When Richard M. Nixon became President, the picture of our position in the world was painted in dismal colors:
We were stalemated in a quagmire war in Southeast Asia.
Our dealings with the Soviet Union were tense, and often at crisis-point.
Our only contact with the Communist Chinese was a back-room operation in Warsaw, Poland.
America's European Allies were pulling away from us — and from each other.
An unresolved and seemingly insoluble military confrontation in the Middle East threatened total world war.
The world over it had been a long winter with no thaw in sight. Almost universally the blame for these fragmented and divisive situations was placed squarely on the United States.
It was the kind of situation that required courage even to face, much less to try to solve.
Yet, solutions had to be had. A certain degree of daring had to be used. For the world situation was so fraught with danger that we could not, as a nation and a member of the family of nations, allow it to continue along the same course.
The United States was not so much standing at the traditional and cliche-ridden crossroads that winter of two years ago as it was sliding ominously downhill.
Reversing that slide has been a slow and painful process. It has caused domestic dislocations.
It has caused economic slowdown with accompanying increase in unemployment.
It has caused unrest, uncertainty and some upheaval.
These uncertainties, unrest, upheavals, were caused not so much by the policies adopted as by reaction to those policies.
A nation slow to question our role in Vietnam suddenly became over-quick to react to efforts at extricating ourselves from that unfortunate country.
A nation that had accepted almost without question the premises upon which the policy of escalation had been based, would not stop to reason when policies were adopted designed to bring us out of the quagmire.
The President announced a policy of withdrawing troops, of lowering draft calls, ultimately to eliminate them, and a general lowering of our profile in Southeast Asia.
When he took action to implement these policies, there was a knee-jerk reaction in the press and Congress that sparked and fanned unrest on campuses and in the streets.
But the simple fact is that the policy in Vietnam is succeeding.
We are pulling out of Vietnam — much more rapidly than we had dared hope a year and a half ago. It hasn't been an instant, kerchunk cutoff. But it has been a logical, reasoned and fairly rapid withdrawal. We can now say with absolute assurance that the end is in sight. To quote a McNamara statement of 1966, there is, at last, some light at the end of the tunnel. Only now the McNamara candle has become the Nixon spotlight.
For nearly a generation, thoughtful and concerned people in the United States have been saying something to the effect of, "How wonderful it would be if we could sit down with the Russians and discuss seriously an end to the nuclear arms race."
It took courage and foresight and a considerable degree of diplomatic skill to get us to the conference table. And it has taken courage and patience to keep us there. I have had my own talks with the Russians, last week in Caracas, Venezuela, and later in Washington. And both nations are anxious for the S.A.L.T. negotiations to continue toward desired solutions.
I am willing to hazard the thought they are making very rational progress. But again, we cannot hope for a sudden, final, all-embracing solution next week. But we can hope — and expect — a pragmatic, reasoned lowering of the arms race tempo and an eventual, meaningful solution.
For the past 22 years, Americans have been wondering and asking how the Bamboo Curtain could be opened and reasonable relations established with Mainland China. For all those 22 years it was political dynamite even to suggest such a thing could happen. Political dynamite for most people but, as you know, Governor Landon has long advocated our becoming more aware and more willing to open some doors and to recognize the existence and indeed the need for getting along on a day-to-day basis with the almost one billion people who inhabit the mainland of China.
So now there is a small dent in the Bamboo Curtain. There are the tiny beginnings of an interchange of people between our two countries. And as you know, the President himself, perhaps not during his time in Washington but at sometime in his lifetime, is very anxious indeed to have the opportunity to visit Mainland China. And I have made one small request — that he take me with him. He says he will if Mike Mansfield goes too so that we can make it a bipartisan effort.
Ping pong, even when it is called table tennis, isn't the stuff of which you expect history to be made. Because while we are playing ping pong with the Chinese and footsie with the Russians, we have found it important not to play hob with the economy. But, let's face it, even if it's not the stuff yo make history of, nobody would have heard of Robert Jenkins if the Spanish Coast Guardsman hadn't chopped off his ear. It was from that small cut — the war of Jenkins' ear — from that small cut that the great wound known as the War of Austrian Succession grew.
From ping pong to diplomatic intercourse is a possibility, and one we may have to nurture carefully. But it is a possibility.
