Monday, February 28, 2011

New Blog Series: "Why Texas House Speakers Matter"

In 2010, the University of Texas Press published "The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became A Power in State and National Politics," a book I co-wrote with Dr. Patrick L. Cox. We argue that Texas House Speakers labor in obscurity but exercise a disproportionate share of influence over events not just in Austin but also in Washington, D.C.. In this passage we describe one of the most recent speakers, Tom Craddick, at his zenith.

The Rise of the Texas House Speaker

Both literally and metaphorically, Texas House speakers live at the center of the state’s political universe. This fact became self-evident by February 2005. That month, Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick took up the entire cover of Texas Monthly magazine. The black and white image, dominated by Craddick’s lined face, his dark suit jacket lightened only by a Texas flag lapel pin, showed few shades of gray. The picture’s highly contrasting tones underscored the speaker’s fiercely held (critics would say inflexible) political convictions and his dominance over state politics.

The photograph bespoke authority and control, an impression confirmed by a single, superimposed word written large across Craddick’s narrow frame: Power. “This guy has tons of it,” declared Texas Monthly. The magazine, a mouthpiece of the Texas establishment, named Speaker Craddick as the most powerful man in the state. The article inside, which pointedly did not include Governor Rick Perry or Lt. Governor David Dewhurst on its list of most powerful Texans, confirmed a story almost 170 years in the making: the Speaker of the House has become the most important political player in Texas and one of the most important elected officials in the United States.

“Although the governor of Texas is elected statewide and is typically the most well-known public official in Texas, he or she can ill afford to ignore the Speaker of the Texas House,“ former Gov. Dolph Briscoe recalled. “A wise governor builds a close and friendly working relationship with the Speaker as soon as possible after the election.”

The speakership had become so powerful that Craddick almost single-handedly muscled through the Legislature the controversial redrawing of congressional district boundaries in 2003. The second Texas redistricting in two years, Craddick’s move inspired House Democrats to flee to Oklahoma to break a quorum. Later, Senate Democrats absconded to New Mexico for similar reasons. Redistricting that year aimed at making the already conservative Texas congressional delegation even more Republican.

Craddick accomplished this goal, but experienced mounting frustration in reforming school finance. Craddick’s refusal to accept a variety of new business taxes was most often cited as the reason the Legislature proved unable to approve a school finance plan through one special session of the 78th Legislature in 2004, and the regular session and two special sessions of the 79th Legislature in the summer of 2005. In both the case of redistricting and school finance, Tom Craddick was seen as the most important player, either as an initiator or killer of proposed laws. "In the past, whenever he has really needed them, he's been able to turn the screw and come up with 78 or 80 votes," retired longtime Republican senator Bill Ratliff said of the failure of the school finance bill. "The question is, was this a failure of leadership, or maybe he didn't care whether he had the votes or not." Craddick became a hero among GOP conservatives for redistricting. Because of his power, he now became the goat to some for the school finance fiasco.

Attributing such control over the lawmaking process to a Texas House speaker would have been unthinkable until the late twentieth century. As this book demonstrates, institutional changes in the Texas House and larger social changes in the state since World War II transformed the speakership from a rotating, largely honorary position charged mainly with presiding over House debates to an office in which individual speakers have wielded tremendous power and even control over state policy. This power extends beyond Texas, sending shockwaves across the nation. Part of the fallout from the redistricting battle in 2003 was that United States House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, Texas clinched continued Republican domination of the U.S. House until a Democratic landslide in 2006.

In contrast to Craddick’s high profile tenure, most speakers have labored in relative obscurity. Governors and lieutenant governors must run highly visible and increasingly expensive statewide campaigns to win office. The speaker, however, comes to power after being elected only by the voters of a single legislative district and then winning selection by peers in the Texas House. Twelve sections of the Texas Constitution, excluding amendments, describe the qualifications, duties, and powers of governors and four sections outline the office of lieutenant governor. Yet the Constitution, in Article 3, Section 9, dispenses with the office of House speaker in only twenty-four words: "The House of Representatives shall, when it first assembles, organize temporarily, and thereupon proceed to the election of a speaker from its own members . . ."

Obscured in that simple, brisk phrase is the power of House speakers to shape the legislative agenda. In the past 160 years, House speakers have either stymied or clinched the passage of legislative priorities offered by governors and lieutenant governors. Speakers can move a bill to the front of the House calendar or send proposals into legislative oblivion. Some House speakers have set a tone of bipartisanship while others have ensured an atmosphere of rancor and suspicion. Yet most Texans could not identify a single one of the 74 men who have held the office. With so little specific guidance from the Texas Constitution, each speaker has shaped the office in his own image.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

1968: The "What Ifs"

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Here, I speculate how the world of 2011 might have been different if events in 1968 had turned out differently.

Few years in American history inspire as many of what historians call “counter-factual propositions” as the year 1968. For instance, what would have happened if President Lyndon Johnson had not dropped out of the Democratic presidential race and decided to run for a second full term? His most threatening challenger, New York Sen. Bobby Kennedy most likely would never have directly challenged a sitting Democratic president, and most likely would have lived to run for president in 1972, leaving anti-Vietnam War candidate Eugene McCarthy alone in a quixotic quest to challenge the Johnson juggernaut.

Clearly, because of the president’s continued control over about 66 percent of the delegates who would have attended the Democratic convention, Johnson would have easily won re-nomination. After that, the speculation gets murkier, but given the mood of the time, it is hard to imagine Johnson triumphing in November.

What if Johnson had dropped out, and Kennedy had entered the primaries, but had not been murdered in California? Back in 1988, on the 20th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, historian Arthur Schlesinger, a close friend of Kennedy's, speculated that Bobby would have catapulted from his victory in the California primary to the Democratic nomination. He then would have beaten Richard Nixon in the November presidential election. Winning the White House, Kennedy would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner, cutting in half the number of names now on that tragic Vietnam Memorial in Washington.

