"i wouldn't want to wake up next to a lady pipefitter" -- 12/3/18

Today's selection -- from The Presidency of Richard Nixon by Melvin Small. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw an often-violent cultural revolution in the United States:

"When [Richard] Nixon took office in January 1969, there were still 536,000 Ameri­can troops in Southeast Asia. More than 30,000 military personnel had been killed in combat since 1961, with almost half of those deaths occurring in 1968 alone. The failure of Johnson's policies had led a majority of Ameri­cans to conclude that entry into the war in Vietnam had been a terrible mistake.

"That mistake had unleashed the largest and most effective antiwar movement in the nation's history, a movement that flourished particularly on elite college campuses, which themselves were in an uproar over issues of curriculum, governance, and the universities' relationships to the fed­eral government. By 1967, President Johnson could not travel in his coun­try without facing picketers, foul-mouthed chanters, and even the threat of violence. Furthermore, many young people began to call for revolution­ary change. Not since the 1930s had so many Americans adopted anticapi­talist, anti-imperialist perspectives as they carried Cuban and Vietcong flags and chanted derisively, as American boys died in Vietnam, 'Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF [National Liberation Front] is gonna win.'

"Confounding the political problems on campuses and even in high schools was the so-called countercultural or hippie movement, in which young people abandoned middle-class values en masse as they 'turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.' In a few short years after the death of Presi­dent Kennedy, many young Americans -- and young people in Europe as well -- let their hair grow long; traded in their high heels and skirts and their ties and button-down shirts for torn jeans, tie-dyed T-shirts, and dirty sneakers; talked openly about and even practiced 'free love' listened to music that was incomprehensible to their parents; smoked marijuana; and rejected authority.

"Most young Americans were not foul-mouthed hippies, dope users, free-lovers, members of antiwar coalitions, or Marxists. But there were enough of these telegenic countercultural, antiestablishment types at Co­lumbia, Harvard, and Berkeley to suggest that the next generation of the establishment might not be like the last. And if the campuses were the breeding grounds for rebellion, things were clearly getting worse, because the number of people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one attend­ing college had risen from 23 to 35 percent from 1960 to 1970, while the median age of Americans had dropped from 29.5 to 28.

"The Supreme Court had seemingly contributed to the social revolution by expanding the bounds of free speech to permit words and behaviors previously considered 'obscene' to be heard and seen in the media and in concerts, nightclubs, and public demonstrations. The 'culture wars' that were to rage through the last quarter of the twentieth century had begun. Reflecting these wars were the contemporary Academy Award winners. Midnight Cowboy, an X-rated film dealing with drugs and homosexuality, was the 1969 winner, sandwiched between the wholesome musical Oliver! in 1968 and the patriotic biography Patton in 1970.

"For many Americans, the new women's liberation movement, galva­nized by the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963, the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, and the widespread use of the birth-control pill during the same period, was as destabilizing and distasteful a threat as the hippie and radical move­ments. Some were troubled by the emotional issue of abortion rights, one of the fundamental demands of the women's movement. Others expressed concern about what became known as 'traditional family values.' They claimed that the women's movement was responsible for the decline in the birthrate from twenty-four per thousand in 1960 to seventeen per thousand in 1970, as well as a 50 percent increase in the number of divorces per thou­sand during the same period.

"The lower birthrate and increased marital instability were most likely affected by the increasing number of women holding full-time jobs. By the time Nixon became president, almost 50 percent of American women held jobs, and many had begun to complain about the discriminatory practices of their employers. As for that supremely conventional Middle American in the White House, Nixon joked, 'Let me make one thing perfectly clear, I wouldn't want to wake up next to a lady pipefitter.' Nixon's remark resonated in a mainstream America that was still shocked by the feminists' raucous protest in Atlantic City outside the auditorium that housed the 1968 Miss America contest."

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Melvin Small


The Presidency of Richard Nixon


University Press of Kansas


Copyright 1999 by the University Press of Kansas


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