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President Nixon speech on "massive busing" - 3-16-72

by Matt Delmont

President Richard Nixon made his most important statement on busing in a televised Presidential address in March 1972, shortly after Florida’s Democratic Presidential Primary in which the busing issue propelled George Wallace to a landslide victory and seventy-four percent of Floridians signaled their opposition to busing in a ballot straw poll. Nixon called on Congress to pass a moratorium on new busing orders and pass new legislation that would “establish reasonable national standards” rather than the “unequal treatment of among regions, states and local school districts” ordered by the courts. While the compromise bill Congress eventually passed was weaker than Nixon’s proposal, White House advisor John Erlichman later described the televised speech as a political victory: “Whether Congress passed the busing moratorium was not as important as that the American people understood that Richard Nixon opposed busing as much as they did.” Nixon’s televised speech prompted the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to publish “It’s Not the Distance, ‘It’s the Niggers,’” a report which fact checked Nixon’s claims about busing. The speech also intensified tensions between the White House and the civil rights lawyers in the Justice Department who worked on school desegregation cases, seven of whom resigned in protest. In a letter published in the Washington Post, one of the lawyers wrote, “As I sit here watching President Nixon make his statement on school busing I am sickened. Sickened because it is the job of the President to unite and lead the nation to the future, not buckle under the weight of political pressure and retreat to a dark and miserable past.” Nixon’s administration only announced two days earlier that the speech would be a televised address and did not release the customary advanced copy of the speech to the media. All of the networks carried the address, but with limited time for commentators to analyze the text of the speech, Nixon was able to present his views on busing with almost no critical commentary. Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey called the speech a “TV commercial” for antibusing views, and Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, criticized Nixon for using his televised address to speak “as a committed advocate of one side of a major national controversy” and wrote to ABC, CBS, and NBC to request equal time to reply. As Nixon’s critics understood, the President was in a unique position to shape the debate over busing and through television he used this power to his full advantage.

President Nixon speech on busing - 3-16-72 - CBS

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President Nixon speech on busing - 3-16-72 - CBS

from CBS News Special Report (1972)
Creator: CBS
Distributor: CBS
Posted by Matt Delmont