He took positions, he was not afraid of controversy. He is known for his brilliance in foreign policy, but history will recognize his immense contribution to domestic policy, most especially in the area of civil rights. Shultz, labor and treasury secretary during the Nixon administration and secretary of state in the Reagan administration. Newt Gingrich R-Ga. People have been talking about how hard it was for him to govern when he was elected in , because the country was so divided.
Richard Nixon: Impact and Legacy | Miller Center
But history will note it was divided largely because Nixon himself deliberately divided it. There is the paranoid politician, a man who picked at every sore he could find on the body politic, and there in the same body was this overarching geopolitical thinker. All of the Presidents that have come after him have recognized this and would seek his counsel. He was made by the press and destroyed by the press. He created affirmative action programs.
Johnson came up with social programs that would train blacks, but then after the money ran out, their jobs ran out, too. Under Nixon, affirmative action was created and that gave blacks a real opportunity to become employed in jobs with a future. Owens Smith, professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton. At the same time, paid vacation, shorter work weeks, labor-saving devices like washing machines, and a vastly expanded highway system made it easier for suburbanites to visit national parks and to camp and fish.
More of them began to see unspoiled wilderness as a picturesque escape and spiritual salve rather than a mere storehouse of lumber and minerals. The feeling was aggravated by a series of disasters, such as a notorious smog incident in Donora, Pennsylvania, that killed 20 people in and inspired the Air Pollution Control Act, the first such clean-air law.
Numerous deadly smog attacks over several years killed hundreds and sickened thousands more in Los Angeles, New York, and other North American cities. Liberal thinkers, such as economist John Kenneth Galbraith, zeroed in on the detrimental impacts of the consumption economy on the environment and quality of life.
In his best seller, The Affluent Society , Galbraith vividly illustrates the junky scene encountered by a family driving into the countryside. Just before dozing off on an air mattress, beneath a nylon tent, amid the stench of decaying refuse, they may reflect vaguely on the curious unevenness of their blessings. Is this, indeed, the American genius? The pollution and waste created by industry, automobiles, and throw-away consumerism was creating a crisis, both practical and ethical. By the time Nixon was elected, the nation was pumping out million tons of air pollutants and throwing out million automobile tires and 30 billion glass bottles annually, with much of the refuse piled in mountainous open dumps.
Public concern about the pervasive effects of pollution exploded after Rachel Carson published her hugely popular book Silent Spring on the dangers of DDT and other pesticides. By the late s the burgeoning middle class was discovering that environmental problems threatened their children, their property values, and their lifestyles. Historian Adam Rome argues that scattered apprehension over the environmental toll of the economic boom finally crystallized into a movement thanks to the revitalization of liberalism, the explosion of student radicalism and countercultural protest, and the discontent of middle-class women.
For years these women had been active in conservation campaigns against water pollution, nuclear weapons, and pesticide use. Their sons and daughters, meanwhile, spent their afternoons playing in woods bordering their newly built suburban homes and their nights tossing and turning with Cold War—era visions of nuclear annihilation. Some of those children grew up to be hippies, who espoused a spiritual appreciation for nature. Many took part in antiwar protests, which inspired a similarly militant environmental movement. Rome also notes the radicalizing effect of individual events, such as the Santa Barbara oil spill, which had spurred college students and other community members to join beach cleanup efforts and demand tougher oil-industry regulations.
Politicians had already taken note of this tumult and had begun emphasizing environmental protection in their voter appeals and legislative agenda. President Johnson in particular promoted it aggressively, funding land conservation and signing myriad bills on air pollution, pesticides, water resources, sanitation, solid waste, wilderness, wetlands preservation, endangered species, and highway beautification. But early antipollution laws accomplished little. They typically called for individual states to set and enforce pollution limits, and state-level policy making was often dominated by business interests and officials who cared more about economic growth than health hazards.
Without uniform national rules and federal-level mechanisms to ensure they followed through, states largely ignored the authority granted to them. Nixon gave little sign of caring about these problems during the presidential campaign, but he and his advisers soon became acutely aware of their importance.
He won an extremely narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey, whose running mate, Maine senator Edmund Muskie, was the congressional leader on environmental issues and a likely future presidential candidate. Ehrlichman had won local acclaim in Seattle for successfully fighting a proposed industrial plant on an island in the Puget Sound, and he coupled his passion for the environment with hard-nosed political instincts.
Whitaker, meanwhile, was a geologist who combined love for the outdoors with a passion for improving the environment. The president particularly feared Muskie, a charming, plainspoken New Englander who was an early favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination. Both senators created problems for the new president. Muskie proposed making oil companies fully liable for spills. In a move that particularly bothered the White House, he also called public hearings to investigate the Santa Barbara disaster.
As the oil-spill crisis unfolded, Nixon complained to Ehrlichman about the onslaught of Democratic proposals. This gave Train, Whitaker, and other environmentalists in the administration an opening to call for action, and work began on a package of environmental bills. Early antipollution laws accomplished little.
On the one hand, interior secretary Walter Hickel, an oil-company ally turned environmental advocate, forced the relocation of a proposed jetport in Florida that would have threatened Everglades National Park. On the other hand, the White House antagonized environmentalists by pushing for construction of an Alaskan oil pipeline and dithering on restricting the use of DDT. As environmentalists and congressional Democrats continued their attacks, Whitaker and Train argued that the administration was losing on the environment and needed to act more assertively to claim it as a Republican issue.