President Robert Kennedy, Schlesinger speculated, would have continued the reform tradition of the New Deal and New Frontier, might have achieved racial reconciliation between whites and blacks and, by defeating Nixon, would have prevented the national malaise ushered in by Watergate and the later failed presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. That’s a huge, messianic burden for a one-term U.S. attorney general and four-year senator from New York to bear, a similar one that has been thrust upon the shoulders of Bobby’s similarly-martyred brother John F. Kennedy. The idolization of both Kennedys represent prime exhibits of what historians refer to, usually with derision, as the “Great Man” theory of history — the notion that the times are shaped not by larger forces like industrialization or racism, but by bold individuals of unique vision who rise above the moment and bend the world to their will.

There’s reason to think that the world would have changed less dramatically had Bobby Kennedy lived. If he had reached the White House and fulfilled his campaign promise to withdraw from Vietnam, South Vietnam likely still would have fallen to the communists. Republicans and conservative Democrats would have pilloried him as the man who “lost Southeast Asia,” much as Harry Truman had been condemned as the man who supposedly lost China in 1949. There likely would have been a post-war recession, as happened under Nixon, when defense spending inevitably declined. White Americans still would have been frightened by the rise of assertive black nationalist groups like the Black Panthers, and liberal judges probably still would have ordered school busing in places like Boston, sparking a white backlash that has defined American politics for nearly four decades.

Alone, Bobby could not have healed the Arab-Israeli divide, which might still have sparked the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the resulting Arab oil embargo, an event that exposed the United States as economically vulnerable. In any case, the deindustrialization of the Northeast and the growing support for free trade in both parties that started in the 1960s would have eroded the strength of the union vote so essential to the Kennedy family’s national political ambitions. Bobby Kennedy would have been a more progressive president than Nixon, and may have been less divisive, but he likely would have had as mixed a record as president as his older brother.

What if civil rights leader Martin Luther King had survived 1968? Although he was overwhelmingly admired by African Americans, by 1968 signs abounded that his influence within the left wing of the black community had ebbed. He could not have prevented continued violence by various white-controlled police departments and white supremacists acting alone or as part of an underground. Likely, he could not by himself turn back the embrace by some African Americans of more violent action in response. More radical alternatives to King, like the Black Panther Party, had risen by the time of his death.

Had King lived during the Nixon administration, with the racist J. Edgar Hoover holding on as director of the FBI until May 2, 1972 and given the civil rights violations that took place in the Watergate era, he most likely would have faced even more government harassment that he did under Johnson. The Vietnam War lasted until 1973, and King’s opposition to the conflict most likely would have intensified, putting him more in the government’s crosshairs.

Additionally, King had taken on a far more difficult crusade than Southern desegregation at the end of his career. During his campaign against poverty, he called for a massive redistribution of wealth, a solution controversial even among the liberals who normally would have been his allies. In any case, solving poverty would have been a much more difficult feat than getting “whites only” signs taken down from water fountains. Alienated from at least some more radical African Americans, he likely would have lost white support as well.

In the end, this is all speculation. We can be certain only about what actually happened. The year 1968 marked a triumph not of reform or liberalism but of retrenchment and conservatism. As president, Richard Nixon proved as reluctant as Johnson to be the “first president to lose a war.” As a result, the war dragged on for four more years, and about 30,000 more Americans died in the conflict. Johnson’s last year in office marked the last time that the federal government recorded a balanced budget until Bill Clinton’s second term in the late 1990s. The start of the Nixon years would launch three decades of debt that would leave the funding for federal budget dependent on China’s purchase of U.S. bonds.

Nixon’s insecurities and fears would infect his presidency, leading to the Watergate scandal. Even before burglars working for the Nixon re-election campaign broke into Democratic Party headquarters on June 17, 1972, the deception of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and the constant lies surrounding American progress in Vietnam, had pushed Americans into greater skepticism of and alienation from the federal government.

The twin assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, joined with the earlier murder of John Kennedy, led many Americans to doubt the official finding of guilt and to suppose that the federal government, up to the highest offices, played a hand in the murders. The public increasingly concluded that corruption in government was business as usual, leading them to doubt the likely benefits of heroic reform programs that had been promised as part of The New Frontier and The Great Society. Fueled in part by white anger against what was seen as the excesses of the 1960s, and particularly the near-anarchy of 1968, America entered a long political period of conservative dominance starting with Nixon’s election to the White House. Conservative Republicans would control the White House for 28 of the next 40 years and both houses of Congress for 12 of those years.

Humphrey’s defeat and Democratic nominee George McGovern’s crushing defeat by Nixon in 1972 convinced Democrats as well that the days of big government liberalism had ended. The next three Democratic presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama -- would try to rule from the center-right of American politics, and spend much of their political lives criticizing the party’s left wing.

Meanwhile, King’s life and words would be whitewashed. His birthday would become a holiday and his most provocative and radical statements would be forgotten. Conservatives would distort the meaning of his words during the March on Washington, in which he wished for men to be “judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” to mean that King would have been opposed to affirmative action opening job opportunities to people of color, even though King had supported such programs, and even suggested he backed reparations to African Americans for the centuries of unpaid slave labor. Safely dead, King was remade by white America as a non-threatening figure whose innocuous dream of equality, white America falsely claimed, had been already achieved.

Author Charles Kaiser once interviewed folk/rock star Bob Dylan and asked him about the events in 1968. ”All those things like that deaden you,” Dylan said. “They kill part of your hope. And enough of those blows to your hope will make you deader and deader and deader, until a person is existing without caring any more . . .” America left 1968 sad, exhausted and a little bitter, feeling not hope but a nostalgia for a largely fictitious and presumed Golden Age of Innocence. Instead, in the 1970s, Americans came to believe they lived in a declining empire.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Counter Revolution: Nixon's 1968 Electoral Triumph

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Here I describe the chaotic campaign for the presidency in the fall of 1968.

