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Remarks on the NBC Radio Network: "Learning to Share Responsibility"

March 28, 1968

Never before in the history of Presidential campaigns have four weeks been more unpredictable, or in a political sense more exciting, than those we have just experienced. All the signs indicate that this year's campaign will be one of the historic political battles of our time. But the question lingers: will this battle move America forward or backward?

At its worst, this campaign could be seriously destructive of the great goals we seek. At its best, it can make a great contribution not only to better understanding of the issues, but also to the charting of a new direction for the nation as we enter this final third of the twentieth century.

This promises to be a year of great debates — both within the two parties, and between the parties.

These debates will be a test of our political system — a test of the nation's ability to deal rationally with the harsh problems of a distant war; a test of our capacity to move from violence to reconciliation in our cities; a test of the mood and spirit of the nation, and of our capacity as a people to rise above the tensions and distractions of a deeply troubled time.

The questions facing us this year are difficult — far more difficult than those that ordinarily constitute the "issues" in a political campaign, precisely because they are so much more fundamental. Both abroad and at home, we are confronted by far-reaching questions of the balance of power, the distribution of power, the exercise of power and the limits of power. Both abroad and at home, we face the wrenching readjustments of a time of rapid transition.

Never has the United States been in more trouble in more places than it is today •— in Europe, in Latin America, in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia, and in the cauldrons of our cities here at home.

Never have we more needed an intelligent, rational and dispassionate discussion of the great issues. And yet seldom has debate been more raucous and more irresponsible.

Senator Kennedy accuses his fellow Democrat, President Johnson, of "calling upon the darker impulses of the American spirit." The President and his supporters too often respond in kind by savage attacks on the motives of his critics.

The Great Society is becoming a bitter society — bitter in its mood, bitter in its frustration, bitter in the sense of foreboding that poisons the atmosphere of discussion.

We need a new unity — but not a unity which discourages dissent. We need a unity within which a diversity of view and expression is welcomed. True unity can only be hammered out on the anvil of free debate, and the sparks from that debate are what today must light the fires of hope. We need dissent — but we need a creative dissent, one that contributes to the dialogue and to the fund of fresh ideas from which practical approaches can be drawn.

What we need is not less debate or more debate, but to improve the quality of our debate. For the decisions facing us cut to the heart of our structure as a society and our purpose as a nation.

The future of peace and freedom in the world depends on the manner in which the United States meets its responsibilities — and also on the way in which those responsibilities are defined and shared.

One of America's strengths has always been its abiding streak of idealism. But unless we temper this idealism with realism, it can prove our undoing. We must be idealists about the goals we seek, but realists about the means of reaching those goals. We must be realists about what is necessary, and also about the limits of the possible — about the extent to which our resources can be stretched, and about what our power can accomplish.

We have come to a time when America must reappraise — in a most searching, measured and fundamental way — its role and its responsibilities in the world, and the resources which we and which other nations can bring to the meeting of those responsibilities.

We need to fashion a new diplomacy which can readjust the balances within the free world, as well as those between the free and the communist worlds.

Economically, diplomatically, militarily, the time has come to insist that others must assume the responsibilities which are rightly theirs. We must do our full share, both in maintaining order and in helping the have-not nations onto their feet. But the free world can no more base its security and prosperity on a system of permanent welfarism abroad than the security and prosperity of our own cities can be based on permanent welfarism here at home.

Since World War II, the United States has moved into a new and unfamiliar position — often an uncomfortable position — of power and of responsibility. We have inherited by default the role of the world's chief keeper of peace and guardian of freedom. This is a role we did not ask; it is one history thrust upon us. But our not asking it makes it no less ours.

However, conditions have changed since we first assumed that role. The other nations of the West have grown in strength. Japan has moved into the first rank of industrial powers. All around the rim of China the nations of non-Communist Asia are building a new prosperity and developing a new cohesiveness, which together suggest that they should be able to play far more assertive roles in their own defense.

The Soviet drive for strategic supremacy — which the Soviets already have very nearly achieved, while the United States has passively watched — is deeply troubling and seriously threatening. No longer is it possible for the thinly stretched power of the United States to play the decisive role that it has in many crises in the past. Even where it can be deployed, it is not backed today by the nuclear superiority which in the past has made it credible.

The United States has been able to keep the peace since World War II, as far as another world war is concerned, because we have had an overwhelming balance of power in our favor.

But we have let that balance slip, and with it we have seen an erosion of our ability to keep the peace in the world.

This has profound implications not only for the United States, but for the rest of the free world.

For one thing, it means that what has always been an elusive goal must now be made a reality: the other nations of the world must begin, and quickly, to pick up a greater share of the burden of the common defense.

