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The Nixon Administration, The Imperial Presidency

Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, Family Assistance Plan, Nixon doctrine, land wars, liberal policies

Long a controversial figure, Nixon served as vice president for eight years under Eisenhower, lost a bid for president in 1960 and a run for governor of California in 1962, and then worked as a corporate lawyer. Elected in 1968 and again, resoundingly, in 1972, Nixon claimed to represent a new majority that included former Democrats—ethnic minorities, working-class people, and Southern whites—who were disgusted with liberal policies. Nixon promised voters that he would restore law and order and end the unpopular war in Vietnam.

During Nixon’s presidency, the economy ran into trouble with inflation. In 1971 inflation leaped to 5 percent, the stock market fell, and for the first time since the 19th century, the United States had an overall trade deficit, which meant that it imported more goods than it exported. To fight inflation, Nixon briefly imposed wage and price controls. His cautious efforts succeeded and prevented inflation from getting worse. Nixon also urged welfare reform. In 1969 he proposed the Family Assistance Plan, which would have provided a minimum income for poor families and supplements for the working poor. The bill died in a Senate committee, but one of its provisions, a food stamp program, became federal policy.

Nixon’s strength was foreign policy. His Vietnamization program reduced American casualties and diminished American involvement in the Vietnam War, although he widened the war by extending it to Cambodia. Meanwhile, Henry Kissinger, whom Nixon appointed as secretary of state in 1973, followed a new brand of diplomacy. Kissinger saw world power as divided among the United States, the USSR, Japan, China, and Europe, and he attempted to achieve first place for the United States among these major powers. In 1969 Nixon advanced the Nixon doctrine, which held that the United States would continue to help Asian nations combat Communism but would no longer commit troops to land wars in Asia.

Most important, Nixon opened relations with China. In 1972 he made an official visit to China. Nixon’s trip was the first time that the United States and China had renewed relations since 1949, when Communists took control in China. Nixon also traveled to Moscow to sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) in 1972. The treaty reduced stockpiles of nuclear weapons and froze deployment of intercontinental missiles. Nixon, however, undercut his own achievements by abuses of power that came to light in his second term.

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