The Purposeful Misremembering of 1968
2016 is not 1968. There is a lot of anxiety today but not at the level we saw in 1968 with over 100 US cities burning and 540,000 troops in Vietnam. The Great Society that LBJ wanted was crumbling on streets around America and in the jungles near Bong Son.
Recently, many in media have tried to compare the Donald Trump candidacy of 2016 to the Nixon campaign of 1968. I argue that this is not valid and an attempt to slander the 37th President.
First, let’s be clear that all three 1968 candidates spoke about law and order. Can anyone doubt that this was appropriate in 1968?
Democrat George Wallace -more than anyone – ran on law and order.
Democrat Hubert Humphrey was in a tough spot since he was part of an incumbent administration that lost control of the nation. His campaign literature was full of references to working with police but he was often a bit of a Mugwump.
Republican Richard Nixon made law and order an important part of his campaign. Humphrey had a hard time trying to convince folks that Nixon was wrong.
While Democrat George Wallace was threatening violence and running a campaign of segregation, Democrat Hubert Humphrey was hugging notorious race baiter Lester Maddox. Maddox would later go on to serve as Lieutenant Governor under Jimmy Carter.
Richard Nixon- on the other hand- did something that few Republicans had tried. He challenged the racist control of the South that the Democratic Party enjoyed for decades.
Nixon went South and tried to convince folks that they belonged with the GOP. Nixon never agreed with the South on race. Nixon’s argument was based on jobs, morality, the war in Vietnam, safety from violence and New Deal cronyism. This was the real “Southern Strategy.” And it is a libel to suggest it was race based.
Democrats controlled much of the West until the Ike/Nixon coalition came to Washington in 1952. Now – Nixon aimed to expose the racist Solid South the Democratic Party started during Reconstruction and perfected under Wilson and FDR.
Those who claim a racist strategy by President Nixon and flip of the parties (based on race) in 1968 are woefully ignorant of history – or deliberately in denial.
In 1968 the two Democrats and one Republican split the states of the former Confederacy. In states won by Democrat George Wallace – the Humphrey/Muskie ticket garnered the second highest overall vote total.
As Irv Gellman points out, Richard Nixon was the leading voice for Civil Rights in the government throughout the 1950s. Nixon would later double down on his commitment when – as President – he would virtually end segregation in Southern Public schools, focus on Sickle Cell, drug treatment and minority hiring.
The Trump campaign appears to be a mix of all three 1968 campaigns with Wallace -by far- the closest match.
Why was there no uproar when the GOP took the West in 1952? The Democrat “Solid West” fell without a whimper but press and academia continue to obsess about the South. Why? The Democrats are trying to get right on race – after the fact.
Nixon Democrats were created in all regions of the nation and would help Reagan in 1980. “Peace through Strength” was Nixon ’72 and not Reagan ’84. Not even the hard right media will give President Nixon his due.
The media (even many on FOX) and court historians have smeared President Nixon at every chance and it is dishonest. Nixon has to be the villian. Why? Because President Nixon accomplished all the things the Democrats were supposed to do and achieved more generational change than Reagan. He has been punished for it ever since.