For my write-up today on Dean Kotlowski’s Nixon’s Civil Rights, I’ll use as my starting-point what Kotlowski says on pages 75-76:
“While many observers cheered the vice president as the administration’s resident civil rights advocate, Nixon had not earned a standing ovation. Without doubt, his support for voting rights laws and his opposition to poll taxes and the jury trial amendment stemmed from principle. At the same time, Nixon had acceded to a watered-down act in 1957. In 1960 he probably should have backed Hesburgh’s voting registrars scheme, which presaged the effective Voting Rights Act of 1965. The political motive behind Nixon’s advocacy cut two ways. So long as the vice president sought African American votes, civil rights leaders could count him among their friends. As Nixon looked to southern whites for support, his commitment to voting rights slackened, at least on the surface.”
There are a lot of issues here, and they spill into other issues. What I read today was the last page of the chapter about Nixon and fair housing, and some of the chapter on Nixon and voting rights. A theme that has showed up repeatedly in this book so far is that Nixon supported civil rights in his actions, and yet his rhetoric was often less progressive, and at times he tried to appease the South. Was this good or bad? On the one hand, this strategy made the South less bellicose and resistant to Nixon’s attempts at reform. On the other hand, it could shut down discussion on certain issues (such as integration) as well as lead Nixon to slacken in his support of civil rights, on occasion.
There are two more points that I want to make. First, Kotlowski says that Nixon supported voting rights for African-Americans because he hoped that their grievances could be addressed through democratic institutions, not on the streets. I guess that his sensitivity to law and order (well, law and order to a certain extent) solidified his progressive stance on African-Americans having the right to vote, without such hassles as literacy tests. Second, I found it interesting what Kotlowski said conservative Southern politicians argued against the Voting Rights Act. Many of them claimed that it was unfair because it specifically targeted the South, when there were unfair voting practices throughout the country. Some wanted to apply it nationwide.