The 1968 election saw the voters of the Democratic Party split between the party’s official nominee, Hubert Humphrey, and a splinter candidate, George Wallace, who left the Democratic Party and took a significant percentage of the party’s voters with him. This split allowed Nixon to win the presidency in 1968.
As was more common at that time, it was not entirely certain whom the two major parties would nominate as their presidential candidates. The delegates would make significant decisions at the conventions.
Both parties vied for the votes of Blacks. Nixon’s Republicans had more success with suburban and rural African-Americans in the South, while Hubert Humphrey would find success among urban Blacks.
In August 1968, William F. Buckley analyzed the views of Richard Nixon which had brought him to the point of obtaining the party’s nomination:
This country has had the most phenomenal success of any country in the world graduating people from poverty into affluence, and that graduation has been the result of economic and private activity, not government activity.
Buckley was arguing that despite struggles about race relations, about the Vietnam War, and about the economic situation of the poor, the United States still enjoyed a fundamentally sound condition, both in terms of liberty and in terms of providing opportunities for its citizens.
The limits imposed by the citizens upon the government provide general prosperity and individual opportunities. The government being restrained, people are free to work, save, and find chances for advancement. The mechanisms for prosperity are, then, individual initiative and the liberty to do with one’s money as one pleases.
Buckley argued that Nixon’s view was to preserve the sources of America’s strength. “Under the circumstances,” Nixon “wants to maintain those wellsprings of action.” The civil rights struggle of 1950s and 1960s was taking on an added dimension: economic concerns.
Nixon’s view, in sum, was to find the foundations of what was working well for the people of the nation, and protect and preserve those foundations.
The earlier phases of the civil rights movement had focused on voting rights and access to buses. The later phases also addressed the concept of equal opportunity.
Nixon created opportunities, as historian Conrad Black writes:
On May 16, Nixon invoked “the silent center who do not demonstrate, who do not picket or protest loudly.” He was offering the African-Americans government tax incentives for small business and home improvements in their areas and neighborhoods. He had given up on notions of vast, horribly costly slum clearances compulsory relocations of people. If standards of living and quality of life could be improved where people were, all the rest would follow. He was promising a hard crackdown on crime and violence.
Violent crime was disproportionately impacting the Black urban community. Opportunities would be created by reducing crime and reducing the government regulations which had prevented African-American entrepreneurs from experiencing success with their small business.
Most voters were repelled by the idea, proposed by the Democratic Party, of forced relocations of citizens from one neighborhood to another. Nixon won votes by rejecting that idea.
Nixon also proposed an end to the draft and end to the Vietnam War. President Kennedy had placed U.S. combat troops into Vietnam, and Johnson had greatly increased the number of troops there. Candidate Humphrey proposed further troop increases. Nixon’s proposal to end the war was popular. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower had kept U.S. troops out of Vietnam, and had urged future presidents to do likewise. While Kennedy and Johnson ignored Ike’s advice, Nixon, having been Eisenhower’s vice president, would get American soldiers out of Vietnam.
Truly equal opportunities yield unequal results, because people make different choices. So talk of ‘equality’ in politics needs to be categorized into equality of rights and opportunities on the one hand, and on the other hand equality of property on the other.
Equality of property - i.e., everyone has the same amount of money - can only be achieved by the continuous violation of civil rights. Buckley said,
Unless you have freedom to be unequal there is no such thing as freedom. Every single person who owns a Ford car today is considered, by terms of international statistics, as being especially privileged. My point is that he worked to achieve it and that we ought to encourage a system which permits people like and you and people like Mr. Smith and people like the technicians in this room to make progress. The fact that they make more progress than other people is not their fault, nor is it the fault of other people. It’s the fault of freedom, but this I judge to be the price that we ought to be willing to pay in order to indulge the great animating force of progress in the world.
No matter how well-intended or how carefully calculated, government intervention is, first, a violation of the liberty of the individual, and second, not able to provide the anticipated equality and prosperity.
Although it is tempting to ask for government intervention, the price of freedom and dignity is the self-restraint not to request some manner of regulation. Buckley noted
I think that the strongest line that he could take is to face the people of the United States and say, “The reason, the principal reason, for the discontent of our time is because you have been encouraged by a demagogy of the left to believe that the federal government is going to take care of your life for you.” The answer is the federal government A. can’t, B. shouldn’t, C. won’t. Under the circumstances look primarily to your own resources - spiritual, economic, and philosophical - and don’t look to the government to do it because the government is going to fail you.
Although unpleasant to learn, the axiom underlying the phenomena of the modern world is, in Buckley’s words: “Freedom breeds inequality.” If liberty is violated in the pursuit of equality, not only will freedom be lost, but the hoped-for equality will not materialize.
Nixon’s presidency achieved increased opportunities for African-Americans primarily by restraining the government. Between 1968 and 1972, Nixon received increasing support from Black voters, who were encouraged by his actions. The early to mid 1970s are often considered be the end of what historians call ‘the civil rights era,’ as most of the goals of the original civil rights movement had been met.