A year that often seemed to presage a revolution ended instead in a counter-revolution. The luck former Vice President Richard Nixon enjoyed in the race for the Republican nomination held up during the fall. Remembering painfully his fall in the 1960 debates with John Kennedy, the Republican avoided sharing a stage with Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey and relied instead on a sophisticated media strategy that foreshadowed the style of presidential candidates ever since. Meanwhile, Vice President Humphrey struggled to dig himself out of the hole created by the Chicago convention and burden of being associated with Lyndon Johnson's war in Vietnam, and the long-shot Wallace third-party campaign fatally stumbled.

Immediately after the Grant Park riot during the Democratic National Convention, Humphrey praised the actions of the Chicago police, who brutally beat anti-war demonstrators. This further alienated many potential supporters. Then he backtracked and criticized the police for “overreacting” and insisted that he did not “condone” the beating of demonstrators. Now he seemed like a flip-flopper. His chief surviving rival in the Democratic presidential race, Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, refused to endorse him. By September 27, a Gallup poll placed Humphrey 15 points behind Nixon and a mere seven points ahead of Wallace.

Desperate, the Humphrey campaign spent $100,000 to buy 30 minutes on national television TV time. Humphrey made a conditional promise that, if elected president, he would halt bombing in North Vietnam if the communists would “restore” the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam that had been repeatedly violated in recent months.

“As president, I would be willing to stop the bombing of the North as an acceptable risk for peace,” he told the audience. Johnson had warned Humphrey to not make that promise and was furious when Hubert delivered the talk anyway. Yet, some top John Kennedy aides such as John Kenneth Galbraith endorsed Humphrey for the first time as a result of the speech, and when the vice president spoke soon thereafter at the University of Tennessee for the first time in weeks, he did not have to deal with protestors and some students held a sign that said, “IF YOU MEAN IT, WE’RE WITH YOU.”

More important, labor unions finally leapt into the campaign, providing volunteers and money when Humphrey most needed it. Labor leaders were shocked into action when a Flint, Michigan United Auto Workers Union local – one of the UAW’s largest in the country – voted by a large margin to endorse the segregationist American Independent Party candidate, former Gov. George Wallace of Alabama. At the same time, a survey showed that about one-third of AFL-CIO members backed Wallace, and a Chicago Tribune poll found that 44 percent of the city’s white steelworkers planned to vote for the thirdparty candidate. Humphrey enjoyed the support of only 30 percent.

Organized labor formed the Committee for Political Action (COPE), which sent mailings to 13 million union members warning them “that Wallace was luring northern jobs to Alabama, a low-wage, right-to-work state, whose programs rested heavily on regressive taxes which would hit the workingman harder than the well-to-do,” as Dan Carter wrote. Northern union support for Wallace began to slide and Humphrey began drawing larger and more enthusiastic working-class crowds at his rallies.

More important to Humphrey was a major misstep by the Wallace campaign when the third-party candidate announced former Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay as his running mate. Wallace had trouble getting someone to agree to run with him. Wallace approached Ezra Taft Benson, the former Secretary of Agriculture under Dwight Eisenhower to be his running mate and also considered asking Harlan Sanders, better know as “Col. Sanders” of Kentucky Fried Chicken Fame.

The nod for the vice presidential candidacy instead went to Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who served as the inspiration for the trigger happy Air Force Gen. Buck Turgidson in director Stanley Kubrick’s satiric film "Dr. Stangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." LeMay had directed the air war against the Japanese in World War II, and became commander of operations during the Berlin airlift in 1948 when the Soviet Union cut West Berlin from NATO.

In his public statements, LeMay had expressed his frustration with America’s “phobia” about using nuclear weapons. Wallace held an October 3 press conference alongside LeMay broadcast by the three television networks. Beforehand, Wallace had urged the general to not talk about nuclear weapons. Los Angeles Times reporter Jack Smith asked LeMay if the United States could win the Vietnam War “without nuclear weapons.” “We can win this war without nuclear weapons,” LeMay said. “But I have to say that we have a phobia about nuclear weapons.

I think there may be times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. However, the public opinion in this country and through the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons just because of the propaganda that’s been fed to them. I’ve seen a film of Bikini Atoll [in the Pacific] after 20 nuclear tests, and the fish are all back in the lagoons, the coconut trees are growing coconuts, the guava bushes have fruit on them, the birds are back.”

Humphrey benefited from the LeMay gaffe, with some Wallace supporters concluding that the American Independent Party and its top two candidates were irresponsible and dangerous. Many of these voters drifted back to the Democratic Party, and Humphrey had erased most of Nixon’s lead going into the last days of the campaign.

BRANDING NIXON

Nixon’s strategy, meanwhile, focused on avoiding mistakes. He sought to carefully control his public appearance as his media team devised a strategy to make the candidate’s television appearances an advantage instead of a fatal weakness. In addition to not debating Humphrey, where he might slip, he avoided press conferences where he might be tripped up by a question from a skeptical reporter.

Nixon instead taped a series of ten television programs in which he answered questions from pre-screened voters before an audience of around 200 committed supporters. The audience and the pre-selected questioners sat in a semi-circle around Nixon. Audience members were told beforehand to applaud when Nixon answered and to get up and surround him at the end of these taped encounters so the last thing the television audience would see was Nixon shaking hands with a friendly crowd. Journalists had to watch these performances on monitors in a nearby room. Worried about the tendency of his upper lip to sweat when he was hot, Nixon ordered the air conditioner in the studio to run at full blast. The tapes played regionally so the topics could center on issues of concern to particular subsets of voters.

These extended political commercials were the brainchild of Roger Ailes, later a media consultant for President Ronald Reagan and president of Fox News. A minor crisis developed before one taping in Philadelphia when a staffer had placed a Jewish psychiatrist on the panel. Nixon didn’t like Jews and held a deep suspicion of the psychiatric profession. The man was dropped from the panel before taping and Ailes made a suggestion for a substitute.

