Forty years ago today, RN spoke to Midwestern news executives. In The New York Times, Tom Switzer quotes that speech to suggest that RN embraced American decline:
Not only had the Soviets matched U.S. military might, the old cold warrior conceded, but Japan and Western Europe were competing vigorously with U.S. companies for markets. The American Century had ended.
“I think of what happened to Greece and Rome, and you see what is left — only the pillars,” Nixon concluded somberly. “What has happened, of course, is that the great civilizations of the past, as they have become wealthy, as they have lost their will to live, to improve, they then have become subject to decadence that eventually destroys the civilization. The U.S. is now reaching that period.”
But that is not how RN “concluded.” Switzer omits what RN said immediately after the quoted passage:
I am convinced, however, that we have the vitality, I believe we have the courage, I believe we have the strength out through this heartland and across this Nation that will see to it that America not only is rich and strong, but that it is healthy in terms of moral strength and spiritual strength. I am convinced it is there. I am convinced as I talk to crowds of people. I am convinced as I see a group of young people, 500 of them, going off to Europe, as I saw them yesterday, from 50 States.
But I also know that people’ need to be reassured. The people that can reassure them are opinion leaders, editors, television, radio commentators, teachers, even perhaps Presidents and politicians. At the present time, I will simply say in raising these problems, I don’t raise them in any sense of defeatism; I don’t raise them in the usual sense of pointing out that the United States is a country torn by division, alienation, that this is truly an ugly country, because I don’t believe that.
I honestly believe that the United States, in its preeminent position of world leadership, has in its hands the future of peace in the world this last third of the century. I honestly believe that the United States has the destiny to play a great role, but I also know we cannot play it unless this is a healthy land, with a healthy government, a healthy citizenry, a healthy economy, and above all, the moral and spiritual health that can only come from the hearts of people and their minds, and that will only come as people are reassured from time to time, as we discuss our faults and as we correct our faults, reassured.
Keep them in balance. Don’t let the problem of the moment obscure the great things that are going on in this country and the goodness of this country. It is that that I would suggest to the editors and the other opinion makers here: that from time to time, maybe once a month, that message might come through.