Richard Nixon’s victory in the 1968 election was not accidental. After losing the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy, and losing a 1962 bid for Governor of California, Nixon worked tirelessly to make himself a candidate who would appeal to mainstream voters. He also campaigned on behalf of other Republican candidates, building support within the growing conservative movement in the Republican Party.
EXAMPLEDuring the 1964 presidential election, Nixon strongly supported conservative Republican candidate Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
Goldwater lost the 1964 election to Lyndon Johnson, whose administration implemented the Great Society reform program.
Goldwater’s rejection of the welfare state, social legislation, and federal spending on domestic programs, along with his support for states’ rights, was popular with a growing number of political and intellectual conservatives, and with white southern politicians who opposed federal efforts to enforce racial integration. Based on Goldwater’s experience, Nixon employed a southern strategy during the 1968 presidential campaign.
Nixon denounced segregation and the denial of the vote to African Americans, but he also maintained that southern states had the right to implement racial equality at their own pace. This message resonated not only among conservatives in the South, but also with a growing number of suburban homeowners in the Sun Belt.
The political influence of the Sun Belt grew steadily during the mid-20th century as defense industries, corporate agribusinesses, oil companies, and leisure/tourist businesses expanded their operations in the region. As Americans moved into suburban neighborhoods surrounding Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, and other cities, the Sun Belt emerged as the center of the nation’s economic and technological progress.
The Sun Belt became the home of a southern white culture that rejected the outlook of the liberal coalition behind the Great Society and the social movements based on identity politics. The popularity of country music and southern rock during the 1970s reflected this trend.
EXAMPLELynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” reached #8 on the American music charts in 1974.
During the 1968 presidential campaign, and throughout his administration, Richard Nixon portrayed himself as the champion of a “middle America” that was fed up with the social convulsions of the antiwar movement and identity politics.
In addition to southern whites and suburban residents of the Sun Belt, this message appealed to northern middle-class and blue-collar voters who felt their interests were being neglected by the Democratic Party. Nixon collectively referred to these Americans as the silent majority.
One of the core issues for the silent majority was the racial integration of public schools. Almost 20 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court and the federal government searched for ways to implement school desegregation in the United States.
EXAMPLEIn 1968, two-thirds of southern black children attended schools that had no white students (Henretta, 2012).
In the 1971 case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court approved a plan to use buses to transport black and white students across district lines to desegregate schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. Following the Court’s decision, federal judges ordered the implementation of similar busing plans in other cities.
Busing sometimes required students to travel long distances across district lines to achieve racial balance in city schools. Black children, who attended inner-city public schools in which most students were black, were bused to predominantly white schools in the suburbs, and vice versa.
To the surprise of busing advocates, resistance to the program came from the residents of northern cities, where residential segregation was strongest. During the 1970s, white residents in Boston affiliated with ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Schools) opposed a court-mandated program that required the busing of white students to a school in a predominantly-black neighborhood.
Throughout his time in office, President Nixon consistently opposed busing as a way to achieve racial desegregation. In March of 1970, he commented that he did not believe that the U.S. had to be fully-integrated, maintaining that it was “natural” for members of ethnic or racial groups to live together in their own enclaves.
Faced by growing local opposition to busing programs, the federal courts gradually abandoned the initiative.
EXAMPLEIn the 1974 case Milliken v. Bradley, the Supreme Court overturned a court order that would have required residents of Detroit’s predominantly white suburbs to participate in a busing program with Detroit’s inner city school districts, which were predominantly black.
To members of the silent majority, the busing program was a dramatic example of federal overreach in to achieve integration. In response to court-ordered busing, some white parents moved their families to suburbs that were not subject to busing or other enforced integration programs, a process also known as “white flight”. Other parents enrolled their children in private schools, which were not subject to federal integration requirements. Both of these trends decreased enrollment in inner-city public schools, which reduced funding for those schools.
The Milliken decision and the abandonment of court-mandated busing ensured that residential segregation in American neighborhoods would be reflected in public education. Recent statistics suggest that residential segregation has continued through the late 20th and into the 21st century. In 1974, 45,000 white students were enrolled in Boston’s public schools. By 1987, that number had dropped to 16,000.
As school desegregation efforts met resistance and faltered, identity politics associated with gender and sexuality moved into the mainstream of American society.