“A good, mean Wallacite cabdriver,” Ailes said. “Wouldn’t that be great? Some guy to sit there and say, ‘Awright, Mac, what about those niggers?” Nixon could then act shocked, Ailes reasoned, deplore the man’s language, but then talk about law and order and “states’ rights” – in short offer a reasonable version of the cabbie’s anti-black resentments. Ailes went outside the studio and found a cabdriver who matched the desired description.

One panelist, a mild-tempered, conservatively dressed African American man, asked Nixon, “What does law and order mean to you?” Nixon concocted a typical answer for these staged events, one that suggested toughness with reasonableness. “I am quite aware,” Nixon said, “of the fact that, when the black community hear it, think of power being used in a way that is destructive to them. And yet I think that we have to also remember that the black community, as well as the white community, has an interest in law and order. To me, law and order must be combined with justice. Now that’s what I want for America. I want the kind of law and order which deserves respect.”

In front of a friendly audience, Nixon did not sweat, he smiled often enough, did not lose his temper, and he handled the rare tough question with relative calm and grace. During the campaign, Nixon also promised he had a secret plan to end the war. Ailes and other figures on the campaign successfully re-branded Nixon as a steady, tough and experienced potential president who would pursue a tough course with Vietnamese communists but would soon end the war, and who would not tolerate the lawlessness that had marked recent years.

Nixon’s approach proved to be a winning one, though it barely succeeded. A Harris poll showed that a majority of Americans believed that “liberals, long-hairs, and intellectuals have been running the country for too long” while 81 percent told pollsters that “law and order has broken down in this country.” In the end, most of those voters supported Nixon rather than his more right-wing opponent Wallace. The networks did not call the November 6 election until 9 a.m. the next morning. Nixon won 43.4 percent of the vote, and 301 Electoral College votes, and Humphrey carried 42.7 percent of the popular vote, with 191 Electoral College votes.

Wallace had one of the most successful third-party campaigns in U.S. history. He carried 13.5 percent of the popular vote and received 46 votes in the Electoral College, but he won states only in his Deep South home base – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia. Adding the Wallace and the Nixon votes, together, which represented 57 percent of the vote, the election represented a firm rejection of Johnson’s policies and their perceived effect on creating an atmosphere of dangerous permissiveness. Many white voters in particular had grown tired of the revolution in civil rights and the indecisive results in Vietnam and wanted a return to what they saw as normality.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The Whole World Is Watching": The Democratic Disaster in Chicago

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Here, I describe the disastrous Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968.

Like Richard Nixon, by 1968 Vice President Hubert Humphrey had sought the presidency for eight years. Unlike Nixon, however, Humphrey had to answer for the unpopularity of Johnson’s war in Vietnam. Humphrey avoided the party’s primaries, preferring to campaign behind the scenes, lining up the support of Democratic Party bosses who controlled a majority of the delegates who would attend the Democratic Party Convention in August.

Approximately 80 percent of Democratic primary voters had supported the chief anti-war candidates, Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. However, the math that mattered was that in thirty-three states, pro-administration party officials chose who would attend the convention. Throughout the 1968 campaign, Humphrey would not clearly break with the president on Vietnam.

To the young, rebellious voters who backed the anti-war candidates Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in particular, Humphrey seemed the embodiment of a hack machine politician. “A balding man who dyed his remaining hair an implausible shade, often sounded fatuous, and seemed unable to free himself from the yoke of a dubious president, Humphrey came across to many as a parody of all the establishment’s failures,” author Charles Kaiser wrote. “He hardly needed any additional disadvantages in his quest for younger supporters. However, by ignoring the primaries, and getting nearly all his delegates through the party’s power brokers, the vice president was making a difficult situation impossible.”

Humphrey campaign rallies in the summer drew few supporters, but many war protestors shouting, “Dump the Hump!” and “Bring the Troops Home!” often drowned out the vice president’s words. Even Johnson preferred that Republican Nelson Rockefeller replace him in the White House rather than Humphrey.

A bad atmosphere pervaded Chicago even before the Democratic National Convention started. Several strikes – by telephone installers, electrical workers, and bus and taxi drivers – made communication and transportation difficult. Daley turned the International Amphitheatre, where the Democrats convened, into a war zone. Barbed wire that could be electrified surrounded the building, as did a literal army of 12,000 police officers working 12-hour shifts, 6,000 National Guardsmen as well as another 6,000 soldiers who, as Kaiser noted, “were armed with rifles, flamethrowers, and bazookas.”

Anti-war activists planned a confrontation in Chicago during the convention. The Youth International Party, or Yippies, and other activists anticipated that the Chicago Police, under corrupt and almost dictatorial Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, would respond with violence to anti-war protestors outside the Democratic Convention. A bloody clash, Yippies like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman hoped, would prove that the United States had become a police state.

The Yippies saw politics as theater of the absurd. By dressing and acting in a ridiculous way, they hoped to illuminate what they saw as the farcical, unreal actions of the political establishment. When the Yippies requested permission to camp at Grant Park during the convention, they dispatched a white girl dressed in a Native American costume who went by the name Helen Running Water, who presented the permit form to Deputy Mayor David Stahl wrapped in a Playboy magazine Playmate of the Month photo upon which was written the message, “To Dick [Daley], with love – the Yippies.”

The press heavily covered the Yippies’ plans for convention week, whether they were real or not. Leaders Hoffman and Rubin announced they would contaminate the city’s water supply with copious amounts of the psychedelic drug LSD (chlorine used by the Chicago water department would have neutralized any attempt to spike water), that Yippie women would seduce convention delegates and slip LSD into their drinks, that ten thousand nude protestors would hold a “float-in” in Lake Michigan, and so on. Meanwhile, more serious and more politically focused protestors led by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) figures such as Tom Hayden, also converged on the city.

