Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nixon's Civil Rights 21

My reading of Dean Kotlowski's Nixon's Civil Rights highlighted some of the negative aspects of President Richard Nixon's policy towards Native Americans. According to Kotlowski, Nixon dramatically increased funding for Native American concerns, but he did not spend a whole lot on urban Native Americans, focusing instead on those in rural areas. There were also times that Nixon did not show leadership and will, or follow through on his commitment to legislation.

My reading also discussed what may (in my opinion) have been conservative justifications for Nixon's progressive policy towards Native Americans. (Kotlowski did not say this explicitly in my latest reading, but I'm deducing this from facts that he presents.) Conservatives tended to oppose the interests of Native Americans, for they wanted to protect the grazing rights of ranchers and thus did not like Native Americans asking for land in their claims against the government. At times, Nixon's solution was to give the Native Americans cash, or at least to propose that such be done. But there were times when Nixon supported Native American rights, perhaps for conservative reasons (or so it seems to me). For example, President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 made Native American territory in New Mexico into a national forest, and many saw that as egregious federal imperialism. Many were concerned about this issue, and Nixon tried to seize it.

Opposition to the federal government infringing on people's rights is a conservative trademark, at least when it comes to property rights, and that may have been a basis for Nixon's championing of Native American rights, even when other conservatives did not do so. We saw something similar when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California: Reagan opposed a federally-supported dam that would have destroyed Native American land, averring, "We've broken too many damn treaties" (see here). As I've said before, it's refreshing when conservatism can be used to advance progressive causes. I should note, though, that, according to Kotlowski, Reagan as President was not as sympathetic to Native American concerns, for he sought to limit their land claims as well as cut funding for Native American health care and education.

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