Today marks a century since Richard Nixon’s birth, and without any question, he is the most controversial American President of the 43 men who have held that office.
After barely losing in 1960, with the belief that his opponent, John F. Kennedy, had stolen the election in Chicago and in Texas, Nixon came back miraculously eight years later, and won a very close election over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. He proceeded to win a massive victory over George McGovern in 1972, the greatest landslide in electoral votes since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, winning all but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. A year and a half later, he was the only President who, due to the Watergate scandal, resigned from office, with the certainty of an impeachment in the House of Representatives and conviction in the US Senate had he not resigned.
Nixon knew the peaks and the valleys of the Presidency like no one ever has to the same extent before or since. He is a great Shakespearean type character, a human tragedy, a man with great intellect, but also great personal demons; a man of great accomplishments in many ways, but also great hates, resentments, insecurities and a large level of paranoia; a man who in many ways was the last “progressive” Republican President, but also catered to the right wing narrow mindedness and mean spiritedness; a man who had many controversial moments in his public career, but was consulted by future Presidents over the next twenty years due to his knowledge and expertise in foreign affairs; and a man, who, while hated more than any President since Abraham Lincoln, and only surpassed in level of hate by Barack Obama since, stands out as, without a doubt, the most significant President in his impact in the half century from his coming to Congress in 1947 until his death in 1994 at age 81.
This author grew up with intense feelings against Richard Nixon and started his career in the time of the Watergate scandal. Only after Nixon’s death and a semester sabbatical devoted to the study of all aspects of Nixon’s life, did this author start to see Nixon in a different light. As often told to students, this author no longer despises Nixon, but rather sees him as a tragic figure, who did a lot of good, but had his demons overtake him and destroy him. So this author now has respect for the good side of Nixon, while still condemning his evil side and illegal actions in office.
Richard Nixon will always be remembered positively for:
Opening up to mainland China
Negotiating the beginning of “detente”—the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union
Preventing Soviet military intervention in the Middle East during the Yom Kippur War
The ending of the military draft
The Environmental Protection Agency
The Consumer Product Safety Commission
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Wage and Price Controls
Nixon will be condemned for:
Dragging out the Vietnam War for four more years
Taking sides with Pakistan in the War Against India and Bangladesh
Supporting the overthrow of Chilean democracy by Augusto Pinochet
Supporting the Greek dictatorship of George Papadoupoulous
Bugging, Wire Tapping, and Break Ins under Presidential Order
The Watergate Scandal
This is just a brief summary of Nixon’s Presidency, and there already has been a lot of research conducted, but there is plenty of room for further scholarly investigation and debate, but suffice it to say that Richard Nixon had an impact on America still being felt a century after his birth and nineteen years after his death!