To insist that others share more fully in the responsibilities of defining and maintaining the conditions of peace is not a retreat into a new isolation. Rather, it recognizes that today there are new realities of power. It recognizes, to put it very bluntly, that even if the United States had the will, it no longer has the capacity to do all that needs to be done. If the other nations of the free world want to remain free, then they must rise in their own defense. They can no longer afford the luxury of relying on American power.

We must, then, do three things. We must move quickly and persuasively to enlist the other nations of the free world more fully in the tasks which must be done. During this critical time of transition, we must continue to bear the burdens which are inescapably ours until a new system of stability can be constructed. At the same time, we must restore at least a part of the strategic advantage that we once held — not because we want power, but because in the world as it is we need power if we are to be secure.

Vietnam has been a deeply troubling lesson in the limits of U.S. power. But it is not enough simply to lament those limits, or to criticize the commitment, or to wish that history had dealt differently with that tormented part of the world.

The crucial point is that we must confront the reality of the world as it is, even as we press toward the goal of what we want it to become.

The war itself is the latest and the grimmest battlefield in a larger, continuing struggle. This struggle is in part between the United States and the Soviet Union, and between the United States and Communist China, but more fundamentally between those nations that want stability and those that want instability; between those that want order, and those that want disorder; between those that want peace, and those that seek domination.

As we approach the day of nuclear parity between the United States and the Soviet Union, we approach the moment of truth in the relations between East and West. What strategists called the "Cuban power environment" no longer exists. In 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the balance of strategic power made it possible for President Kennedy to deliver a fully credible threat of nuclear retaliation. The balance was then sufficiently in our favor so that the Soviet ability to destroy the United States with an inferior missile force was doubtful, while the capacity of the U.S. bombers and missiles to destroy the Soviet Union was certain. In these circumstances, the President was able to face down the Soviet leaders, and to force them to withdraw their offensive missiles from Cuba. But the United States no longer has such a decisive power advantage.

Nor do we command either the allegiance or the respect that were ours in the world at large only a few short years ago. No longer do our words receive the hearing they once enjoyed. Those who once followed the United States now observe the United States.

The world has lost much of its respect for our power. When we possessed an overwhelming strategic superiority, as well as mobile forces that could be dispatched to world trouble-spots both quickly and safely, without leaving other frontiers unguarded, then we had to be listened to.

Our ideals no longer communicate the fire, the passion and the promise that they did only a few short years ago. The passion we have been demonstrating lately is the passion that tears a society apart rather than the passion that builds unity and hope.

The world has lost its confidence in our dollar. It has lost its faith in our purposes, its respect for our judgment, its trust in our word.

If we delay our reappraisal of the U.S. role; if we delay moves to establish a new structure of security adequate to the age; if we delay these until the war in Vietnam has ended and the dust settled, then we will have delayed too long. Vietnam must be the last agony of the old order, because there is question whether the old order could sustain another.

Both abroad and at home, the dominant trend of the middle third of the 20th century was toward the concentration of responsibility. What we need now is a dispersal of responsibility.

Abroad, a world that in the early thirties had many centers of power developed in the years after World War II into one dominated by the two superpowers and divided into two great blocs.

The fact that recent years have seen a growing polycentrism in the communist world and a fracturing of the Western alliance signals a major crack in the essential bi-polarity of this division. But it has not altered the fundamental fact of a continuing confrontation between communist ambition and Western resistance.

However, the growing strength of the nations of Western Europe, of Japan, and of other nations now emerging into a new prosperity does indicate the capacity of the non-communist world to move toward a dispersal of responsibility that accords with the new distribution of power.

Here at home this last third of a century has been a time of rapid accumulation of federal power. I do not maintain that big government is necessarily bad government, or that federal power necessarily limits personal freedom. But the problems facing our country today simply cannot be handled by the federal government alone. The complexity of our national life today requires a dispersal of power here at home that accords with the diversity of our society and the variety of its needs.

Devising the most effective ways of achieving this is one of the central tasks of our time.

I am not suggesting that we should be trying to undo what has been done, that we should turn back the clock or renounce the great progress that has been achieved.

I am suggesting, rather, that we have reached a point at which we need a new direction. This is a cause in which liberals and conservatives increasingly are finding common ground. The old New Deal was born in response to despair and desperation. We now need a new vision that embraces the hopes of an age of opportunity.

America has been learning the lessons of reality the hard way, but also the best way — by trial and error, by pursuing hopes and confronting disappointments. We are learning better what government can do, and what it cannot.

We already have learned a great deal about our society — its strengths and its shortcomings. The explosion of bitterness in the Negro ghetto has driven home a dramatic lesson that there are many whom this society has tragically failed. But if it has shown this, it also has shown that the old approaches — the government charities that feed the stomach and starve the soul — have also failed.

