Study Guide

The Great Silent Majority Main Idea

By Richard Nixon

  • Main Idea

    Richard Nixon really, really wanted the American people to support his new policies for the Vietnam War.

    And to get this support, he calls on America's "great silent majority" to have his back. These silent folks—the conservative voter base—were his people, after all. Sure, they weren't out there defining the culture of the 1960s (that's where the whole "silent" part comes in), but they existed, and they are the people to whom Nixon is directly speaking.

    Throughout this speech, though, Nixon totally trolls everyone else who doesn't think like him. Anti-war protesters? Hippie counterculture? Nah, Nixon doesn't want their support. He wants them to sit down and shut up.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. What's the point of calling to the "great silent majority"? Why doesn't he just talk to Americans as a whole?
    2. It's true, the Vietnamization of Vietnam sounds kind of weird, but Nixon is totally pushing for it. What does he mean by this, though?
    3. Nixon thought that the anti-war crowd was living in a total Fantasyland. How does Nixon use this speech as a criticism of the counterculture of the 1960s?
    4. It sure seems like a total rarity when a politician admits fault, but Nixon totally admits many of the blemishes associated with the Vietnam War. How does he do this? Why?

    Chew on This

    By appealing to America's "great silent majority," Nixon does more to unite the country for peace than all of the peace-loving hippies, anti-war protestors, and Grateful Dead festivals combined. After the speech, Nixon's approval rating skyrocketed and so did the country's sense of purpose. The Vietnam War never would have come to an end without his and the country's more unified support.

    This speech is "Tricky Dick" Nixon at his finest…or worst. Nixon gives the illusion of uniting the "great silent majority," but he is in fact trying to shut out the anti-war and hippie movements. This is just one of many examples of deceit that came to define the Nixon era.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    An already sticky situation gets even stickier as more and more American troops join the Vietnam War. We're talking pre-chewed gum mixed with tree sap laced with white school glue imbued with hairspray on top of a caramel apple kind of sticky situation.

    The Text

    Nixon wants America to know that he's a man with a plan. A plan for Vietnam. But he needs the country's support. He doesn't want to ask the American people to support his new vision with a "pretty please with sugar on top." No, he wants those in the "great silent majority" to back him up and to help him get those annoying anti-war protestors off his back.

    TL;DR

    Richard Nixon tells the hippie and anti-war crowds to cut their hair, go out and get jobs, and let the real Americans—those in the "great silent majority"—decide what's best for the Vietnam War.

      
  • Questions

    1. Why didn't Nixon just go the way of the hippie and make a speech about peace and love, man?
    2. Would it have been possible for the United States to have its cake and eat it, too? Could there have been a peaceful way to leave the whole Vietnam situation behind?
    3. Do you think that Nixon is being sincere and honest in this speech? Using what you know about the era, can you see any flaws in the information that he is giving the American public?
    4. How do you think Americans felt when they read the Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence for the first time? Should they have felt honored by the fact that the U.S. Declaration of Independence was being quoted, or do you think they just saw it as trash talk?
    5. Was it fair for the United States to get involved in Vietnam in the first place?
    6. Can you see Nixon's speech applying to modern politics? How would our current president use this speech?
    7. The French decided that the whole Vietnam mess was getting a little too crazy for them, and they left the situation behind in 1954. Should the United States have left with them?

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