Domestic and Foreign Policy Under Nixon
Nixon opposed most of Johnson’s Great Society programs; in his view, they were charitable handouts rather than attempts to provide poor people with the same opportunities as wealthier ones. Under the Great Society, the welfare rolls had swelled to more than double what they had been in 1960. Nixon’s first welfare-reform plan was called the Family Assistance Plan, in which adults would work in exchange for a guaranteed minimum salary. The Senate did not pass this plan.
Nixon had four opportunities to appoint new justices to the Supreme Court. All of his choices were conservative—two of them so conservative that the Senate refused to confirm them. In the end, Warren Burger became the new chief justice, and Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist were con- firmed as associate justices. Over the years, both Burger and Blackmun proved to be much more moderate in their decisions than Nixon had anticipated.
Domestic energy policy was tied to foreign policy, because the United States had to import most of the oil it used for gasoline and heat. A cartel called OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) determined how much to charge for the oil it exported. Of the twelve OPEC nations, ten were Arab states that deeply resented American support for Israel, a state established by international agreement after World War II as a homeland for tens of thousands of displaced European Jews. The land set aside for the state of Israel had belonged to the Jews in biblical times, but had been held by Arabs for many centuries; therefore, it was a bitter bone of contention between the two peoples.
In a series of wars between Israel and the Arab nations, the United States sided with Israel. OPEC retaliated by refusing to ship oil to the United States, then by sharply raising the price when they resumed shipping. By December 1973, the price had risen by nearly 400 percent. This caused a severe energy crisis in the United States. Nixon called for the conservation of energy, and also investigated ways in which the United States could become less dependent on foreign oil. Nuclear power plants were one such source of energy, but many Americans were nervous about the possibility of an accident or a leak of harmful radiation.
Nixon supported the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, long before protecting the environment became fashionable among the general public. He also signed several bills that protected the environment and ordered businesses to contribute to cleaning up the environmental waste and pollution their factories created.
In the area of foreign policy, Nixon worked closely with his national security adviser (later secretary of state) Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was one of very few associates whom the president trusted.
By the 1970s, China and the Soviet Union, the world’s two largest nations, both ruled by Communist regimes, were at odds with each other. Nixon felt that the time was ripe for reestablishing friendly relations between China and the United States, which had been suspended when China became a Communist state. In 1972, Nixon traveled to China, where he and Chinese premier Zhou Enlai agreed to work together to maintain peace in the Pacific and to develop trade relations between China and the United States. Nixon also agreed to withdraw U.S. troops from Taiwan if the Chinese would do the same in North Vietnam. This development astounded Americans, because it reversed the U.S. policy of supporting the Taiwanese in their long-standing bid for independence from China.
From China, Nixon traveled to the USSR, where he met Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The two leaders signed the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty, which limited the number of intercontinental nuclear missiles each could have. They also agreed to relax trade restrictions and bring their nations closer to étente —a friendly understanding.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:The Nixon Era and Watergate Practice Test
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