I have written several articles on our Presidents and Vice-Presidents. A list of the links have been provided at the bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional Presidents and their places in history.
Richard Nixon was a bad president who had occasional strokes of genius when it came to foreign policy.
The Good –
- Opening relations with the People’s Republic of China. He had started to improve relations with the People’s Republic even before becoming president, because he believed that such a large country could never sustainably be kept isolated – and besides which it was also morally wrong to isolate the PRC. His policy may also have been informed by an idea to put pressure on the USSR, which was suspicious of China, and a China-U.S. alliance would help to extract concessions from the Soviets.
2.Environmental Policies: While the environment wasn’t a big issue in the 1968 election it was something that he came to see the U.S. public cared deeply about. He formed the Environmental Protection Agency, and supported the Clean Air Act, and the creation of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. While he did veto the 1972 Clean Water Act (which Congress overrode), he only did so because he thought the amount of money spent was grossly excessive, not because he didn’t approve of the goals of the act. Perhaps surprisingly for a man associated with criticizing the environmentally-conscious counter-cultural movements of the later 1960’s, he actually supported many of their aims as president.
3. He signed the first nuclear weapon limitation treaty with the USSR. Known as ‘SALT 1’ (“Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty”), it placed limits (obviously enough) on each other’s weapon stockpiles. He also negotiated a separate treaty banning the development of anti-missile defence systems. He increased trade with the USSR, and continued to try to improve relations, in what he described as ‘peaceful coexistance.’
4. Introduced the first federal affirmative action hiring policy in US history. Nixon sought to compromise between supporters of segregation in Southern schools, and its opponents, which probably helped to ease in the integration which was already under way. He also implemented the 1970 ‘Philadelphia Plan’, which was the first federal involvement in affirmative action. (Even if you think affirmative action is wrong today, you can’t criticize the man for trying something new). He also endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment, campaigning as a supporter when running for President in 1968. While the Amendment never made it into the Constitution, that can’t really be blamed on Nixon that much. He also appointed more women to positions in his administration than his predecessors.
5. Made JFK’s objective of landing human beings on the Moon a reality. One might argue that cancelling further missions to the Moon, scrapping the planned Manned Orbital Laboratory program, and ending the Skylab missions which might have kept the U.S.’s first space station in orbit and operational at least well into the 1980’s, isn’t really ‘good’ if you approve of or are excited by the exploration of space by humankind. On the other hand, he diverted saved money into the development of the space shuttle. While the shuttle never ended up quite as effective as intended, it’s without question a beautiful and wonderful feat of human endeavor, and we have Richard Nixon among others to thank for it.
6. He ended American involvement in the Vietnam War, and also ended the unpopular military draft. When he took office in 1969, over 300 Americans were dying every day, and he quickly came to realize that the war was probably un-winnable, even if the U.S. could probably continue to fight it for a long time to come (domestic support permitting). While he did initially escalate U.S. involvement, in the long run it appears this was part of a strategy of forcing the North Vietnamese to negotiate. A peace treaty was signed in 1973.
7. There was almost no funding available for women’s sports teams prior to 1972—then Title IX came along and changed everything. Signed into law by Nixon on June 23, 1972, Title IX made it illegal for federally funded education programs to discriminate based on sex.
8. Along with a cabal of close advisers, America’s most lamented president met with legislators from all seven Southern states, even traveling down to Louisiana to allay people’s fears. Over several months, he did everything in his power to make sure segregation would not only be stamped out, but that it’d die peacefully—and it worked. Segregation vanished in education and not a drop of blood was spilled. According to The New York Times, closet-racist Nixon probably did more for desegregation than all previous administrations combined, and he did it without sending the country spiraling into civil war.
9. Prior to the Nixon administration, you could legally drive a car, live on your own, and get sent to Vietnam to die an agonizing death without ever being allowed a say in who ran the country. That all changed with the 26th Amendment, a law Nixon not only signed but championed all the way.