Daley had given his police department “shoot to kill orders.” The city banned any permits for groups wanting to camp at city parks. Protestors ignored the order and occupied Lincoln Park. Late on the Sunday night before the convention opened, the police charged into the protestor encampment determined to clear the anti-war protestors from the area. Yippies and others yelled, “Pigs!” and cried “Oink, oink,” prompting many officers to shout, “Kill the Commies!” as they cracked the heads of young people with nightsticks. A Chicago police officer shouted an obscenity at a Newsweek magazine reporter when he displayed his press credentials and clubbed him on the head and body. Police injured ten journalists that evening.

While pro-Johnson delegates at the convention shot down a Vietnam peace plank by a vote of 1,567 ¾ to 1041 ½, around 10,000 protestors gathered in nearby Grant Park. On Wednesday, disappointed and angry Eugene McCarthy supporters (who realized that the fix was in and that the convention would anoint Humphrey as the nominee) joined Yippies and the more conventional anti-war types who had participated in earlier events like the March on the Pentagon.

One demonstrator donning an army helmet attempted to remove the American flag from a flagpole at Grant Park and was mauled by police. Another group took the flag down and replaced it with a red T-shirt, provoking what a later investigative commission would call a “police riot.” Swinging nightsticks and pelting the protestors with tear gas and Mace, Chicago police launched a full-scale crackdown. As TV cameras rolled, the footage competing with scenes inside the convention hall, viewers watched as police bloodied protestors and innocent bystanders as well. Police pushed onlookers, reporters and demonstrators on the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue through plate-glass windows fronting the Hilton Hotel. Meanwhile, protestors chanted, “The Whole World Is Watching.”

The disorder inside the convention hall often matched the battle raging outside. On the second night of the convention, television viewers saw Daley’s security people punch CBS News reporter Dan Rather in the stomach, prompting the anchor of the network’s convention coverage, Walter Cronkite, to remark, "I think we've got a bunch of thugs here, if I may be permitted to say so."

Humphrey’s inevitable nomination served as a harder truth for protestors and many delegates. Just before midnight the night of the Grant Park riot, the vice president had secured enough votes for the nomination, and he eventually secured 1,761 ¾ votes, to 601 for McCarthy, 146 ½ for McGovern and 100 split among other candidates. His nomination defined the term “Pyrrhic victory.” More relevant than the nomination was the image fixed in the minds of the voters, of the Democrats as a party of violence and anarchy. In contrast, the relatively calm Republican convention projected an image for Nixon and the GOP as the forces of law and order.

As Humphrey celebrated his nomination, five hundred marched in a candlelight vigil, which the organizers described as a “funeral” for democracy. During the convention, more than 12,009 had been arrested. A total of 65 journalists covering the convention had been assaulted and/or arrested. Area hospitals reported treating 111 demonstrators, while volunteers with the Medical Committee for Human Rights reported treating more than 1,000 at the scenes of protests. Polls afterwards showed that a clear majority of Americans supported the actions against the protestors taken by the mayor and his police department. At a press conference on September 9, Daley, famous for being tongue-tied, announced, “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the police is there to preserve disorder.”


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Last Man Standing: The Resurrection of Richard Nixon

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." In this passage, I describe how Richard Nixon rode a wave of white racial resentments to capture the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.

For Richard Nixon, politics was about winning, and in pursuit of victory he proved willing to jettison any previously expressed belief. The one-time moderate Republican, even as he tried to shed his image as a dirty politician and promote himself as a mature, wise “New Nixon,” sought to market himself during the 1968 campaign as a better-educated, more reasonable version of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Frequently, he began speeches reminding audiences that he had embraced the Supreme Court’s 1954 'Brown v. Board of Education' school desegregation decision, and had backed Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Then he would subtly pivot as he denounced “riots, violence in the street and mob rule.” In spite of the overwhelmingly disproportionate rate of white violence against blacks, instead of vice versa, Nixon blamed bad race relations on “extremists of both races.”

Nixon mastered Orwellian doublespeak in 1968. Nixon said he opposed any “segregation plank” in the national Republican platform and even though, he insisted, he was personally opposed to Jim Crow, he criticized Washington dictating to the South what it should do on the issue. As biographer Rick Perlstein notes of Nixon’s new approach to racial issues, “The cleverness was sublime. He was ventriloquizing a generation of Southern Lost Cause speechifying about Yankees dictating to Dixie.”

At a Republican Party dinner, Nixon urged both major parties to stop talking about race but to focus on what he called “issues of the future.” Nixon spent much of 1966 wooing segregationist and former Democrat Sen. Strom Thurmond. Thurmond became the first of a wave of well-known Southern race-baiting politicians who switched parties after concluding that the national Democratic Party had become too liberal on civil rights and social programs.

Thurmond had run as a third-party “Dixiecrat” candidate for president in 1948 because of his opposition to a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party’s platform that year. “And I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches,” Thurmond said in speeches during his 1948 race. In 1957, Thurmond spoke for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes on the floor of the Senate as part of his filibuster to block then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act. The bill passed in spite of the filibuster.

Although he publicly dismissed the impact of a likely Wallace presidential bid, Nixon privately worried that he would lose the votes of white Southern conservatives to the former Alabama governor. Nixon saw getting the support of Thurmond as a key to winning over that Southern right-wing constituency. By the time of his party switch, Thurmond had moderated his language, but not his attitudes, on race, which gave Nixon an opening to stand side-by-side with the pro-Jim Crow icon.

“In the years after his 1948 presidential campaign, he modulated his rhetoric and shifted the focus of his grim maledictions to the ‘eternal menace of godless, atheistic Communism,’” historian Dan T. Carter wrote. “He had even learned (when pressed) to pronounce the word ‘Negro’ without eliciting grimaces from his northern fellow Republicans. But race remained his subtext: he continued to red-bait every spokesman for civil rights . . . For the traditional southern campaign chorus of ‘Nigger-nigger-nigger,’ he substituted ‘Commie-Commie-Commie.’”

