During a press conference on April 29, 1971, a reporter asked President Nixon if he approved of “the mandatory use of busing to overcome racial segregation” ruled by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg.
An unmarked provisional Q & A memo from 1972 sheds light on both domestic and foreign policy issues that were at stake during President Nixon’s re-election year. The question posed already indicates the mood of the nation: a high degree of anxiety regarding civil rights and the desegregation of schools. A deeper analysis shows us, however, that America was undergoing a deeper shift in both national politics and the national perception.
“Mr. President, there is an anti-busing bill on the Senate calendar that I believe you support. If it is not passed, I wonder if you would support the constitutional amendment.”
In this question we see the growing controversy regarding desegregation and busing take a head, and the president’s response is straight to the point.
“…I am against busing. This is, of course, one of those clear cut issues in this campaign.”
In this brief statement we see that busing was, for the first time in history, an issue so contentious that it became a component of a presidential campaign. President Nixon then volunteers to state concisely his position on other contemporary issues; Amnesty, welfare reform, taxes, and the military budget. The mention of the USSR is an interesting aside considering Nixon’s position against tax hikes, and this is said alongside his opposition to busing. By fitting busing so plainly with issues such as national welfare and the international threat of militant communism, President Nixon shows us that the issue had truly grown to national proportions.
This deceptively brief statement also lends an insight regarding the shift in the way racial attitudes were viewed.
“If Congress fails to act in a way that provides some relief from these excessive busing orders that have caused racial strife, and primarily in northern cities as distinguished from southern cities, then I intend to find another way.”
Here we have President Nixon acknowledging that the North, an area traditionally believed to be less racist than the historically segregated South, was suffering as much if not more racial unrest due to racial tensions than Southern cities. That this is stated so plainly in a presidential statement shows that by 1972 the illusion of Northern impartiality and tolerance could no longer be maintained. The attitude of the North would have to change as well as that of the South.
RN ends his statement by giving his outlook on Congress. In 1972 President Nixon won re-election by the largest mandate in American history, but the Republican Party did not come to dominate congress. If Congress proved unwilling to listen to the nation’s protests against busing, then more racial unrest would likely result. An amendment to the constitution against busing, long demanded by unhappy citizens across the country, was President Nixon’s fallback, but it would be more difficult and time consuming, so he here states his hope that Congress will take action. His concern would prove well founded, as the antibusing measures would raise threats of filibuster from House democrats, and never made it past the Senate floor.