Book Nook: The Hardhat Riot - Nixon, New York City, and the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution by David Paul Kuhn
In 1928 when Herbert Hoover was elected president the Roaring Twenties were in full swing-America appeared to be enjoying a surge of prosperity just a decade after the armistice that ended World War One. The following year it all came crashing to a standstill with Wall Street's Black Friday and the onset of the Great Depression.
Hoover, a Republican, had experience with hard times. Before he became president he had administered a food aid program in a devastated post-war Europe that probably saved millions from starvation. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to have a clue about what to do to try to start turning things around as millions of Americans lost their jobs and things got really bad very quickly.
In 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Hoover at the ballot box then began his efforts to restore economic stability. FDR went on to win an unprecedented four terms in office and under his guidance America slowly recovered. There were some missteps along the way. When FDR didn't like some of the rulings by a very conservative Supreme Court he tried to circumvent them by attempting to increase the number of justices on the court so he could pack it with his nominees. That effort failed.
FDR built a coalition of liberal Democrats who supported him-a great source of electoral strength was created as Americans returned to work. Blue collar workers, union workers, and many other Americans were grateful to Roosevelt for reviving the economy and the vibrancy of the industrial sector.
From that time onward working class voters tended to reliably support most Democrats who ran for office. During the 1960's the dependable base of blue collar Democrats began to shatter. In his book "The Hardhat Riot - Nixon, New York City, and the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution" David Paul Kuhn shows us how the cracks in that liberal coalition formed and how a pivotal event, the Hardhat Riots of 1970 in New York City, were emblematic of the fractures that turned voters who were once firmly in the Democratic column into the so-called Silent Majority who began casting their votes for "Law and Order" candidates like George Wallace and Richard Nixon as protests against the Viet Nam War created a polarized electorate.
Richard Nixon had his flaws but he was a brilliant politician and he had some savvy advisers like Patrick Buchanan and Chuck Colson who recognized the opportunity to hammer at a fracturing liberal coalition that was there for the taking. This book gives readers a bird's eye view of the violence that swept through Manhattan that day and how the construction workers who instigated it were feeling empowered by the cheers of office workers and a police force that often turned a blind eye to the mayhem. That "Silent Majority" that helped Nixon win reelection in 1972 in a landslide remains a potent political force for the Republicans today.
And as some of you know, I'm a Dick Nixon devotee, I could talk about Nixon all day long. What a fascinating, troubled soul he was. It was wonderful to converse with David Paul Kuhn about this compelling slice of history.
The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.