10. In 1969, Washington came within an inch of unleashing one of the most game-changing economic plans ever devised. Under a Nixon administration proposal, all families with children were to be guaranteed an income sent by check each month, no questions asked. Families in the notoriously welfare-stingy South would have been catapulted out of poverty. Those in the more generous North would have suddenly gained an incredible degree of autonomy, allowing them to sink or swim away from the rigid confines of the welfare system.
11. Nixon was trying to ensure affordable healthcare for the entire US population. Just like Obamacare, his system would have utilized private employer-sponsored insurance, while extending subsidies to those too old or ill to work. And just like Obamacare, it would have stayed out of the regulation game with hospital budgets. It was a hugely popular move on the administration’s part and fellow Republicans absolutely lapped it up. In fact, the only reason it didn’t pass was that the Democrats thought it wasn’t liberal enough and voted against it. That’s the exact same policy they later expended lots of political capital forcing into law, while the Republicans who dreamed it up destroyed themselves fighting against it.
12. The New Economic Policy changed the course of history. It combined massive stimulus designed to increase employment with an uncoupling of the dollar from the Bretton Woods exchange system, essentially eliminating the link between the dollar and gold. The knock-on effect of this has been enormous. It’s the reason why we didn’t go through a devastating crash in 1987 and one of the reasons we’re in recession now. This “Nixon shock” managed to knock around $17 billion off the deficit in three years. Imagine the praise Obama would have received for sweeping away 70 percent of the deficit in under one term, and try to argue that Nixon doesn’t deserve more credit for this.
13. signing into law the National Cancer Act on the 23rd of December. The new law plowed federal funding into cancer research and is the reason why survival rates are currently sky-high. It may not have been as headline-grabbing as the failed War on Drugs, but the War on Cancer has been an unabashed success.
- He got elected by committing treason against the United States of America. He basically sabotaged the peace talks between the Johnson administration and North Vietnam during the 1968 campaign by telling the South Vietnamese government to withdraw (assuring them they’d get a better deal with him in the White House). The war would drag on for another 4 years, kill countless thousands more, witness war crimes and would end with terms very similar to those that Johnson was going to get.
2. He also won the 1968 presidential election via a “Southern Strategy,” using coded racist language to make Southern White voters, angry at Johnson and the Democrats over civil rights, think that he would repeal or scale back civil rights (he did try to slow it down).
That’s segregationist Alabama Governor and 1968 third party candidate, Governor George Wallace pictured above.
3. He ignored the Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh and shielded that country’s military leaders
4. He destabilised and overthrew Chile’s democratically elected socialist government, and later enabled a brutal dictatorship that murdered thousands of innocent people.
5. He traded ambassadorships for political donations, appointing a lot of incompetent bagmen
6. He illegally bombed Cambodia, possibly murdering 100, 000 innocent Cambodians, destabilising that country and inadvertently paving the way for the Khmer Rouge
7. He spied on his political opponents and considered even creepier forms of suppression. Basically, he viewed political opposition as treason (which is how dictators think). And he lied about it. *
Nixon resigned in disgrace – and would have been impeached and removed from office by Congress had he not done so. Worse still, he never seemed to recognize that he did anything wrong. However in the long term his legacy I think was very much more positive than many people might give him credit for.
1. Setting the Scene
In the summer of 1972, Richard Nixon’s first term as the president of the United States was winding to a close. He was running a fierce re-election campaign against Democrat George McGovern, who had considerable political support. This was in the midst of the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which had caused deep rifts in society. Nixon’s victory was far from assured.
2. The Break-In
At about 2:30 am on June 17th, 1972, five men were arrested in the Watergate complex, a large collection of office buildings, apartments and a hotel. Their specific target was a suite in one of the office buildings that was being rented by the Democratic National Committee. What at first appeared to be a simple break-in was quickly complicated when it became apparent that they were stealing political information.
