A capable dissection of the Nixon administration’s policies on such matters as affirmative action and housing integration, charting failures and successes alike.
According to Richard Nixon, writes Kotlowski (History/Salisbury State Univ.), “once blacks became educated and entered skilled trades or professions or opened businesses, they would be able to purchase homes in suburbs.” The president’s thinking on matters of civil rights was seldom more complex than that, and he was motivated more by political expediency than a concern for social justice. Even so, as Kotlowski demonstrates, and even against the opposition of close advisors such as Charles Colson (“a bigot and crass opportunist”), Nixon’s lieutenants managed to push through meaningful reforms in civil rights legislation and federal policy, most notably an aggressive program of affirmative action that ignited a firestorm of controversy. Kotlowski leaves little doubt that Nixon was in his heart a racist, but his pragmatic approach to politics and professional survival drove him to set aside his own inclinations, stand up to the Republican Party’s archconservative Southern wing, and endorse reform. In taking such actions as increasing funds for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Kotlowski wryly observes, “Nixon’s motives were not entirely high-minded, since he saw hiking the budget as a way to improve his ‘image’ with minorities and liberals.” But whatever the motivation, the author insists, Nixon’s policies “helped minorities enter the middle class” and broadened federal concern to include other minorities such as Mexican Americans and Native Americans. Though these policies failed in other realms, checkered success, Kotlowski suggests, is better than no success at all; as civil rights activist Roger Wilkins observes in the closing pages, “looked at through the prism of the Reagan Administration, the Nixon civil rights record does not look as bad today as it did in 1971, ’72, and ’73.”
Of considerable interest to students of contemporary history, race relations, and federal policy.