Richard Nixon photo

Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "Toward an Expanded Democracy"

June 27, 1968

In recent years, and tragically in recent weeks, America has been rocked by disorders, shocked by crime, stunned by assassinations, and left in puzzled fury by a wave of unruly demonstrations and mass obstructionism not only in the streets of our cities, but in the halls of our great universities.

Faced with epidemic disorder, one part of the answer is both to strengthen and to use the forces of law. But this by itself is not enough. If we are to restore domestic peace, we sooner or later must bring those who threaten it back within the system.

At the same time, we need a searching new look at our political and social "system" itself.

The Alienated

Much of today's violence and disorder is the product of those commonly called the "alienated"—those people who either have never had faith in America's institutions, or who have lost it. They can be found in student mobs besieging a university building, or looting in a ghetto riot, or peddling the literature of hate. They challenge our society because they reject what they think are its values; they threaten it, because all too often they also reject its restraints and its procedures for peaceful and orderly change.

Among these alienated there are strident voices, harsh voices, crying out for anarchy for its own sake. These are the extremists who reject all authority except their own, and whose heroes are the Che Guevaras of the world—men for whom the act of revolution is an end in itself, and the particular cause a mere excuse for violent means.

But if we look closely, we see that these extremists are a small minority. When they are isolated from their followers, they can readily be dealt with by the forces of law.

Most of the alienated are not so extreme. But they are people with a long catalogue of dissatisfactions with things as they are. It's worth examining this catalogue. When we do, some curious facts emerge.

Let's look at some of the things they're angry about:

  •    A paternalism that robs the individual of his sense of self.
  •    A widening gulf between the individual and his government, as effective power moves further and further away.
  •    A political dialogue littered with broken promises, with false phrases and inflated hopes.
  •    A racial dialogue still studded with the old stereotypes—on both sides—that reinforce old fears and play on old distrusts, in which old arguments about past guilt block new perceptions of right and wrong.
  •    A deep sense of social injustice—of a fundamental conflict between the "power structure" and "human rights."
  •   A welfare system that breaks families apart rather than holding them together, and that robs the person of pride and privacy as the price of filling his stomach.
  •   A disillusionment with wars that seem avoidable, in places that seem remote.
  •    An anxiety about the future, and about the place of the individual— who more and more seems alone and powerless against an overwhelming society.

Through all these complaints, there runs a common thread: that society in the mass is losing touch with the individual in the flesh; that the sense of community—of a place of belonging where leaders listen and respond—has crumbled; that the power to control decisions immediately affecting one's life is vanishing; that that unique, precious, indescribable thing—the individual human mind, heart and spirit—is being injured, or neglected, or slighted.

What's significant is that in this, the alienated are not alone.

The Quiet Revolution

In part, their complaints echo the complaints of millions of other Americans, people who are neither young nor poor, and who are proudly in the mainstream of American life and determined to stay there.

During the past five months, I've campaigned in twenty-two states, and talked with thousands of people from every walk of life. I've had a chance to sense the mood of America, in the way that only a candidate who goes to the people senses it.

And I've found something.

If we listen, we'll discover that the white man in the Boston suburb shares many of the same frustrations as the black man in the Chicago ghetto. Not all, of course. But he, too, wants to be heard. He too, wants a voice in the decisions that shape his life. He, too, wants dignity—the dignity of being a man, not a number, not a category or a census statistic.

Those protesting college students who carry signs reading: "Do not fold, bend, staple or mutilate. This is a human being," speak not only for the student revolt, but for the frustrations of Americans everywhere.

Beyond the disorders, there's another rebellion going on today. This other is a quiet revolution. It's a rebellion by the great, quiet majority—those who pay their taxes, go to their jobs, perform their civic duties, send their children to school or college. I'm sure it includes many of you listening tonight.

In part, this quiet revolution is a protest against the violence and the excesses that have marked a time of tumultuous change, and also against the heavier-and-heavier demands of an age of impatience.

It's a rebellion against taxes, and against the ever-higher piling of Federal tax on state tax on local tax.

It's a demand for moderation—moderation in the tone of public discourse, in the style of public protest, in the posturing and promises of public officials.

But it's also something more.

The people who make up this great quiet majority want a voice in the shaping of their own future. They're not against change; what they want is to participate in the process of change, to help mold the future to their own designs rather than be swept along by impersonal forces.

They too want a voice.

In fact, if there is one thing common to all groups, all races, all ages, in America today, it is this: a deep, gut feeling that they want to be a part of things, to have a say in things, to have a voice—and to have that voice heard.

The First Step

Today's conflicts are part of a pattern of social upheaval and generational upheaval, at a time when the old ordering of forces is being challenged by new.

The task of our generation is to resolve these conflicts and bring peace among these forces.

Finding that we do have shared grievances is the first step toward breaking down those barriers that have set group against group, generation against generation. It's the first step toward finding answers.

When we look closely, we see that much of what is lacking in our society today is precisely what America was established to provide.

