Study Guide

The Great Silent Majority Themes

By Richard Nixon

  • Majority vs. Minority

    This may come across as a teensy-weensy surprise, but Nixon's "Great Silent Majority" speech was a statement about the majority versus the minority in America.

    Kinda sorta.

    Nixon was trying to get his own supporters to rise up and support his ideas about Vietnam. He may have called them the majority. He may have wanted them to be the majority. He may have even wished that they were the majority. But they most likely weren't the majority.

    Instead, he used the whole minority versus majority idea to both bolster his own beliefs about how to deal with the Vietnam War while criticizing the anti-war crowd at the same time.

    Questions About Majority vs. Minority

    1. Was the "great silent majority" really a great silent majority? Who do you think he's actually referring to here?
    2. Wait a minute, wasn't this speech about Vietnam? Why do you think people remember the speech for the "great silent majority" statement?
    3. What groups of people did Nixon put into the "minority" of Americans?
    4. Why did Nixon save the words "great silent majority" for the end of the speech?

    Chew on This

    Nixon's call to the "great silent majority" is one of the great democratic statements in the history of American speech-making. When he spoke those words, he pulled at the heartstrings of every American who had felt overshadowed by boisterous politicians and had their voices drowned out by the activists whose activities seem to be played on repeat on every TV news station around.

    Nixon didn't care about the "majority" of Americans. And he definitely didn't care about the "minority" of Americans, either. He only cared about himself. He used this speech for his own ends: to insult the counterculture movements of the 1960s and get support for his own presidential platform.

  • Dissatisfaction

    We're going to be straight with you: Nixon was not dissatisfied with this speech. In fact, his approval rating skyrocketed after giving it, so he was really quite pleased.

    In the speech itself, however, Nixon does address the dissatisfaction of others. Throughout the speech, Nixon refers to those people dissatisfied with the war in Vietnam. He refers to those dissatisfied with their college experiences. He refers to those dissatisfied with gender inequality. He probably even refers to those who were dissatisfied with the looks of their own noses.

    That's a lot of dissatisfaction.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Nixon is criticizing more than the dissatisfied anti-war crowd in his speech, but his attacks are somewhat veiled. Looking at the words of the speech, who do you think was on Nixon's "People I Don't Like" list?
    2. Why does Nixon even care about the people dissatisfied with the Vietnam War if he thinks they're in the minority?
    3. Looking at the speech and using what you know about the Vietnam War, how do you think the anti-war protesters of the 1960s and 1970s might have been dissatisfied with Nixon's speech?
    4. What was the point of calling out all those dissatisfied people as the opposite of the "great silent majority"?

    Chew on This

    In terms of dissatisfaction, the only thing that Tricky Dick ever cared about was his own dissatisfaction with those who were dissatisfied. Nixon didn't care that protesters had good reasons to protest and that feminists had good reasons to be feminists; he just wanted them out of his hair. That's the only reason he mentions the dissatisfied—to bully them out of the picture.

    By the time Nixon gave this speech in 1969, there was a lot to be dissatisfied with. The Vietnam War was spiraling out of control. Drug use was on the rise in America. Protests were breaking out everywhere. So, Nixon had to address those who were dissatisfied. But he did so with respect and dignity, acknowledging the problems in America.

  • Patriotism

    Have your grandparents ever given you the old "back in my day, everything was better" speech? Well, Nixon is trying to pull that off here.

    He's saying that back in the day, America was stronger. Back in the day, Americans listened to better music. And back in the day, Americans were more patriotic.

    Those were the good ol' days, according to Nixon. But this wasn't really true. Americans were still patriotic during the 1960s; anti-war protestors even argued that they were the most patriotic people alive. But that doesn't keep Nixon from getting all sentimental about the past.

    Questions About Patriotism

    1. What's the point of even bringing up patriotism? Isn't this a speech about ending the war in Vietnam?
    2. Using what you know about the 1950s and 1960s, do you think that Nixon is accurately portraying patriotism during those decades?
    3. Is Nixon right to say that "it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism" (128.1) anymore?

    Chew on This

    Nixon's implication that the anti-war protestors are unpatriotic haters is unfair and honestly rude. These were the most patriotic Americans ever. They wanted America's pride back, and the best way to do that was to get out of Vietnam. If anything, Nixon is the least patriotic for encouraging more violence overseas.

    Nixon may not be the perfect role model for patriotism (he did mess up really bad with Watergate), but he was ultimately right to state that patriotism should define the responses to the Vietnam War. Americans weren't feeling all that great about being American at this point in the nation's history, so a great patriotic act was totally necessary to get the country back on its feet.

  • Warfare

    Nixon's speech may be remembered for being the one about America's "great silent majority," but it's actually about war. No, wait, it's about peace. No, war. Peace. War and Peace?

    The whole point of this speech is to provide Americans with answers to the Vietnam War. But throughout the speech, Nixon states that peace will be maintained through an extension of warfare. That's a tough item to sell, but that's why he made the call to America's "great silent majority." He wants their support in his war efforts.

    Or maybe in his peace efforts?

    Questions About Warfare

    1. According to the speech, what is Nixon's plan for Vietnam?
    2. Let's go ahead and ask a question that Nixon himself asks: "how and why did America get involved in Vietnam in the first place?" (5.1) Think about how Nixon answers the question and how you might answer it using what you know about the Vietnam War.
    3. Does it seem weird to you that Nixon keeps using the word "peace" as he discusses the possibility of extending the war?
    4. It takes two to tango, as they say. Does Nixon admit any fault on the part of the United States for the situation in Vietnam? Who does he blame?

    Chew on This

    Nixon's Vietnamization wartime strategy was the one that should have been put into place years before Nixon took office. The whole Vietnam situation never would have gotten out of control the way it did if the United States had given the war back to the Vietnamese in the first place.

    Nixon's emphasis on peace is an example of presidential hypocrisy. War can't be ended with more war. Peace was only attainable through the immediate and unimpeded removal of all American troops and personnel.