Commentary: Nixon’s Legacy in a New Light
By Douglas Schoen
Richard Nixon’s enduring image as a political villain, his appeal to the silent majority of mostly middle-class Americans, and especially his notorious Southern strategy have contributed to a widespread view that his record on racial matters is poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whatever the complexities of Nixon’s racial politics, his policies achieved far more than those of his great rival, John F. Kennedy, who dragged his feet on civil rights until near the end of his time in office.
Consider the tortured subject of busing. Nixon was on record opposing the forced busing of schoolchildren for the purpose of integration. At the same time, his civil rights record had been strong throughout his career. As vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon helped lead support for the 1957 Civil Rights Act – for which Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to thank him. Nixon opposed segregation. In a 1968 interview on Face the Nation, presidential candidate Nixon said that “no funds should be given to a district which practices segregation.”
However, Nixon did not see busing – forced integration – as a solution to racial inequality, let alone as a way to foster harmonious relations between whites and blacks. In addition, he objected to it on the grounds of community control. After the Swann ruling upheld the constitutionality of busing, Nixon asked Congress to pass a moratorium on new court-ordered busing rulings.
Liberals blamed Nixon for his resistance to busing, but they somehow missed the astounding success he was having desegregating American schools, which was busing’s main goal. When Nixon entered the White House, the desegregation of Southern schools was proceeding at a snail’s pace. In 1968, nearly 70 percent of black children in the South attended all-black schools. By the time he left office, in 1974, just 8 percent did. The record is crystal clear: Richard Nixon desegregated more schools in his first term than all other presidents combined.
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