At a 1966 press conference, Nixon said, “Strom is no racist. Strom is a man of courage and integrity.” Thurmond craved respectability among his new GOP comrades, and from that moment on the South Carolina senator campaigned enthusiastically for Nixon. “Almost pathetically grateful, the senator seldom wavered in his support for Nixon in the years that followed,” Carter wrote.

Nixon would have Southern Republicans in his pocket by the time of the 1968 party convention. He smartly spent 1966 campaigning for Republican congressional candidates in normally GOP districts that had voted Democratic during Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential landslide. On election day 1966, 27 of the 48 freshmen Democratic congressmen were swept out of office. The candidates Nixon backed won, giving him an even larger slate of important allies in his campaign for the Republican nomination two years later.

LAST MAN STANDING

Nixon also benefited when his chief opponents within the GOP dithered or imploded. New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, the liberal who mounted the main challenge to Barry Goldwater in 1964, couldn’t make up his mind about entering the race, and his indecision undercut whatever support he might have received. For a time, Michigan Gov. George Romney ran as a substitute for Rockefeller. Considered handsome by many and a moderate elected in a Democratic state, Romney fatally wounded his campaign during a September 4, 1967 interview. Romney seemed to favor a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, but he hesitated to say so clearly for fear of being seen as soft on the Vietnamese communists.

Asked about his inconsistency, Romney commented on a tour he once had taken in Vietnam. “When I came back from Vietnam in 1965, I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone can get when you get over to Vietnam,” he said. “Not only the generals, but also the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job.” Romney had tried to describe the intense and dishonest salesmanship the military engaged in regarding the war, but as Perlstein observed, “What people heard was the word brainwashing.”

The word “brainwashing” had carried a devastating connotation since the Korean War 15 years earlier. “The term brainwashing had come into use after the Korean War to explain why some prisoners of war, supposedly insufficiently sturdy in their patriotism to resist, chose to stay behind in enemy territory and denounce the United States – what the ruthless did to the soft-minded,” Perlstein said. “Neither side of the association appealed to voters: the notion that the architects of Vietnam were ruthless, and the notion of a soft-minded president.” Once very competitive with Nixon, Romney was trailing Nixon by a 6-1 margin just before the New Hampshire primary in March 1968, the first contest in the Republican nomination process, and he dropped out of the race shortly before the casting of ballots.

Nixon saw Ronald Reagan as his chief obstacle. In California, Reagan had handily defeated Pat Brown, the man Nixon lost to in 1962, in the 1966 gubernatorial contest. As the top elected official in the state with the most electoral votes, he immediately became a presidential contender. During his gubernatorial campaign, he sounded many of the same themes as Nixon and Wallace, though in a more appealing, Hollywood star fashion. Always an advocate of tax cuts for the rich, Reagan still resonated with working-class audiences by appealing to their resentments against what blue-collar voters saw as spoiled and unappreciative college students who burned the flag and rioted rather than taking advantage of going to college and learning.

In one Reagan speech, he blasted student protestors at the University of California at Berkeley. “What in heaven’s name does academic freedom have to do with rioting, with anarchy, with attempts to destroy the primary purpose of the university, which is to educate our young people?” Reagan asked.

He attacked state welfare programs that he claimed brought migrants to California who only wanted to “loaf.” Reagan tacitly argued the government should do nothing about segregation, criticizing the California Supreme Court when it overturned Proposition 14, which had reversed a California law banning race discrimination in housing. “I never believed that majority rule has the right to impose on an individual as to what he does with his property.”

Within 10 days of his election as governor, Reagan gathered his advisors at his Pacific Palisades home and discussed a presidential campaign for the first time. Reagan’s first two years as governor, however, let the air out of his ambitions. Reagan proposed a state budget that cut every department by 10 percent. Reagan, Rick Perlstein noted, “didn’t even know that much of the budget was set by statute. He never came within a mile of his goal.” When tax cuts he pushed for created a deficit, he then presided over the largest tax increase in state history. Then a so-called homosexual scandal broke out. The newspaper columnist Drew Pearson revealed the presence of gays on Reagan’s staff, and in this intensely homophobic era the story tarred Reagan’s reputation. Reagan purged gays from the state government, but as journalist and author Theodore White wrote, “From this blow, the Reagan campaign never recovered.” In any case, Nixon’s alliance with Strom Thurmond insured that the Southern Republicans needed for Reagan to win the nomination would back the former Vice President.

Nixon won the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Miami on the first ballot, August 7, 1968, with the support of 692 delegates. The total was only 26 votes over 50 percent. Rockefeller received 277. Nixon’s nomination largely resulted from the failures of the other candidates. He nevertheless gave one of the best speeches of his career when he accepted the nomination the next night. “As we look in America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night . . . We see Americans hating each other, fighting each other; killing each other at home”

Little did Nixon know that night that his words could be describing the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, August 26-29. The nation would watch in horror as police rioted, demonstrators bled and a major political party committed suicide in front of television cameras.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Backlash: George Wallace And The Other Protest Movement of the 1960s

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." In this passage, I describe the angry white reaction to civil rights reform and urban uprising in the 1960s and how these resentments fueled the presidential campaigns of segregationist George Wallace of Alabama.

It was to the rising conservative wing of the Republican Party, however, that Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon tied his fate in 1968. The urban riots, beginning with the Watts uprising in 1965, further energized the right wing. Supreme Court decisions prohibiting school-mandated and directed prayer, and loosening pornography laws, politicized religious conservatives who argued the government was at war with Judeo-Christian values.

When Time magazine featured the question, “Is God Dead?” on its cover on April 8, 1966, many evangelical Christians added the media to its list of supposedly dangerous, atheist forces in America. The cover story provoked about 3,500 letters to the editor, a record for responses to one article. Many echoed the sentiments of one reader who wrote the editors, “Time’s story is biased, pro-atheist, and pro-Communist, shocking and entirely un-American.”

