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Radio Address on the Philosophy of Government

October 21, 1972

Good afternoon:

In election campaigns, it is customary to talk only about programs and differences of opinion on current issues. But even more important than what a man advocates is what he believes, because what he believes will determine how he will act when issues arise in the future which are not currently before the Nation.

That is why I want to talk today about my philosophy of government, so that the American people will know the principles which will guide me in making decisions over the next 4 years.

The central question, which goes to the heart of American government and is sure to affect every person in this land, is this: Do we want to turn more power over to bureaucrats in Washington in the hope that they will do what is best for all the people? Or do we want to return more power to the people and to their State and local governments, so that people can decide what is best for themselves?

Now, people of good conscience differ on this issue. Certainly in the past generation there were cases in which power concentrated in Washington did much to help our people live in greater fairness and security and to enable our Nation to speak and act strongly in world affairs.

When the will of the people is best expressed by the Nation acting as one people, I strongly support the use of effective Federal action. But the concentration of power can get to be a dangerous habit. Government officials who get power over others tend to want to keep it. And the more power they get, the more they want.

We all remember the waste and the resentment of the sixties, the growing alienation of people who felt that they no longer counted, the feeling of frustration in dealing with a faceless machine called the Federal bureaucracy.

In a family, when a father tells the rest of the family what to do, that's called paternalism. In a business, when an employer tells workers he knows what is best for their future, that is called paternalism. And in government, when a central authority in Washington tells people across the country how they should conduct their lives, that, too, is paternalism.

In each of those cases, the motive of the man in charge may be to do what he sincerely thinks is best for the people under his control. But the trouble is this: Most Americans don't like to be under anybody's control, no matter how benevolent that control may be. It is one thing to be well taken care of, but for those able to take care of themselves, it is far more important to be free.

At the root of all of our rights is an idea of justice and genius, the idea that government derives its power from "the consent of the governed."

Of course, every politician since Jefferson's time pays lip service to the consent of the governed, along with "majority rule" and "the will of the people."

But the truth is that a great many people in politics and elsewhere believe that the people just do not know what's good for them. Putting it bluntly, they have more faith in government than they have in people. They believe that the only way to achieve what they consider social justice is to place power in the hands of a strong central government which will do what they think has to be done, no matter what the majority thinks.

To them, the will of the people is the "prejudice of the masses." They deride anyone who wants to respond to that will of the people as "pandering to the crowd." A decent respect for the practice of majority rule is automatically denounced as "political expediency." I totally reject this philosophy.

When a man sees more and more of the money he earns taken away by government taxation, and objects to that, I don't think it is right to charge him with selfishness, with not caring about the poor and the dependent.

When a mother sees her child taken away from a neighborhood school and transported miles away, and she objects to that, I don't think it is right to charge her with bigotry.

When young people apply for jobs--in politics or in industry--and find the door closed because they don't fit into some numerical quota, despite their ability, and they object, I do not think it is right to condemn those young people as insensitive or racist.

Of course, some people oppose income redistribution and busing for the wrong reasons. But they are by no means the majority of Americans, who oppose them for the right reasons.

It is time that good, decent people stopped letting themselves be bulldozed by anybody who presumes to be the self-righteous moral judge of our society.

There is no reason to feel guilty about wanting to enjoy what you get and get what you earn, about wanting your children in good schools close to home, or about wanting to be judged fairly on your ability. Those are not values to be ashamed of; those are values to be proud of. Those are values that I shall always stand up for when they come under attack.

We will change America for the better by attacking our real problems, and not by attacking our basic values. We will improve the quality of our public dialogue by respecting, not impugning, the motives of the people that the winning candidate will ultimately represent.

The rights of each minority must be vigorously defended--and each minority must be protected in the opportunity to have its opinion become accepted as the majority view.

But on these basic concerns, the majority view must prevail, and leadership in a democracy is required to respond to that view. That is what "majority rule" and "the consent of the governed" really means--and we would all do well to take these ideas seriously.