Again, let me say it took courage, dedication, and patience to bring about even this small start toward normalizing relations with the Peoples' Republic of China while maintaining our good relations with Nationalist China. There was and still is vocal, powerful, and dedicated opposition to such normalization.
But President Nixon has done what no other President for the past 22 years has been able to do, and that is take the needed steps in the right direction.
In the Middle East long years of military confrontation have been eased — if not erased. Again, it was President Nixon and his competent Secretary of State, William Rogers, who made the initial proposals and who have kept alive the chances for eventual peace settlement. And I have talked to representatives of those two governments within the past month, and again the main desire is to keep talking and to keep promoting the chance for peace.
Middle Eastern tensions could easily have developed into a worldwide explosion. They did not. And Americans can be proud of their government for making possible this easing of tensions and at least this temporary end to constant bloodletting.
Throughout the world this administration has struggled to create the kind of climate in which peace can grow — a generation of peace. It has succeeded, and is succeeding remarkably well considering the conditions of the world.
It has not been an easy task. Nor has it been accomplished as quickly as one might have wished. Nor has the task been completed. All of this I grant you.
But the fact remains: The task has begun. It progresses well. I believe the finished product will be peace. Not only for ourselves, but for much of mankind as well.
This is not done, as I noted, without some dislocation, some discomfort, some disturbance here at home. And as these first scores of thousands and finally more than two million veterans return to civilian life, some dislocation does continue.
Again, however, let me remind you that in 1968 this nation was wracked by dissension and was fragmented, with generation set against generation, class against class, color against color.
The economic downturn which accompanied the dual effort at gaining peace in Vietnam and curbing inflation has eased. Every present signal is green. Most signs are positive.
Inflation is being curbed. The economy has survived the belt-tightening and has marshalled its forces to move forward again at a brisk pace. And the proof is in the pudding. The consumer price index rise at 2.7 percent for the last quarter has been the lowest in a very long period.
First-quarter economic growth of $28 1/2 billion was the largest ever recorded in the nation's history. And no similar rise has been recorded since 1958. The prediction was $22 million; the achievement was $28.5 million. The President's predictions of several months ago are coming true, that 1971 will be a good year and 1972 a very good year.
Housing starts have climbed rapidly and, of course, the auto industry is moving with remarkable facility following the end of the strike. New construction is up. Housing starts were at the rate of 1,700,000 in January and 1,918,000 in March. When you graduate, you may yet get that roof over your head. Chances are improving.
Everything indicates a boomlet has started that will grow into a full swell of economic activity and prosperity. Again, this has not been done without tremendous effort. It has taken courage. Courage to say "no" to business and courage to say "no" to labor.
But the administration has had the fortitude to make the unpleasant decisions that needed making. It has had the patience and fortitude to weather the storms of criticism. And its program is working.
In one other major area President Nixon has moved with courage and foresight — and that involves his great effort to restore government to the people, and reawaken the interest of people in their government.
His tripartite program — revenue sharing — welfare reform — and reorganization of the government — displayed imagination, sensitivity, and a deep awareness of what people want and need.
The President's concern was not only that people had lost contact, and therefore lost faith, in government, but that government had lost contact, and was losing faith in people.
Government tended to provide solutions to problems without consulting people, or considering people. Government was growing big, but not necessarily strong. At least not strong enough to solve problems. Government was becoming a burden, and not a help.
To change the direction government has been taking the President proposed the three-step program.
The three go together. Welfare reform will not work without the other two. Revenue sharing without reform and without reorganization would simply heap more layers of government on those we have. Reorganization without the needed local-level funding and reforms would not accomplish the desired goal.
It is a package. If enacted as a package, it will work. There is a real chance to bring government back to the people, to restore faith in government, and to restore government's ability to discharge its responsibilities and thus deserve that faith.
Since the beginning of this century there has not been a time when Americans were not born to the sound of distant guns or the rumble of marching feet.
Too many millions of Americans have fought, have died, or have been wounded in the furtherance of what has been the eternal American hope — peace with justice in this world.
Americans deserve a rest from the battlefield. America's soul needs restoring.
The only course open to us if we are to get that respite and achieve that restoration, is peace.
Not just peace for now. But peace for a generation.
And maybe if an entire generation grows to manhood in peace, just maybe it will become a habit.
And that's the one great hope of this administration. The one great promise we offer.
It is the one most glowing line we could inscribe upon our page of history — that, at last — at long last — through good will, we brought peace in our time.