Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A report card for Richard Nixon: Conservative intellectuals and the president
by Mergel, Sarah Katherine, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2007, 383; 3258462
Abstract (Summary)

Richard Nixon ascended to the presidency in 1968 at a time when Americans began to question the liberal turn of the country's intellectual and political leaders. Many voters chose Nixon because he presented an alternative to the seeming excesses of liberalism during the Kennedy and Johnson years. His campaign capitalized on the role of the Vietnam War in American life and the domestic disorder that rose from the Civil Rights movement. His message appeared congruent with the ideals conservative intellectuals had espoused since the end of World War II. Russell Kirk, Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley, Jr., and others promoted a society based on freedom and liberty; a society based on personal responsibility and the free market. Conservatives debated in 1968 whether Richard Nixon could serve as the political spokesman of their movement. Certainly, he had the anticommunist credentials so important to their calls for a free society uninhibited by government control or collectivism. But did his anticommunism make him a conservative as well?

This dissertation explores how conservative intellectuals influenced and reacted to political and social developments during the Nixon administration. It also looks at the lessons conservatives learned from their experience with Nixon. They thought Nixon would favor nominally conservative positions once in office. Conservatives believed Nixon's victory signaled that their time had finally come. Almost overnight, they went from attacking the establishment to defending it. However, this situation proved short-lived. Nixon chose to introduce domestic and foreign policies that went against general conservative doctrine. Relying on published and unpublished accounts of conservative opinion, this study addresses how conservative intellectuals came to support Nixon in 1968 and again in 1972. It also covers conservative reaction to Nixon's handling of the Vietnam War, communism, inflation, unemployment, poverty, and civil rights.

This dissertation uses the Nixon years as a window into conservatives' efforts to turn ideology into successful politics. Conservatives have tended to ignore the Nixon years when chronicling their own history in an attempt to distance themselves from Nixon's failed presidency and its ties to conservative discourse. However, the Nixon years were integral to the development of modern conservatism because conservative intellectuals benefited from their sometimes close and sometimes contentious relationship with Nixon. During the early Seventies, conservatives discovered how to distill their ideology into a political message that had the ability to inspire a wider audience to vote for conservative candidates. They also learned valuable lessons about what to look for in future candidates for elected office. No longer would they settle for a candidate not committed to a conservative outlook and a conservative program of reform.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ribuffo, Leo P.
School: The George Washington University
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 68/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, History, Political science
Keywords: Conservative, Intellectuals, Nixon, Richard M., President
Publication Number: 3258462
ISBN: 978-1-109-96310-6
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