seem an integral part of a pluralistic nation.
Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans were also becoming more prominent in American life. Reaching the level of 9 million by the 1960s, Spanish-surnamed Americans had become the second largest ethnic minority; they, too, were asserting their right to equitable treatment in politics, in culture, and in economic affairs.
Kennedy-Johnson Legislative Accomplishments
In his first 3 months of office, Kennedy sent 39 messages and letters to Congress asking for reform legislation--messages dealing with health care, education, housing and community development, civil rights, transportation, and many other areas. His narrow margin of victory in 1960, however, had not seemed a mandate for change, and an entrenched coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats in Congress had prevented the achievement of many of Kennedys legislative goals by the time of his death. Johnson, who in 1964 won an enormous victory over the Republican presidential candidate, Barry GOLDWATER, and carried on his coattails a large Democratic congressional majority, proceeded with consummate political skill to enact this broad program.
Johnson launched his WAR ON POVERTY, which focused on children and young people, providing them with better education and remedial training, and Congress created a domestic Peace Corps (VISTA). Huge sums went to the states for education. MEDICARE was enacted in 1965, providing millions of elderly Americans a kind of security from the costs of illness that they had never known before. Following Kennedys Clean Air Act of 1963, the Water Quality Act of 1965 broadened the effort to combat pollution. New national parks were established, and a Wilderness Act to protect primeval regions was passed. The Economic Development Administration moved into depressed areas, such as Appalachia. Billions were appropriated for urban redevelopment and public housing.
At War in Vietnam
The VIETNAM WAR, however, destroyed the Johnson presidency. The United States had been the protector of South Vietnam since 1954, when the Geneva Conference had divided Vietnam into a communist North and a pro-Western South. By 1961 an internal revolution had brought the South Vietnamese regime to the point of toppling. President Kennedy, deciding that South Vietnam was salvageable and that he could not allow another communist victory, sent in 15,000 military advisors and large supplies of munitions. By 1964 it was clear that a collapse was again impending (the CIA warned that the reason was the regimes harshness and corruption), and Johnson decided to escalate American involvement. After his electoral victory that year, he began aerial bombardment of North Vietnam, which persisted almost continuously for 3 years to no apparent result other than the destruction of large parts of the North and heavy loss of life. Meanwhile, the world at large (and many Americans) condemned the U.S. military actions.
In April 1965, Johnson began sending American ground troops to Vietnam, the total reaching nearly 550,000 in early 1969. (In that year alone, with a full-scale naval, aerial, and ground war being waged in Vietnam, total expenditures there reached $100 billion.) Huge regions in the South were laid waste by American troops in search of hostile forces. Still victory eluded. Responding to mass public protests that went on year after year and put the United States in a state of near- insurrection--and in recognition of fruitless American casualties, which in 1967 passed 100,000--Johnson decided in March 1968 to halt the bombing of the North and to begin deescalation. At the same time he announced that he would not run for reelection. From being an immensely popular president, he had descended to a position as one of the most hated and reviled occupants of that office.
Foreign Policy under Nixon
When Richard M. Nixon became president in 1969, he profoundly changed U.S. foreign policy. The new theme was withdrawal from commitments around the globe. Nixon revived the kind of nationalist, unilateral foreign policy that, since Theodore Roosevelt, presidents of his political tradition had preferred. With Henry KISSINGER as an advisor and later as secretary of state, he began a kind of balance-of-power diplomacy. He preferred to keep the United States free of lasting commitments (even to former allies) so that it could move back and forth between the other four power centers--Europe, the USSR, China, and Japan--and maintain world equilibrium.
Nixon soon announced his "Vietnamization" policy, which meant a slow withdrawal of American forces and a heavy building up of the South Vietnam army. Nonetheless, in the 3 years 1969-71, 15,000 more Americans died fighting in Vietnam. In April 1970, Nixon launched a huge invasion of Cambodia in a vain attempt to clear out communist "sanctuaries."
Then, most dramatically, he deflected world attention by ending the long American quarantine of Communist China, visiting Peking in February 1972 for general discussions on all matters of mutual concern--a move that led to the establishment (1979) of diplomatic relations. At the same time, he continued the heavy bombing attacks on North Vietnam that he had reinstituted in late 1971. He brushed aside as "without binding force or effect"the congressional attempt to halt American fighting in Vietnam by repealing the TONKIN GULF RESOLUTION of 1964, which had authorized Johnson to begin military operations. Nixon asserted that as commander in chief he could do anything he deemed necessary to protect the lives of American troops still in Vietnam.
In May 1972, Nixon became the first American president to consult with Soviet leaders in Moscow, leaving with major agreements relating to trade, cooperation in space programs and other fields of technology, cultural exchanges, and many other areas. He became more popular as prosperity waxed and as negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris seemed to be bringing the Vietnam War to a halt. In 1972 the Democrats nominated for the presidency Sen. George MCGOVERN of South Dakota, a man who for years had advocated womens rights, black equality, and greater power for the young. With the nations increasingly conservative cultural mood and the trend in Vietnam, Nixon won a massive landslide victory. In January 1973, Nixon announced a successful end to the Vietnamese negotiations: a cease-fire was established and an exchange of prisoners provided for.
Few presidents could ever have been more confident of a successful second term than Richard Nixon at this point. But before the year 1973 was out, his administration had fallen into the gravest scandal in American history. By March 1974 the stunning events of the WATERGATE crisis and associated villainies had led to the resignation of more than a dozen high officials--including the vice-president (for the acceptance of graft)--and the indictment or conviction of many others. Their criminal acts included burglary, forgery, illegal wiretapping and electronic surveillance, perjury, obstruction of justice, bribery, and many other offenses.
These scandalous events had their roots in the long Democratic years beginning with Roosevelt, when the American presidency had risen in a kind of solitary majesty to become overwhelmingly the most powerful agency of government. All that was needed for grave events to occur was the appearance in the White House of individuals who would put this immense power to its full use. Lyndon Johnson was such a man, for he was driven by gargantuan dreams. One result was Americas disastrous war in Vietnam. Richard Nixon, too, believed in the imperial authority of the presidency. He envisioned politics as an arena in which he represented true Americanism and his critics the forces of subversion.
At least from 1969, Nixon operated on the principle that, at his direction, federal officials could violate the law. On June 17, 1972, members of his Special Investigations Unit (created without congressional authorization) were arrested while burglarizing the national Democratic party offices in the Watergate office-and-apartment complex in Washington, D.C.
A frantic effort then began, urged on by the president, to cover up links between the Watergate burglars and the executive branch. This cover-up constituted an obstruction of justice, a felony. This fact, however, was kept hidden through many months of congressional hearings (begun in May 1973) into the burglaries. Televised, they were watched by multitudes. The American people learned of millions of dollars jammed into office safes and sluiced about from hand to hand to finance shady dealings, of elaborate procedures for covering tracks and destroying papers, and of tapes recording the presidents conversations with his aides.
With Watergate eroding Nixons prestige, Congress finally halted American fighting in Indochina by cutting off funds (after Aug. 15, 1973) to finance the bombing of Cambodia, which had continued after the Vietnam Peace Agreement. Thus, Americas longest war was finally concluded. In November 1973, Congress passed, over the presidents veto, the War Powers Act, sharply limiting the executives freedom of action in initiating foreign wars. When Vice-President Spiro T. AGNEW resigned his office on Oct. 10, 1973, Nixon, with Senate ratification, appointed Gerald R. Ford to replace him.
On July 24, 1974, the