We have achieved a high level of leadership throughout our history because we have put aside the notion of a "leadership class." The advantage of a superior education should result in a deep respect for--and never contempt for--the value judgments of the average person.

Does this mean that a President should read all the public opinion polls before he acts, and then follow the opinion of the majority down the line? Of course not.

A leader must be willing to take unpopular stands when they are necessary. But a leader who insists on imposing on the people his own ideas of how they should live their lives--when those ideas go directly contrary to the values of the people themselves--does not understand the role of a leader in a democracy. And when he does find it necessary to take an unpopular stand, he has an obligation to explain it to the people, solicit their support, and win their approval.

Let me cite an example: In every Presidency there are moments when success or failure seems to hang in the balance, when an expression of confidence by the American people is vitally important.

One of those moments came toward the end of my first year in office. I had declared that we were going to end our involvement in the war in Vietnam with honor. I had made it plain that we fully understood the difference between settlement and surrender. As you may recall, the organized wrath of thousands of vocal demonstrators who opposed that policy descended on Washington. Commentators and columnists wondered whether we would witness what they referred to as "the breaking of the President."

On November 3, 1969, I came before my fellow Americans on radio and television to review our responsibilities and to summon up the strength of our national character.

The great silent majority of Americans-good people with good judgment who stand ready to do what they believe to be right--immediately responded. The response was powerful, nonpartisan, and unmistakable. The majority gave its consent, and the expressed will of the people made it possible for the Government to govern successfully.

I have seen the will of the majority in action, responding to a call to responsibility, to honor, and to sacrifice. That is why I cannot ally myself with those who habitually scorn the will of the majority, who treat a mature people as children to be ordered about, who treat the popular will as something only to be courted at election time and forgotten between elections.

That is also why I speak with pride of the "new majority" that is forming not around a man or a party, but around a set of principles that is deep in the American spirit.

The new American majority believes that each person should have more of a say in how he lives his own life, how he spends his paycheck, how he brings up his children.

The new American majority believes in taking better care of those who truly cannot care for themselves, so that they can lead lives of dignity and self-respect.

The new American majority believes in taking whatever action is needed to hold down the cost of living so that everyone's standard of living can go up.

And the new American majority believes in a national defense second to none, so that America can help bring about a generation of peace.

These are not the beliefs of selfish people. On the contrary, they are the beliefs of a generous and self-reliant people, a people of intellect and character, whose values deserve respect in every segment of our population.

A few weeks ago, one of the Nation's most perceptive journalists asked me what I thought it would be like to be a second-term President free to govern with no thought of another election. Actually, he was asking one of the deepest questions of all: Would I do what I thought was best for the people, or would I do what the people thought was best for themselves?

Fortunately, what the new majority wants for America and what I want for this Nation basically are the same.

But a profound question deserves a thoughtful answer.

In the years to come, if I am returned to office, I shall not hesitate to take the action I think necessary to protect and defend this Nation's best interests, whether or not those actions meet with wide popular approval. I will not begin at this stage of my life to shy away from making hard decisions which I believe are right.

At the same time, you can be certain of this: On matters affecting basic human values--on the way Americans live their lives and bring up their children--I am going to respect and reflect the opinion of the people themselves. That is what democracy is all about.

In the next 4 years, as in the past 4, I will continue to direct the flow of power away from Washington and back to the people. In meeting our material needs, we must never overlook every American's spiritual need for personal freedom. When freedom is taken away from the individual, in the name of the people, the people lose their freedom.

This is the land of opportunity, not the land of quotas and restrictions.

This is the land that holds all men to be created equal, not the land that demands that all citizens become the same.

Above all, this is the land where an alien paternalism has no place at all-because we deeply believe in a system that derives its power from the consent of the governed.

All of my life I have had faith in the ultimate wisdom of the people and in the values of fairness and respect and compassion that spring from within the American spirit. As President, I shall never break that faith.

Thank you, and good afternoon.

Note: The President spoke at 12:07 p.m. from Camp David, Md. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio. Time for the broadcast was purchased by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.

The President spoke from a prepared text. An advance text of his address was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Radio Address on the Philosophy of Government Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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