The right-wing backlash sometimes turned violent. The year 1966 saw the pro-war song “The Ballad of the Green Berets” at number 1 on the Billboard Magazine chart of Top 40 bestselling records for five weeks. As historian Rick Perlstein observed, in the same year, in San Diego, someone broke a window and threw a burning oil rag into the office of a San Diego civil rights organization. In Pacific Palisades, California, a high school principal dispatched the football team to beat up a group of 50 students protesting the school dress code who carried signs that read “THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC PROOF THAT LONG HAIR INHIBITS LEARNING.” In Richmond, Virginia, two pacifists passed out literature criticizing the American war in Vietnam. Assailants shot them 17 times in the back.


“POINTY-HEADED BUREAUCRATS”

Nixon found political gold in tapping white anger against African Americans. As part of his comeback plans the former vice president already implemented what would come to be known as the “Southern Strategy” during his presidential administration. Nixon watched with intense interest and fear the career of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who had performed surprisingly well in Northern Democratic primaries in 1964. Politicians like Wallace, Nixon and former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan perceived the growing white backlash in the United States, even in places as far from the South as California, where 65 percent of voters in 1964 approved Proposition 14, a measure that overturned a previously passed fair-housing law prohibiting home sellers from discriminating against racial minorities.

As the 1968 presidential season dawned, Wallace sought out disaffected whites across the country as he launched the American Independent Party, a third-party vehicle for his presidential ambitions. A Detroit newspaper columnist derided Wallace’s constituency, which included Klansman and Neo-Nazis, as “kooks.” Wallace scoffed. “The other side’s got more kooks than we do,” he insisted, adding, “kooks got a right to vote too.”

Wallace successfully tapped into a culture, shaped by Joe McCarthy-era claims of secret communist plots to take over America (ideas still promoted by J. Edgar Hoover) and doubts over the official conclusions regarding the JFK assassination, increasingly attuned to conspiracy theories. The race riots that had wracked the country, Wallace claimed, were the product of a sinister plan to destroy America launched by “pointy-headed” bureaucrats in Washington who were taking their orders directly from communist leader Fidel Castro in Cuba.

The more extreme Wallace sounded, according to biographer Dan Carter, the larger and more enthusiastic his audiences. Working under stringent ballot access laws authored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to block third-party access to the ballot, Wallace supporters collected 2.7 million signatures to get the American Independent Party on the ballot in Ohio. This success was repeated across the country.

Campaigning outside his native state, Wallace had to mask his appeals to anti-black resentment. He spoke instead in racial code, of lazy people on welfare, and the collapse of law and order. “You people work hard,” he told a white, blue-collar California audience, “you save your money, you teach your children to respect the law.” Yet, Wallace said, when someone burns down a city and murders someone, “ ‘pseudo-intellectuals’ explain it away by saying the killer didn’t get any watermelon to eat when he was 10 years old. “ Furthermore, Wallace claimed, “the Supreme Court is fixing it so you can’t do anything about people who set cities on fire.”

Wallace also included leftist professors, immoral Hollywood movies and “long-haired hippies” in his list of “sinister forces destroying America.” While the Northeast press derided Wallace for his simple-minded and often crude rhetoric, voters found the renegade candidate refreshingly blunt. “You don’t have to worry about figuring out where he stands,” a steelworker in Youngstown, Ohio, told one reporter. “He tells it like it really is.”

Few expected that Wallace could get on the ballot in California, but on January 2, 1968, Wallace announced that he had collected the required 100,000 signatures. A Gallup Poll at the time showed 11 percent of California voters supporting Wallace for president. By April, Wallace addressed cheering crowds in the largest Texas cities, in Houston, San Antonio, Lubbock and beyond. Near Dallas, a Wallace speech drew 15,000, who endured a driving rainstorm while sitting in a high school football stadium. The warmup speaker, Carter notes, described Wallace as “America’s divinely appointed savior.”

Arch-conservative Western movie star John Wayne reportedly sent the campaign a total of $30,000, the last check supposedly inscribed, “Sock it to ’em, George.” Dallas billionaire Bunker Hunt (son of the legendarily eccentric, radically right-wing and bigamist Texas oilman H.L. Hunt) provided Wallace up to $300,000. In the end, the Alabama politician’s amateurish campaign raked in around $9 million in contributions, enough to make his third-party bid competitive. More than 80 percent of Wallace campaign contributions, however, came from small donors who sent $50 or less. Wallace’s name would be on the ballot in all 50 states that November.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Poor Richard": Nixon in Exile

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." In this passage, I describe the rise, fall and the start of the second rise of Richard M. Nixon.

By 1968, American politicians on the right right, such as California Gov. Ronald Reagan and former Vice President Richard Nixon insisted that the violence consuming America that year stemmed from permissive parents who had mollycoddled the young. Lacking discipline, those brats now protested at college campuses and refused to fight for their country in Vietnam, the conservatives claimed. The Supreme Court, dominated by liberals, had gone soft on crime. Progressives in Congress, with their welfare programs, had created a spoiled underclass that expected something for nothing and who, when they didn’t get their way, rioted.

Former Vice President Richard Nixon had been nursing personal grudges and mining white resentment since he lost his presidential contest against John Kennedy in 1960. Born in 1913 in Yorba Linda, California, the child of two intensely religious Quakers, Nixon was described by authors Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin as a “solitary and unsmiling child.” He toiled at long shifts at his father Frank Nixon’s general store and gas station. Isserman and Kazin describe Nixon’s mother as “loving but distant.” Mrs. Nixon strongly discouraged “open displays of affection.” Nixon’s father was stern. The family suffered numerous tragedies, including the deaths of two of Nixon’s brothers before he finished college. “Early on he concluded that life was a grim and no-holds-barred struggle, in which success came only to those who persevered at any cost,” the authors said.

