font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": Nixon's 1968 Election and it's Impact on Crime and Drugs

Friday, March 25, 2016

Nixon's 1968 Election and it's Impact on Crime and Drugs

It's my opinion that our current prison situation and our country's view of crime stems from decisions made in 1968, during the Presidential campaign season, by the Nixon campaign team.

As the war in Vietnam was becoming one of the most divisive issues in America's history, crime and drug use was also becoming one as well- and in some regards, they were tied together.

The sixties were probably the most unbelievable decade in our history. Everything was being challenged; from ethical and moral standards to philosophical and scientific beliefs. Probably the biggest, most controversial issue though, was the use of drugs by our teenagers and young adults. Lead by visionaries such as Timothy Leary, who espoused the use of drugs- more specifically, LSD- as ways of expanding one's mind, the youth of our country bought in wholeheartedly. Drug use exploded! 

Along with their drug use, our youth also realized that they had a transforming part to play in the direction of our country by taking to the streets and protesting. The Vietnam War was the biggest issue and that war was affecting our youth DIRECTLY! Our 18 year old boys were graduating from high school and, in some instances, three months later were fighting in Vietnam! Whatever your beliefs are about that war the young people in our country, for the most part, didn't want to go to a country miles away from us to fight someone who hadn't invaded or hurt us!

The other big issue causing such huge disturbances in our country was race and race issues. For years, African-Americans had taken to the streets to fight for their civil rights. This became a huge problem for the white power structure in this country, not only in the South but all over the country. The 1968 election campaign was only a couple of years removed from the Watts riots and the other riots that occurred over race issues. Riots, along with the growth of the Black Panther party, were scary situations for our white politicians and people were calling for more laws to be enacted to bring America under control again. The "Hippies" and the "Negros" had become public enemy number one in our country's power broker's minds! That being said, the politicians couldn't come out and campaign saying that the electorate should vote for them because they would put our "Hippies" and our "Negros" in check. No, they needed a code word, or phrase, for this attitude and they came up with one. They called it "getting tough on crime".

It was the Nixon campaign that really ran, largely, on the "get tough on crime" issue. His campaign people realized that, although the "Liberals" were making all sorts of noise about civil rights, getting out of Vietnam and organizing protests, there was a much larger portion of the voting public who were afraid of these "Liberals" and all the protests and, of course, "those 'Hippies' and their drugs"! Nixon referred to this voting bloc as "the great silent majority". One of Nixon's assistant's referred to an example of this "silent majority" as the white, blue-collar worker in places such as Peoria, Illinois. They felt that the average white person wanted nothing to do with all these liberals and their ideas about protests and drugs. To the "silent majority", these people were criminals. Something needed to be done about these criminals. Because of their larger voting bloc, Nixon's instincts told him that this was one of the issues that he'd run on. It turned out to be prophetic in the sense that he was right and got this great turn-out from the "silent majority" who were mostly responsible for his victory over Hubert Humphrey who was perceived to be "one of those liberals". 

The Nixon administration was responsible for one the biggest increases in laws and for longer prison sentences being enacted in the areas of drug abuse and drug related crimes. His administration was the "real" "War on Drugs" administration, long before Reagan's wife went on T.V. and told us all to "just say NO to drugs". This "War on Drugs" was also "code" for the war on African-Americans and the beginning of the huge increase in the disproportionate amount of African-Americans being jailed for drug offenses which continues 'til this day. 

Although the Nixon administration wasn't the sole reason that there is such a stigma about drugs, it was this "getting tough on crime", though, that gave it it's beginning as a way to get politicians elected. Every politician since then who hasn't had a "get tough on crime" platform, hasn't had a chance to get elected. The escalation in drug laws and the way we all perceive crime and drugs all started from the election of 1968.