CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Come Wednesday night, President George Bush is expected to deliver his national speech on the War in Iraq. The words will be new, but the rhetoric and logic behind them probably will harken back to the evening of November 3, 1969. Another Republican president, Richard Nixon, addressed the nation that night and stubbornly dug himself deeper into the wasteland of South Vietnam, where the war had soured:
"Let historians not record that, when America was the most powerful nation in the world, we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be defeated by the forces of totalitarianism, " Nixon said.
"So tonight, to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support. I pledged in my campaign for the Presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action that will enable me to keep that pledge. The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge can be redeemed. For the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate in Paris."
It is known as the "Silent Majority" speech and it backfired. Soon the nation became even more divided. Within six months, campuses would be closed and students would be wounded and killed by Ohio National Guard bullets at Kent State University. For background information about the era and the speech look here. And there is plenty more available by simply searching around the Web.
To this day, Nixon is credited with coining the phrase Silent Majority, which was retooled by the Christian right to become Moral Majority. It is one of the great lines of American politics. But to give it to Nixon is a false honor. A mistake at best, a lie at worst.
John F. Kennedy wrote it first in 1956 in Profiles in Courage, his book that won the Pulitzer Prize a half-century ago this year. Democrat Kennedy talked about men with guts -- which he defined as doing the right thing for the country even if it meant breaking with constituents and supporters, or changing . JFK's original use of the phrase ''silent majority" appears on page 220 of the 50th anniversary edition, in Chapter XI which is entitled, The Meaning of Courage:
"These men were not all on one side. They were not all right or all conservatives or all liberals. Some of them may have been representing the actual sentiments of the silent majority of their constituents in opposition to the screams of a vocal minority; but most of them were not."
Bush ought to be thinking about the "silent majority" as he works on his Iraq plan. His war is a disaster. A speech won't save his presidency. And 1969 is in the air even though the calendar says it is January 2007.