A 45-year flashback of tonight’s State of the Union address presents a president with a broad, ambitious, and very progressive agenda.
Though known for his prowess in foreign policy, President Nixon’s 1971 speech was almost entirely oriented in domestic policy.
On trajectory to rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China, troop withdrawals from Vietnam, and an end to the divisiveness tearing the nation’s social fabric a part, the 37th president talked about meeting new challenges, opening new doors, and “setting free the genius of our people.”
“Now we must let our spirits soar again,” Nixon said. “Now we are ready for a lift of a driving dream.”
He set before Congress and the nation, “Six Great Goals.”
1) Finish the business of the previous Congress and pass the Family Assistance Plan. President Nixon and Urban Affairs Advisor Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s brainchild, the FAP was an imaginative effort at reforming welfare. It aimed to give poor working families, and heads of household looking for work a guaranteed base income and job training, providing the stability society’s smallest economic unit needed to become self-sufficient. Though the legislation didn’t pass Congress, it became the model for President Clinton’s successful welfare reform policy in the 1990s.
2) Stimulate the economy and curb inflation. By the early 1970s, trade deficits combined with high prices diminished U.S. economic output. To protect the American worker, strengthen U.S. industry, and mitigate an impending economic crisis, President Nixon instituted temporary wage and price freezes, ended the gold standard, and placed an import tax on foreign automobiles.
3) Restore the natural environment. 1970 was a big year for the environment with the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. In the State of the Union, President Nixon called for a new program on the expansion of national parks. By the late 1970s, “The Legacy of Parks” initiative had converted over 80,000 acres of federal land into 640 new parks, including open spaces close to poor and middle class families living in urban areas.
4) Expand health care coverage. President Nixon’s health care initiatives were in many ways more ambitious than the 2010 Affordable Care Act. In 1973, he signed the Health Care Maintenance Organization Act (HMO), and twice brought to Congress – in 1971 and 1974 – proposals that would have mandated insurance coverage through the private sector, and provided subsidies for lower income Americans. Nixon’s biggest accomplishment on the health front was the enactment of the National Cancer Act in December 1971, which allocated $100 of millions for the conquest of the deadly disease.
5) Share revenue with state and local governments. In October 1972, President Nixon signed the General Revenue Sharing Bill, moving more than $80 billion of unrestricted federal funds to the state and local levels, where the centers of power were closer to the people.
6) Re-imagine and re-organize the federal government to fit the times. The President’s last great goal was to make the federal government more efficient, and organize it around specific purposes. Though this didn’t happen, it demonstrated very innovative thinking about the future of American government. The four traditional departments – State, Justice, Treasury, and Defense — would have remained. The eight grant making departments would have been consolidated to four with missions concerning human services, community development, physical environment, and economic prosperity.
Watch the whole address below: