, but Southern and conservative Democratic senators backed him.
Ten days after the “silent majority” speech, Vice President Spiro Agnew, in Des Moines, launched an assault on the unholy matrimony of media power and liberal bias. Agnew questioned whether the networks near-monopoly over the primary source of information for the American people should be permanently ceded to so tiny and unrepresentative an elite.
JFK’s “best and brightest,” whose hour of power was “Camelot,” were broken on the wheel of Vietnam. After taking us into Southeast Asia, they had washed their hands of their own war and declared it immoral.
So great was the loss of esteem for the establishment among the silent majority, America’s elite would soon cease to call themselves liberals and change their names to “progressives.”
Pat Buchanan is author of “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.”