Feminism, or women’s liberation, continued throughout the 1970s. Although President Nixon, members of his administration, and the media sometimes ridiculed feminists as “women’s libbers” or focused on their more radical demands, the feminist movement made some notable accomplishments during the decade.
At the local level, feminist organizations established shelters for women suffering from domestic abuse. They also successfully fought employment discrimination against pregnant women, and supported legal reform regarding rape (e.g., the abolition of laws requiring a witness to corroborate a woman’s report of rape). They also called for the criminalization of domestic violence.
At the federal level, advances in women’s rights were partly the result of women’s political participation, including participation in Congress. Patsy Mink, the first Asian American woman elected to Congress, co-authored the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (also known as Title IX), which prohibits gender discrimination in public education.
Some of the victories on behalf of women’s liberation in the courts reflected new trends in sexual behavior among single men and women. In 1972, the Supreme Court expanded Americans’ right to privacy when it struck down a Massachusetts law that prohibited the sale of contraceptives to single people. The sale of contraceptives to married couples had been affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1965.
EXAMPLEIn the Roe v. Wade case (1973), the Supreme Court ruled that state laws prohibiting women's access to abortion during the early stages of pregnancy were unconstitutional. The ruling made abortion a legal medical procedure nationwide. The Roe v. Wade decision outraged many Americans, including Catholics and evangelical Christians, who continue to seek ways to have it overturned.
The call for gay men and women to “come out” (i.e., to reveal their sexual orientation) revealed another growing change in views regarding sexual values. During the 1970s, some gay and lesbian communities moved from the urban underground into open political participation. Gay rights activists protested job loss and other forms of discrimination, which resulted, in part, from the American Psychiatric Association’s categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness.
Like those who participated in the women’s liberation movement, gay rights activists organized to elect candidates to local office. Once elected, these officials worked to persuade city and state governments to decriminalize homosexuality and pass anti-discrimination laws. In 1974, Kathy Kozachenko became the first openly-lesbian woman elected to office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1977, Harvey Milk became California’s first openly gay man to be elected to public office. Milk's term on San Francisco’s board of supervisors, along with that of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, ended when he was killed by disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White.
The busing controversy and the sexual revolution occurred during a time of economic stagnation and increasing inflation.
The U.S. experienced uninterrupted economic growth since the end of World War II. However, beginning in the late 1960s, inflation (i.e., a general rise in prices) and declining wages reduced the purchasing power of consumers and curtailed economic growth. By the middle of 1970, the United States was in an economic recession, and unemployment reached 6.2 percent — twice the level it had been during the 1960s.
Increased federal spending on the Vietnam War and the Great Society's social programs contributed to inflation. The recession was also the result of declining industrial productivity and increased competition from Japan, West Germany, and other nations that had successfully rebuilt after World War II.
EXAMPLEIn 1971, the United States experienced a trade deficit (i.e., it imported more goods than it exported), for the first time in the 20th century.
Like some of his predecessors, including Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon resorted to deficit spending in response to the economic crisis.
To stimulate greater investment and job creation by pumping more federal funds into the economy, Nixon proposed a federal budget that included an $11 billion deficit in 1971. When the unemployment rate failed to improve the following year, he proposed a budget with a $25 billion deficit.
At the same time, the President attempted to halt inflation by freezing wages and prices for 90 days. This proved to be only a temporary fix, as events in the Middle East and elsewhere revealed other weaknesses in the American economy during the mid-1970s.
The combination of unemployment and rising prices posed an unfamiliar challenge to economists. This phenomenon, known as stagflation, indicated that post-World War II prosperity was over. In the immediate term, it was uncertain whether conventional strategies, like deficit spending, would end the recession. It appeared that the U.S. economy was entering a period of instability.
This tutorial curated and/or authored by Matthew Pearce, Ph.D
Source: Map of Sun Belt, Creative Commons http://bit.ly/2qnWYdG, Henretta, J. A., Hinderaker, E., Edwards, R., & Self, R. O. (2012). America: a concise history (5th ed.). Boston: Bedford / St Martin's., Derived from Openstax tutorial 30.1 http://bit.ly/2l0DK9e and 30.2 http://bit.ly/2pGvQYc. Some sections edited or removed for brevity.