Meanwhile, an equally flawed Richard Nixon was running as a New Nixon who had some kind of 'secret plan' to end the war, although he was quite careful not to reveal the secret.
One of the most significant aspects of the 1968 election was the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and the Republicans, designed to pick up disaffected white voters from the Democrats using race, religion and cultural issues. George Wallace was a true master at using the politics of resentment and the white backlash, and had been honing his appeals since 1963. He claimed that liberals on the Supreme Court had been Communist-inspired when they outlawed school segregation in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, and when they banned prayer in the public schools in Engel v. Vitale (1962). All of this became standard rhetoric on the New Right in America for decades after this speech, both in its secular and evangelical Protestant versions. Wallace's references to God and the Bible were always made in this context of liberal attacks on white Southerners, just as he insisted that any federal efforts to support civil and voting rights for blacks were really examples of reverse racism against whites. For this reason, he had "placed this sign, "In God We Trust," upon our State Capitol on this Inauguration Day as physical evidence of determination to renew the faith of our fathers and to practice the free heritage they bequeathed to us" (Wallace 1963). God also intended the races to live separate lives, as had the Founders of America, but now "communist philosophers" were attempting to destroy the 'free' society based on those sacred principles (Wallace 1963). Real liberty, fraternity and equality could only be found under a legal system that separated the races rather than requiring them to be integrated. Then he warned Martin Luther King and other blacks who "follow the false doctrine of communistic amalgamation" that the whites were willing to defend the status quo at all costs (Wallace 1963).
Wallace carried five Southern states in 1968, while Nixon won in the rest of the South except Texas. This started a Republican trend of victories in the South that gradually transformed it into the 'Southernized', conservative party that it is today, while the Democrats since 1964 have had great difficulty at winning a majority of white voters. On the other hand, Hubert Humphrey's electoral map in 1968 indicated which states and regions where they would do best in the elections of the next forty years. Interestingly, the five Southern states that Barry Goldwater won in the LBJ landslide year of 1964 all went for Wallace or Nixon in 1968, and have generally voted reliably Republican in presidential elections since that time. Wallace's resentments were mainly directed at the domestic side of politics, and not only against liberal professors and social engineers who supported civil rights or minorities, but also hippies, the counterculture and the antiwar protests, and all of these became standard Republican themes in the decades ahead.
Election of 1968, with Wallace states in yellow.
In retrospect, the election of 1968, which Nixon won by a very narrow margin, certainly looks like a Right turn in U.S. politics, even though the New Left, antiwar and student protest movements were at their apex. The Democratic Party shattered along North-South lines over civil rights, and there had been signs that this was going to occur at early as the Dixiecat election of 1948. LBJ expected it when the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed in 1964-65, and the Republican Southern Strategy has been very affective at attracting white voters on racial, religious and cultural issues, and in getting many working class and middle class whites to vote against their own economic interests. This is still happening today, in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, which is astonishing. Robert Kennedy may well have been the last politician who could have help white and minority voters together in the same coalition, and had he been elected he would undoubtedly have been one of the nation's greatest presidents. Even beyond the Vietnam War, which he hoped to end within a year of being elected, he understood that his most important job as president would be to find some way to overcome the extreme differences of race, culture and generation that were destroying his party and being eagerly exploited by the Right wing and cynical Republicans like Nixon. He had a chance of winning the nomination after his victory in California, although his path to the nomination was difficult because LBJ was supporting Hubert Humphrey. He had not won any primaries but was winning the endorsements of the unelected delegates and the party establishment. Had Kennedy won the nomination in Chicago, the riots of August 1968 would not have occurred and the Democrats would have been running on an antiwar platform. Robert Kennedy would most likely have defeated Richard Nixon, which would have been better for the country and the world, given Nixon's many personal and political flaws.
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