Ours was conceived, in the eloquent simplicity of Lincoln's words, as a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

As we look hack over this middle third of the century, we find that we have been getting more and more government for the people, but less and less government of the people and by the people.

And in this lies the root of much of today's frustration.

Loss of Community

Our whole development as a nation has been a great experiment, a continuing process of trial and error.

We have a system today that's an outgrowth of the experiments of the 30's—when the nation, faced with crisis, turned in fear and desperation to Washington. To make its experiments work, Washington took more and more power into its own hands. At the same time, we were becoming a truly continental nation. Air travel was beginning to link the coasts. Radio and the movies were beginning to give us a national culture. East and West, North and South, all were discovering one another. Then came television, which more than ever broke down the sense of local community. All across the nation, people were not only hearing the same words but seeing the same pictures, in their own living-rooms, night after night.

There was World War IT, which brought the nation together in a shared, sustained intensity of experience not equalled before or since—and which again, and necessarily, centralized power in the Federal government. After World War II we went through a new kind of experience, a wrenching readjustment not only to an uneasy peace, but to a new and unaccustomed role of world leadership and world responsibility.

The nation's horizons were thrust wide. Suddenly, what happened in Rangoon or Rio de Janeiro mattered to America, and what happened in Washington mattered in Rangoon and Rio.

At the same time, of course, this was a period of sweeping social change, of technological revolution, a time when the forces that shaped our lives kept getting bigger and more remote.

It seems obvious, now, that this would have been a time in which the place of the individual, his sense of security, of uniqueness, of belonging, would be gravely threatened.

Roots of Disorder

No great movement, no trend, takes place in a vacuum. The spread of violence and disorder is obviously no accident; obviously, it has roots in the patterns of current history.

These roots are many and complex. But I am suggesting tonight that one of the central roots is this: the steady erosion of the sense of person, of a place within the system, that we have allowed to accompany the development of our mass society.

As everything around him has gotten bigger, the individual has gotten smaller by comparison. He's been lost in the mass of things, his voice drowned out in the chorus.

The machinery of government seems increasingly remote, increasingly incapable of meeting his needs when action is needed. The community itself begins to appear less relevant, and its standards and restraints become less effective.

He feels that the system has left him.

One reason people are shouting so loudly today is that it's so far from where they are to where the power is. If we fail to bring power closer—if we persist in treating complex local needs from remote centers—we'll be repeating tomorrow mistakes that already have added dangerously to the frictions of today.

Revolution of Ideas

I have pointed out tonight that, in differing degree, the alienated and the rest of us share many of the same frustrations, and I have traced these to the patterns of our recent history.

Can we do anything about it?

We can.

Among many of our leading thinkers, there's been another quiet revolution going on—a revolution of ideas about the way the nation should be organized to deal with its problems.

After a third of a century of concentrating power, an old idea is winning a new acceptance: the idea that what we need is a dispersal of power. What we need is not one leader, but many leaders; not one center of power, but many centers of power.

Richard Goodwin stated this proposition cogently: "Whatever our particular position, the one overriding goal of political life must he to help restore and strengthen that faith of the individual in himself which is the source of national direction and generosity of deed."

This is a concept in which I deeply believe.

It also is the clearest-cut issue of this year's Presidential campaign.

The man who is most likely to be nominated by the Democratic party— Vice President Humphrey—is a man I respect. He is a man of honor and a man of his convictions. And he honestly believes in the old ways.

I believe in a new way.

Power has been flowing to Washington for a third of a century, and now it's time to start it flowing back—to the states, to the communities, and most important, to the people.

Every program I offer in this campaign will be tested against this standard: Does it increase the power of the people, or diminish it? Does it enhance the self-respect, the pride, of the individual human being, or reduce it?

Time to Modernize

We now are at a great turning point. We have to decide which way to go: whether to take the old road that leads to a government getting bigger and bigger, and more and more impersonal—the road that leads to more rebellions, more frustrations—or whether we take a new road.

Every idea has its time. And the time is now for the idea of an expanded democracy, of moving government closer to the people, of breaking massive problems into manageable pieces. This way the people can participate, they can be involved, their voices can be heard and heeded.

It's time to think anew and act anew.

Our government today is a propeller-age structure in a space-age world. In giving a new pride of place to the individual, the need is not to dismantle government, but to modernize it.

A Searching Reappraisal

One of the first tasks of the next President should be to set in motion a searching, fundamental re-appraisal of our whole structure of government— not only of the Federal departments and agencies, but also of state and local government, and its relation to the Federal structure.

The two Hoover Commissions, which studied the organization of government for Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, performed a major public service. But thirteen years have passed since the second Hoover Commission made its report, and during those years our population has grown by some 35 million; three new Cabinet departments have been created; and the whole pattern of relationships among governments and people on all levels has been profoundly changed.

There are new relationships between city and suburb; new patterns of direct Federal involvement in the cities and in education; new ventures in regional co-operation; and new layers upon layers of authority for the individual citizen to fight his way through.