In this charged political atmosphere Nixon signed his first significant environmental bill, the Endangered Species Conservation Act of The act strengthened the existing law, banning the importation of creatures endangered anywhere in the world and expanding the list of protected animals. The president had little role in the passage of the Democratic measure, but his administration was happy to take the credit, mailing out photos of the signing ceremony.
Nixon would follow the same pattern in the years to come. The bill mandated a detailed report on the environmental impact of all large projects involving federal funding or permitting and, under subsequent court interpretation, allowed the threat of private lawsuits to ensure compliance. A liberal Republican who had been appointed a U.
Tax Court judge by Eisenhower, Train developed an interest in conservation during safaris in Africa. He cofounded the African Wildlife Foundation and later headed the Conservation Foundation, where he helped develop the concept of an environmental-impact statement. So when Jackson and Muskie agreed to a final version of NEPA that required such statements, Train was well positioned to persuade Nixon to reverse his initial opposition. Environmental groups would soon begin suing to enforce the impact-statement requirement, holding up the licensing of nuclear-power plants, oil drilling on the outer continental shelf, and construction of the Alaskan pipeline.
As Nixon promised, the first few years of the s were a golden period for environmental action.
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Muskie, Jackson, and other Democrats sniffed at the address, saying the president was all talk and little action. But Nixon followed up with a lengthy February speech to Congress expressly on the issue, addressing water pollution, municipal waste, and industrial pollution. He proposed new auto-emission rules, the spending of billions of dollars on sewage-treatment plants, and a reorganization of government to end piecemeal policy implementation.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups showered Nixon with praise. As the first Earth Day approached on April 22, , Hickel urged the administration to build on its momentum by declaring the day a national holiday. DM Fea earth day march. Environmental demonstrations, such as Earth Day, were modeled on antiwar and civil-rights protests.
Twenty million Americans participated in the festivities, rallies, protests, and teach-ins of Earth Day. Hickel, Train, and some other officials gave speeches at universities, but Nixon stayed quiet, declining to endorse an event with anti-administration overtones. Eight days later he announced the invasion of Cambodia, spurring massive campus protests. National Guard troops opened fire on protesters at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four and shocking the nation. Student demonstrations soon shut down hundreds of campuses across the country.
For Nixon these were among the darkest days of his presidency. Dejected and agitated, he responded impulsively with an unscheduled a. Exhausted, with bags under his eyes, he spoke to a few baffled students, rambling about football, foreign policy, and the search for meaning in life. However passionate others were about environmental action, to Nixon it remained just one more political demand to juggle. Your fad is going right now. Later that year Nixon created the EPA, one of his greatest environmental achievements, which came about largely because it related to a goal he actually cared about: shrinking the federal government.
Working through a reorganization plan rather than legislation, he consolidated functions scattered among some 44 government offices.
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Pleased by the idea of unified antipollution leadership, House and Senate subcommittees agreed to the new regulatory agency. For example, a perceived need for more residential construction, along with timber-industry lobbying, led the White House to back more tree cutting on public lands despite strident opposition and lawsuits from environmental groups.
He also gave a nod to outrage over the Santa Barbara oil spill, formally rescinding a set of suspended drilling leases there. These steps may have kept the administration from seeming outright hostile to environmental concerns, but they were not enough to turn the tide in favor of Republicans, who lost seats in Congress as well as several governorships. Nixon felt he had no choice but to work for environmental and other domestic policy achievements that would win over the public or at least stave off a further decline in support.
A reelection battle, likely against Muskie, also loomed. Both Nixon and Muskie had been sternly criticized by activist Ralph Nader. A bill endorsed by the White House promised to finally fix the problem. The EPA would set standards for outdoor air quality and the amount of pollution individual industries might emit, with deadlines for compliance.
The measure required carmakers to use pollution-control technology that did not yet exist. Whitaker and other aides urged Nixon to accept the bill nonetheless, arguing that a veto would inevitably result in an override by a Congress eager to fix the terrible air quality plaguing major cities. DM Fea Nixon signs. Nixon also made other moves environmentalists favored, such as permanently stopping construction of the controversial Cross Florida Barge Canal, which had already sliced partway across the Florida peninsula and would have decimated wildlife in the Ocklawaha River ecosystem. In his second environmental address he proposed greater EPA authority over pesticide regulation, more money for sewage-treatment centers, and funding for states to develop environmentally friendly land-use programs.
Nixon had gone from barely caring about natural resources to making their protection a major federal responsibility. Voters still cared about pollution, approving environmental measures in 13 states, but economic worries and anger over the Cambodia invasion swamped other issues. Meanwhile, commerce secretary Maurice Stans, a proud enemy of environmentalism, was emboldened to openly disparage EPA programs. Politically speaking, Nixon was wise to toughen up his public persona. The influence of big corporations on federal policy was evident, for example, in an agreement Nixon signed with Canada to improve water quality in the Great Lakes.
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He agreed to address the dumping of dredging spoils and phosphates from detergents that had fouled the water and caused a giant algae bloom, but pressure from detergent manufacturers weakened the water-quality standards.