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The Legacy of Richard M. Nixon

Today, January 9th, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s birth. I’ve read Nixon’s memoirs (a great read) and several other books about him and came away with the sense that he was a very intelligent man–most likely one of the smartest Presidents we’ve ever had, in fact. But he was also a deeply flawed person. Reading his own words, you can see the insecurities early on and sense how he always felt unappreciated and looked down on by his peers. After reading the first part o…

  1. Richard Finlay

    I voted for Nixon, twice, more because of his opponents than him.  I wonder, in retrospect, if he was able to do more to move the country “leftwards” than Humphrey or McGovern could have done, as he muted opposition from the “right” by offering Republicans electoral success.  The wage and price control fiasco was his. He believed in government by powerful men — if you read his various books, you find an admiration for people like de Gaulle.  It appears to me now that he would have acted as an autocrat if only he could have.  In that regard, Obama is just a more dangerous version.

    On the other hand, he apparently had an appreciation that the nation was more important than himself; he conceded to JFK in 1960 to (he said) avoid the appearance of illegitimacy in office despite apparent fraud in TX and IL.  And he seemed to understand the importance of keeping commitments to allies.

    So, as a foreign policy president, positive leadership; as a domestic policy president, a politician.

  2. J Climacus

    Let’s not forget that Nixon took us off the gold standard, paving the way for our current policy of financing of trillion-dollar deficits through money printing. Thanks Dick!

  3. John Hanson

    Nixon’s greatest fault was to start the EPA which has become the lefts favored method to take over control by the Federal government of literally everything in the United States.

    Some environmental regulation was necessary, I remember the 1950s and the level of air and water pollution.  It was bad.  These are a lot better now, but setting up an agency tasked to control such, was a huge mistake.  As usual, the EPAs power has grown with time, and poor Supreme Court decisions, have greatly expanded its scope.

    Today, it threatens the continued success of the nation and requires deep cuts to the areas it is allowed to operate in.   From my view, alll of it is state responsibility, and should be unconstitutional at the Federal level.

  4. tabula rasa

    Nixon’s role in the Alger Hiss case may have been his greatest moment. He demonstrated genuine courage. And, despite his flaws, any man who would defend Whittaker Chambers as he did has my admiration.

    I agree with Richard.  As president, his foreign policy accomplishments are significant.  In domestic policy, he most definitely wasn’t a conservative.

  5. KayBee
    Richard Finlay: On the other hand, he apparently had an appreciation that the nation was more important than himself [...]

    I think his resignation was also a reflection of this.

  6. Peter Robinson
    C

    For eight years, he kept the left out of power, a considerable achievement in itself.  In domestic policy, he proved bad–perhaps even catastrophic.  He encouraged Fed Chairman Arthur Burns to inflate the currency (Burns complied); he imposed wage and price controls; he established OSHA and other federal agencies.  He effectively enacted large portions of the liberal agenda.

    In foreign policy, he played a costly game for time in Vietnam–perhaps the best he could have done (I have never decided), but a slow surrender all the same.  His opening to China, by contrast, represented a major event, one of the most important of the twentieth century.  Even at that, however, he viewed himself as merely playing for time–again, that fundamentally defeatist outlook–in the Cold War, convinced that we could hope only to coexist with the Soviet Union, if not slowly and inexorably to lose ground to it.

    A complicated figure.  Not a bad man, but scarcely a successful president.

    Should the GOP of today take Nixon as an example?  Of course not.  Whenever the press urges us to follow Nixon’s example, they mean only that we should accommodate the liberal agenda.  

  7. flownover

    He will prevail in the end, Woodward and Bernstein and a host of others will have to die off first though.

    My mother drove him from the airport to a speech during the 1960 campaign. A simpler time, no security, just them and an aide. They talked of the weather and allergies ( my mother attested everything to allergies).

    She remembered him as well-mannered, considerate ,and sharp as a tack.

    I remember him from my seat on someone’s  shoulders in a big crowd.

    It was my first exposure to politics , been there ever since .

    I was transformed in the summer of 68 ,watching the Chicago riots, and I still voted for him but I faded into radical stupidity not long after. Didn’t come back to consciousness until I voted for Ford.

    He started the deconstruction of USSR by courting China. We now have great tvs instead of a pair of massive threats to human progress.

    I must take issue with Peter about a (quick edit there !) bad president- you ain’t seen nuthin yet !

    Screw charisma, I want a crafty mechanic with a self-serving weltanschauung !

  8. Richard Finlay
    Peter Robinson: For eight years, he kept the left out of power….

    Yes, but he did it by preempting their agenda.