The Commission on Government Re-Organization I am now proposing would be a commission with a difference. It would have a far broader mandate than those given the Hoover Commissions.

It would thoroughly study ways of increasing the efficiency of government organization. But its focus would be equally on the responsiveness of government.

Toward this end, it would be charged with searching out every feasible means of decentralizing government, of getting it closer to the people, of transferring functions to state and local governments, of creating new instrumentalities where appropriate to involve the people at the community level directly in the decisions that affect their own lives.

It would seek new ways to transfer functions from government to private enterprise, and also to the great, vital voluntary sector—to enlist the energies of those millions of Americans who stand ready and eager to serve and to help, in the best American tradition.

Its broadly-based membership would include the best management talent, the best government talent, and also the best academic talent from many disciplines. And one of its charges would be to start from a new premise: to search out what the people want from government today, and then to proceed to the question of how those wants can best be satisfied.

Vice President's Role

I have said that if I were President, I would give the Vice President major additional duties in helping administer the domestic functions of government. One of the first of these duties would be to involve himself directly and personally in this entire effort to move government closer to the people, and to make it more responsive. And in making the decision on the Vice Presidential nominee, this is one of the major factors I will consider.

This new, decentralized approach will require a strengthening and modernizing of state and local governments, so they can adequately discharge their new responsibilities. It will require a time of readjustment, perhaps even of difficult transition. It will require trial and error. But trial and error is itself a part of the new concept, for the concept is rooted in a basic belief that no one man, and no one group of men, has all the answers.

This new distribution of authority will mean different things to different people.

To the black man, it will mean not only the opening of doors to the larger community that have previously been barred, but also greater control, greater independence, within his own community.

For the student, it will mean a greater share in the decisions that affect his own community—not necessarily in matters of educational curriculum, or basic university administration, but in the personal things—the rules of living —that mean so much.

For all, it will mean a chance to be heard. It will mean responsive government. It will mean a continuing process of give-and-take. It will mean burying the old concept that you can't fight City Hall. It will mean the power of doing represented by thousands of voluntary associations with millions of members.

Re-Establishing Community

It's in this way that we can re-establish the sense of community, and thus the framework within which all the elements of our society at last can function.

I don't think we can buy off the alienated with more money.

I don't think we can suppress them with more police.

But I do think that as we make government more responsive, as we re-kindle trust and re-establish a sense of community, we can bring many back within the system. By improving the means of orderly change, we can reduce the temptation to disorderly change.

But we shouldn't take this new path just to bring peace to our cities, or just to bring calm to our campuses, or just to bring contentment to the suburbs. We should do it because it's right—because people do matter, and people do have rights, and because the securing of those rights is the first business of government.

What we need is nothing less than a revolutionary new approach. Government hasn't kept up with the times. The times have been rapidly changing, but government has been only growing. As it's structured today, government simply can't keep abreast of the mushrooming complexity of the country.

Power has to be spread out; otherwise it can't be responsive. We have to make our government structures into a set of precision instruments, tooled for particular functions.

That's the government side of the coin.

Enlisting the Energies

The other side is that we need a massive effort to ensure that private energies are enlisted, that local governments are modernized, that the voluntary sector does step up to the ball.

This can't be let go by default.

For let me he very clear: in turning away from ever bigger government we are not turning our backs on ever bigger problems. Our aim is not to ignore the problems, but better to solve them. It's not to neglect the poor, but better to serve their needs. It's not to sit idly by while our air and water are polluted, but to establish the most direct and effective means of control. It's not to give up in despair at snarled transportation, but to enlist the energies of those most directly affected in straightening out the snarl.

As we turn away from the old paternalism of the 40's and toward the expanded democracy of the 70's, we'll discover a new dignity, a new unity, a new stability in America. We'll discover anew that this land is our land, all of us together, that its destiny is our destiny. We are one nation, together and inseparable, and if that proposition has been tested in these past years, tested in the fires of our cities, tested in war and in the bitter debates the war engendered, tested in demonstrations and civil disobedience and in the wondering conflict of the generations, the nation has shown it can pass that test. Despite our troubles, there's a gathering today of the forces that are going to cement our society back together again—determined that decency and justice will prevail, and determined that reason shall rule.

Emerson wrote that "governments have their origin in the moral identity of men." Woodrow Wilson told us: "I believe in democracy because it releases the energy of every human being."

To make its expanded democracy work, America will need the willing hands of millions of individual people—proclaiming by their deeds that moral identity which is the rock our freedom rests on. America will need their involvement. It will need their ideas and their energies.

That is why, in this campaign, in this watershed year, I am asking not just for your votes in 1968, but for your continued help in the next Administration. That is why I ask not just your support, but also your enlistment in this great adventure that stretches before us.

APP NOTE: From section one of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "The American System in a Time of Change".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "Toward an Expanded Democracy" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326733

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