Detente

The Centennial Of Richard Nixon

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
Affirmative Action
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!

99th Anniversary Of Richard Nixon’s Birth: Anything To Celebrate? YES!

Today, 99 years ago, Richard Nixon was born in California, and went on to become the most complex, most controversial, most divisive President we have ever had.

There is so much that is negative about Richard Nixon, and more is coming out from the Nixon Library itself, with the Watergate exhibits, and the constant revelations from the Watergate tapes, and the research being done by scholars in political science and history, and by veteran White House journalists, including a recent book in October on his judicial appointments (Kevin J. McMahon) and a scathing attack on his ethics and policy making (Don Fulsom), due out at the end of this month.

So Nixon will never be able to rest easily in the afterlife, so to speak, but since it is his birthday, can we find anything decent to say about his time in office, in the midst of the mountain of evidence of negativism?

Richard Nixon continued to expand on the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson, even while claiming to cut back on the economic and social programs of both Democratic Presidents. After all, he signed into law many initiatives that are now opposed by Republicans who would like nothing better than to repeal what he signed into law.

Nixon accomplished the following in domestic policy:

The Environmental Protection Agency
The Consumer Product Safety Commission
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Affirmative Action for Women and Minorities
Appointed Associate Justice Harry Blackmun
Supported the Equal Rights Amendment for Women
Initiated Wage and Price Controls in a time of inflation

He also had the following successes in foreign policy:

Negotiated Detente with the Soviet Union
Began Economic and Diplomatic Ties with China
Supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War

This list of ten accomplishments in no way makes up for the many negatives of the Nixon Presidency, and the damage he did long term to the institution itself.

This post is NOT an attempt to whitewash the Nixon record of horrible abuse of power, just a recognition that the 37th President did have a positive impact in ways worth remembering, a year before the Centennial of his birth, which will NOT be celebrated quite the same as Ronald Reagan’s centennial in 2011, or the future centennial of John F. Kennedy in 2017, or the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln in 2009!