  9. flownover
    Richard Finlay

    Peter Robinson: For eight years, he kept the left out of power….

    Yes, but he did it by preempting their agenda. · 6 minutes ago

    Clean Air Act worked pretty well, who keeps ratcheting it up ? Bush, yeah we know but nothing like the present gang.

  10. EThompson
    Blackford Oakes:

    What is Nixon’s legacy (Other than tacking “-gate” at the end of every scandal)?

    Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

  11. Douglas

    Only Nixon could go to China… and leave Bretton Woods…and start the EPA… and school lunches…and OSHA… and affirmative action….

  12. Pilli
    Douglas: Only Nixon could go to China… and leave Bretton Woods…and start the EPA… and school lunches…and OSHA… and affirmative action…. · 8 minutes ago

    Started the EPA by Executive order.

  13. Foxfier

    Bing had him as their daily search, too.

  14. Blackford Oakes
    KayBee

    Richard Finlay: On the other hand, he apparently had an appreciation that the nation was more important than himself [...]

    I think his resignation was also a reflection of this. · 1 hour ago

    It’s odd to think of Nixon and honor together because of the disgrace of Watergate, but could his resignation and concession to JFK in 1960 be seen as honorable acts?  Watergate damaged the nation and the Republican brand for years (the country’s still paying for Watergate), but I believe that things would’ve been 100x worse if we had to go through impeachment proceedings.

    For all the paranoia and disgraceful comments about an evil Jewish Cabal, maybe there was some deep part of him that was still in touch with his Quaker heritage.

  15. wilber forge

    Happen to have a large  old political key fob, which says.

    Nixon, Now More Than Ever.

    Lives on my travel bag and has seen countless miles, air and land.

  16. Blackford Oakes
    Peter Robinson: 

    Should the GOP of today take Nixon as an example?  Of course not.  Whenever the press urges us to follow Nixon’s example, they mean only that we should accommodate the liberal agenda.   · 1 hour ago

    I’m not saying we should all become Nixon Republicans.  The CNN article is just another example of the media using a previously despised Republican/conservative to bash the current party (see: Reagan, Ronald; Goldwater, Barry; WFB).  I’m only wondering if there’s anything to learn from Nixon other than don’t get caught bugging your rival’s offices.

  17. Peter Fumo

    I have deeply ambivalent feelings about the man. I have always been fascinated by him as he is the first President I remembered and followed growing up. I always had a natural sympathy for him as he came from nothing and never forgot his roots. Hard not to be sympathetic to him in regards to his hostile press. However, he did do alot of damage domestically as outlined by others.

    If you want to read a great and sympathetic biography on Nixon, I recommend Conrad Black’s.

  18. Neolibertarian

    By the time he wrote Beyond Peace (1994) he’d come to completely embrace Hayek, and saw the Post Cold War world as one which would become increasingly freer and capitalistic. His long distance relationship with Reagan, and watching Reagan’s successes from San Clemente, may have been the deciding factors in his late enlightenment.

    By the way, I highly recommend all of his books written post resignation, from RN to Beyond Peace, and recommend almost none that were written about him by others.

    As for his “flawed character,” I take vigorous exception. Fallacy of the biased sample, of course. He was a fire-eater, always willing to take responsibility; always willing to stand well forward of his troops, sporting a large target painted on his chest.

    Hardly flaws (for instance we admire the exact same traits in a General Hood, et al), but his was an often personally costly mindset.

    His treatment among the intelligentsia reminds me for all the world of Sarah Palin.

    One of his rules for life was to “always deliver more than you promise,” which he never failed to do.

    The last word on Nixon has not been written yet.

  19. Brian McMenomy

    One of the sad (and dangerous) legacies of the Nixon years is what Watergate & its’ aftermath did to journalism.  Journalists have always had causes, but the most admired of them sought the facts and the truth, wherever they went.  Journalism came to be seen as a calling, like the clergy or charity work.  It is seen as a way to right wrongs, instead of shining light.

    There also is a pervasive sense that journalists are now “above” society, both positionally and morally.  David Gregory can brandish an illegal weapon on national TV because he knows that all is protected under the umbrella of journalism.  A large percentage of the press clearly thinks of themselves as better, smarter and worthy of their power and influence.

    The media has become its’ own constituency; put another way, it’s a very important part of the story in its’ own right.  A cardinal rule for journalists used to be; Don’t become part of the story.  Not anymore.

  20. Paul DeRocco

    He was considered an evil conservative back in the 1970s. But in those days, “conservative” meant a guy who cut his hair short and wore a suit and tie. That was enough to hate him for, even as he enacted much of the liberal agenda.

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