I have two items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.
1. On page 289, Ambrose says the following about President Richard Nixon's policy on arms control:
responded to the conflicting pressures by yielding to all of them. He
pushed hard for ABM, and for MIRV testing, and for SALT. His idea was
to use ABM as a 'bargaining chip' in SALT. He would build new weapons,
the ABM, so that the United States would not have to build new weapons
after the SALT agreements were reached. Simultaneously, he would push
ahead with MIRV, which unlike ABM would not be a subject for discussion
in SALT. There was something for everyone: SALT for the liberals, the
doves, and the fiscal conservatives; ABM and MIRV for the conservatives,
the hawks, and the Pentagon. This was smart politics. Whether it was
good policy was less clear."
I don't want to get too deeply into
the intricacies of arms control, but I'll define a few terms here. SALT
referred to talks about arms control that the United States had with
the Soviets in the 1970's. The ABM is a defensive sort of weapon.
There was talk in the 1980's that the Strategic Defense Initiative, or
"Star Wars", would be in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)
treaty. You may recall that Star Wars was intended to be a defensive
sort of weapon: it would shoot enemy missiles from space.
259, Ambrose discusses Nixon's policy on ABM: that a program called
Safeguard would protect launch sites for intercontinental ballistic
missiles (ICBMs), but not American cities. Jerry Voorhis criticized
Nixon for this in The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon, which I blogged through last month.
Ambrose says that Nixon's policy would mean that the U.S. would need
fewer ABMs: after all, if we're only protecting ICMB launch sites and
not cities, then that means that we're protecting fewer areas, and thus
that we don't need as many ABMs. But why protect launch sites
and not American cities? On page 259, Ambrose quotes Nixon as saying
that an ABM system defending the cities "tends to be more provocative in
terms of making credible a first-strike credibility against the Soviet
Union." Nixon went on to say, "I want no provocation which might deter
arms talks...and escalate an arms race."
What I get out of
Nixon's statement is that, if we were to protect our cities, we would
be communicating to the Soviets that we could strike them first, and
that we wouldn't be affected that much were they to strike us back.
Our concern for the innocent lives in those cities would then not be a
deterrent for us to strike at the Soviets first, for our cities would be
protected. The Soviets would not agree to a policy that gave
such an advantage to the United States, and so Nixon, realizing this,
gave up a policy that would protect American cities through ABMs.
the Soviets themselves had ABMs. I remember watching a documentary on
the Cold War that was explaining the Soviet ABM system, and the ABM was
presented as a sort of umbrella that would protect the Soviets and allow
them to have first-strike capability, without having to worry about the
consequences of a retaliatory American attack. On page 277, Ambrose
says that, in the middle of 1969, "the Russians had not got going on
MIRV; the Americans had not got going on ABM." Ambrose says
that it would have been sensible had the U.S. and the Soviets swapped:
the Soviets would give up on ABM, where it was superior, and the U.S.
would give up on MIRVs, where it had the advantage. Then, the U.S.
wouldn't be spending money on ABMs to keep up with the Soviets in that
department, and the Soviets wouldn't be pursuing MIRVs. But that didn't
happen, Ambrose narrates. The hawks on both sides did not want to give
up these weapons after so much money had been spent on them.
statement on page 289 that fiscal conservatives, alongside liberals and
doves, supported arms control through SALT intrigued me. That
makes a degree of sense, since the government spends a lot of money on
the military, and that could result in deficits and an increase in the
national debt, maybe even higher taxes and inflation. From a fiscally
conservative standpoint, supporting arms control would arguably be the
right thing to do. I think of a book that I read as a child, David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics: How the Reagan Revolution Failed.
Stockman narrated that, as Reagan's Director of the Office of
Management and Budget, he not only went after domestic spending, but
military spending as well, to the chagrin of Defense Secretary Casper
Weinberger! Essentially, Stockman thought that all that military
spending was not necessary to protect the U.S.----that the same job
could be done with fewer resources. But there were people who disagreed
2. On page 291, we read the following about Nixon's attitude towards the FSS, which was his welfare reform proposal:
felt a strong draw toward FSS. He liked the idea of helping the
working poor, neglected under the current system, and liked even better
the idea of making welfare recipients work. He thought of himself as
coming from a working-poor family, and at times identified with that
class. So did his wife. When a welfare worker suggested, at a White
House conference, that Pat put the First Family on a
nineteen-cent-a-meal per person welfare budget diet to see what poverty
in America was like, Pat snapped back, 'I worked my way through
college. I've known hunger. When we were growing up we didn't have
anything. I've known what poverty is.'"
Some, such as Roger
Morris (whose book on Nixon I will probably blog through at some time),
questions whether the Nixon family was all that poor when Richard was
growing up. That said, I do believe that Richard Nixon genuinely saw
the family of his upbringing as people who struggled but got whatever
they had through hard work.
While I liked that Pat snapped back at
that welfare worker, I wonder something: did Pat at the time that she
snapped back truly know what poverty was like, even though she had
experienced it earlier in her life? You hear from all sorts of
politicians that they grew up with humble upbringings, and so they know
what it is like for the average American to struggle. But do they
know? Their humble upbringing was in their past. Now, they make lots
of money and don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming
from. Is there a possibility that they might have become out-of-touch
with their humble past? Moreover, just because they made successes of
themselves, rising out of poverty in the past, does that mean that it's
easy for people today to rise out of poverty? Not everyone has the same
talents and intelligence. Economic opportunities that were available
in the past may not be as available now. Social connectedness may not
be as strong nowadays, in areas.