The American opportunity is neither a black nor a white opportunity — but if we are to make our nation whole again by making our people one, we must begin with the recognition of a need for a greater black opportunity. The only way to set right the power balance in our cities is to put a greater measure of power in the ghetto. By this I speak not of "Black Power" as some of the extremists would interpret it — not the power of hate and division, not the power of cynical racism, but the power the people should have over their own destinies, the power to affect their own communities, the power that comes from participation in the political and economic processes of a society.

This is a goal. The nation still is struggling and stumbling toward the best, the most effective and the most equitable means of reaching this goal.

On the goal, I am convinced there can be no compromise. On the means there must be cooperation, accommodation, a searching out of the possible, a testing of what works and what does not.

I have cited these examples to illustrate the point I want to make tonight: that the questions facing America in 1968 are fundamental ones, and they do require the best and the most dispassionate thinking we can mobilize.

The tortured problems of Vietnam cannot be solved by an emotional jingoism, or by impassioned laments for the agonies of war that ignore the hard requirements of peace.

Neither can they be solved by a stubborn intransigence that seeks to justify the mistakes of the past by carrying them to futile extremes, when new approaches are needed.

Whether in defining our role abroad, or in remaking our society at home, we must recognize that we live in a complex and difficult world, in which the realities of power can be cruel and in which the answers are seldom simple.

The issues before us this year center on the most fundamental questions of all: about the conditions that may determine whether peace and freedom survive, and indeed whether civilization as we know it survives. They require a new enlistment of the people of America in the shaping of their own destiny — whether on college campuses, or in industry, or in the slums of our festering cities. We need a new freedom from dogma, freedom from the old ideologies and the old isms.

We need to restore to our political dialogue the sense that it matters •— that the processes of democracy still are effective, even for dealing with the complexities of the modern day. I share the view of those who say that Senator McCarthy's campaign has contributed significantly to this goal: that his enlistment of the enthusiasm, the energy and the faith of many who had given up on the political process is a step toward the restoration of that process itself to the place it deserves, and must have if our system of government is to work.

But we need to do more than focus dissent. We also need to enlist energy and enthusiasm in the fashioning of realistic programs that can achieve the promise of this final third of the century. We need the same energy in positive causes that negative causes enlist. We need helping hands, not marching feet.

The tragedy of the Johnson Administration is not a tragedy of mean intensions or of ignoble motives, but simply a tragedy of failure. Never has an Administration so misjudged a people, so underestimated their promise, or so missed the challenge and the opportunity of its time.

I believe that the role of the Republican party in 1968 is larger than party —- that it centers on a cause bigger than differences among Republicans, and bigger than the differences between Republicans and Democrats. The role of the Republican party in 1968 is to assemble a new coalition — a coalition of those dissatisfied with things-as-they-are, with politics-as-usual and slogans-as-usual and drift-as-usual.

During twenty years in public life, studying the problems of our nation and of the world as a public official and as a private citizen, I believe I have found some of the answers. Because I have seen the range and complexity of our problems, I would not presume to suggest that I have all of the answers. But I do have certain convictions about the values that are important, and about the kind of means that are most effective.

And I think I know the questions.

In the months ahead, I will be talking with all of our Republican Governors, with the Republican Senators and members of Congress, with the mayors of our cities, and with other leaders of thought in all fields without regard to party. I will be asking their ideas, and seeking out their answers. The problems of America today are not Democratic problems or Republican problems. They require the marshaling of the best brains America can produce, and the broadest range of experiences that can he brought to bear. If the debates of 1968 can serve this end, then they will have served their purpose— and the American system will have passed its test.

And now, a final word: We can never master our problems unless we measure our opportunities.

For too long, we have listened to the tired voices of defeatism, the bitter voices of negativism.

But this is a moment of opportunity for America. We all can sense that opportunity when we put aside what's wrong with America, and look at what's right with America. We can feel it in the pride that has never been stilled — pride in our ideals, pride in our strength, pride in the fact that for all its faults, ours is the society that has come closer to realizing man's age-old dreams of liberty and abundance than any other, any time, any place.

The dimensions of this opportunity are what give force to our drive to surmount the problems of an age of challenge. For if we can put these problems behind us, the horizons of the possible stretch almost without end.

The world's future depends on the leadership America gives. And that leadership depends ultimately on the spirit of America's people. Unless we have faith in the basic strengths of our system, in the basic idealism of our people, in the basic workability of our institutions, we can hardly expect to inspire that confidence abroad that our effort to establish a new system of order in the world requires.

But I believe we have that faith, and that capacity, and that by giving new life to our ideals at home we can and will provide an example for the world.

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 NBC Radio Network: "Learning to Share Responsibility" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326736

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