Nixon always felt insecure about his poor parents and his education, attending small Whittier College in California rather than the prestigious, expensive Ivy League schools favored by the affluent. Nevertheless, through hard work he won a scholarship to Duke University in North Carolina, where he earned a law degree.

After serving in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II, he returned to Whittier and practiced law with a small firm. Always ambitious, Nixon challenged incumbent liberal Congressman Jerry Voorhis, whom Nixon characterized with great inaccuracy as a supporter of “Communist principles.” Already, Nixon had acquired a reputation as a dirty campaigner, but to the young congressman this was the only way to challenge the unfair advantages of wealth and prestige enjoyed by his political opponents.

Nixon was named to the House Un-American Activities Committee, where his flair for red-baiting would get a choice platform. Nixon seized an opportunity to get attention when Time magazine editor and former communist Whittaker Chambers testified before the committee that while he was a member of the party he had helped Alger Hiss, an adviser in Franklin Roosevelt’s State Department, make copies of secret diplomatic documents. Chambers said the copies were made so he could transmit them to the Soviet government. Hiss, Chambers claimed, was a fellow communist.

In testimony, Hiss denied the charges, and he then sued Chambers for slander. With great theatricality, Nixon revealed microfilmed copies of State Department files that had been discovered, under Chambers’ direction, in a hollowed-out pumpkin at the editor’s Maryland farm.

The Pumpkin Papers, as they became known, attracted page-one headlines and Nixon promoted the evidence as proving “the most serious series of treasonable activities . . . in the history of America.” Because of the statute of limitations, Hiss was immune from espionage charges, but he was convicted for perjury and received a five-year sentence in federal prison. Hiss continued to deny the charges for the rest of his life.

Nixon won fame from his involvement in the Hiss case, which he used to his advantage in 1950 when he ran for the United States Senate against liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas. Again, he smeared his opponent as a communist sympathizer, calling her a “pink lady.” Nixon won again. When he ran for president in 1952, the moderate Dwight Eisenhower picked as running mate the conservative Nixon to broaden his appeal and to help him earn California’s electoral votes.

Nixon had his first of many political near-death experiences during the 1952 campaign. News stories revealed that Nixon had received possibly illegal contributions from wealthy supporters to reimburse the California senator for his campaign expenses. Nixon defended himself on national television, misleadingly characterizing his income as meager. Referring to his wife, Nixon said his family didn’t have much money. “It isn't very much, but Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we've got is honestly ours,” Nixon said. “I should say this—that Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she'd look good in anything.”

At the end of the speech, Nixon did admit to receiving from one contributor the gift of a dog for his daughters, which the children named Checkers. “And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it,” Nixon said.

Many establishment Republicans cringed at the scandal and what some called Nixon’s “Poor Richard” speech. Critics began calling Nixon “Tricky Dick.” Nevertheless, the Californian’s performance won support from the public and ensured he would remain on the Eisenhower ticket. Eisenhower, however, never liked Nixon and their relationship as president and vice president for the next eight years was cold.

Eisenhower did not provide enthusiastic support for Nixon during the vice president’s race against John Kennedy in 1960 and at times actually undermined him. Nixon had suggested in the campaign that he had played a vital role in shaping Eisenhower-era policy. Asked at a press conference to provide one example of when he had implemented one of Nixon’s policy suggestions, Eisenhower said, “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.” Eisenhower’s joke made Nixon look ridiculous and added to the vice president’s lengthening list of grievances when he returned to public life in 1961.

IN THE WILDERNESS

Nixon once predicted he would literally die if he had to leave politics. He took his loss to Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election as a personal repudiation and he desperately wanted to win back public approval. In 1962, he ran for California governor against the Democratic incumbent, Edmund “Pat” Brown. A moderate on civil rights during his Senate career and a supporter of some social programs, Nixon had fallen out of touch with the right-wing drift of the California Republican Party during his sojourn in Washington. Nixon blasted the far-right John Birch Society, which claimed that a secret communist conspiracy had seized control of the federal government, that Eisenhower himself was a communist agent, and that the fluoridation of water was government adoption of socialism (and some members claimed the fluoride dulled the mind and weakened the body). Communists, they said, were poisoning American water in preparation for an invasion.

Nixon called this talk the ramblings of “nuts and kooks” at a meeting of the California Republican Assembly. Right-wingers were less than enthusiastic about Nixon, and many did not turn out on Election Day. Pat Brown, meanwhile, charged that Nixon had no interest in running for governor and that he would exploit the office in order to run for president again. Nixon lost to Brown by approximately 52 percent of the vote to 47 percent.

The failed candidate held a bitter press conference upon losing the California governor’s race. “And as I leave the press, all I can say is this: for sixteen years, ever since the Hiss case, you’ve had a lot of fun – a lot of fun – that you’ve had an opportunity to attack me, and I think I have given as good as I have taken,” he told a crowd of reporters. “ . . . [A]s I leave you I want you to know – just think of how much you are going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” Across the country, journalists panned Nixon’s performance at the press conference, which they said showed the man to be resentful and un-presidential. ABC broadcast a 30-minute news special, "The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon."

“Barring a miracle, his political career ended last week,” Time proclaimed. Nixon stayed in the background during the 1964 presidential campaign, although he dropped big hints that he would again accept the Republican nomination if asked. Nixon also said that if the GOP nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the extremely conservative frontrunner, this development would be a “tragedy” for the party.

Yet, when Goldwater received the nomination, Nixon alone among prominent Republicans campaigned across the country for Goldwater, making 156 speeches on his behalf. Nixon realized that the conservative delegates who supported Goldwater at the 1964 Republican National Convention would be in charge for the 1968 convention. Having campaigned for both conservative and liberal Republican candidates across the country in 1964, and again in 1966, Nixon would soon collect his chits. “Every side owed him something,” historian Rick Perlstein said.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.