Public sentiment solidified against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, and Richard Nixon was elected in part because he pledged to end the war and bring what he called “peace with honor.” To that end, the Nixon administration inaugurated the strategy of Vietnamization. The goal of the policy was to gradually withdraw American troops while continuing to support the armies of South Vietnam. American troop levels in Vietnam peaked in 1968 at 536,000, and by 1972 fewer than 30,000 American soldiers remained. At the same time, President Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger expanded the focus of the war into neighboring Cambodia and Laos. They also intensified the bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 campaigns also appealed to many Americans’ sense of unease about the rise of the counterculture along with the antiwar movement. In 1968 Nixon became one of the first presidential candidates to emphasize crime in a national campaign, famously referring to the “silent majority” of Americans who longed for a society of law and order. Playing to voters’ anxieties about the upheavals of the late 1960s proved a successful strategy for Nixon, who was elected with a solid majority of electoral votes.
Nixon’s domestic program focused on decreasing the size of federal government bureaucracy and delegating responsibility for social programs to the states. Considered a “New Federalist,” Nixon favored local control of issues such as school desegregation and welfare, but he also supported environmental regulation and women’s rights. He proposed the Clean Air Act, which was passed by congress in 1970, and he created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources. Under his direction, the Department of Justice initiated legislation to enforce the sex discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act, and Nixon appointed more women to administration positions than any previous president.
With the assistance of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nixon proposed the Family Assistance Plan, a guaranteed national income program, to replace the federal welfare system. The program was unpopular with conservatives who opposed welfare, and also with liberals who felt the proposed benefits were insufficient. Nixon had limited success with his social programs, but he succeeded in redirecting billions in federal funds to local and state governments.
» PBS – American Experience: The Presidents (Richard M. Nixon)
» U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: Statistical information about casualties of the Vietnam conflict
» Wikipedia: Vietnamization