3. Ties to the Nixon Administration
In the days that followed the arrest, it became apparent that this was no regular burglary. One of the men claimed to be affiliated with the CIA. Another worked as a security guard for the GOP. There was also a $25,000 cashier’s check for the Nixon campaign that had been deposited by one of the burglars. The Nixon administration quickly denied any involvement in or knowledge of the plot, but journalists and investigators were suspicious and kept digging.
4. Things Begin to Unravel
By October 1972, the FBI had discovered that the plot was a lot bigger than a simple break-in. Investigators had uncovered evidence of widespread political espionage linked to the Nixon administration, including wiretaps on the offices of political opponents and other thefts of confidential materials. Nixon had also arranged to pay significant amounts of money to the Watergate burglars, directly implicating him in the crime.
5. A Landslide Victory
Despite the brewing scandal, Nixon was successfully re-elected in November of 1972. He received about 60 percent of the vote. During this time he continued to publicly deny his involvement in the scandal, claiming that if anything illegal had occurred, he was not aware of it. For a while, it seemed like things might work out for him.
6. A Continuing Investigation
Others weren’t willing to let things slide, however. Investigators continued to work quietly behind the scenes, and journalists continued to use all of their skills to conduct independant investigations. Two of the most dogged reporters were the Washington Post’s Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein, who would later win a Pulitzer Prize for their work. They received much of their information from a mysterious figure known as Deep Throat to preserve his anonymity. This was later confirmed to be Mark Felt, who was an Associate Director of the FBI at the time.
7. Further Abuses of Power
Nixon’s bad behavior didn’t end with his re-election. As the FBI continued to investigate, he worked with some of his top aides to get the CIA involved on his behalf. He hoped that CIA agents could obstruct the FBI investigation enough to cause it to stall out, thus keeping him safe from impeachment, prosecution or other consequences. This plan failed, however, and now the FBI had more serious charges to investigate, since using the CIA for personal gain was a serious abuse of presidential powers.
8. The Beginning of the End
As more and more illegal and unethical practices in the Nixon administration came to light, Nixon began to panic. In an event known as the Saturday Night Massacre, he suddenly and unilaterally abolished the special prosecutor’s office that was investigating him and fired Archibald Cox, the attorney in charge of the Watergate investigation. His attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned in protest, and Congress began moving towards removing him from office.
9. Tapes and Evidence
In late 1973 and early 1974, courts and Congress began to order Nixon to turn over evidence. In addition to about 1,200 pages of internal memos and other communications, he had to turn over countless hours of tapes. Nixon had a habit of recording almost everything that occurred in the White House, which provided investigators with plenty of evidence against him. These tapes became a popular joke in pop culture due to their often unflattering potrayal of Nixon. A classic example is a joke in many versions of the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant,” in which Guthrie jokes that Nixon must have deleted a portion of a tape where he had been listening to the original version of the song.
10. Impeachment and Resignation
In 1974, Congress began the process of formally impeaching Nixon. That involves a specific process laid out in the Constitution by which Congress can bring formal charges against an elected official and, if the official is found guilty, can punish him. The punishments can include removal from office, which was Congress’s plan for Nixon. The House Judiciary Committee passed the first articles of impeachment in July, and it was nearly guaranteed that Nixon would eventually be convicted. Instead of going through that process, he formally resigned from the presidency on August 8, 1974, which effectively ended the investigation against him. Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as president on the same day. A total of 69 people had charges brought against them during the Watergate investigation, with 48 being convicted of various criminal acts.
So overall, a bad president who did a few (important) good things. But ABC News political analyst Cokie Roberts and Nixon scholars insist: Nixon’s legacy is larger than Watergate. He revolutionized foreign relations, set a foundation for modern environmental regulations and even advanced women’s rights. Polls of historians and political scientists generally rank Nixon as a below average president. In a 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section, Nixon was ranked as the 33rd greatest president. A 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Nixon as the 28th greatest president. According to historian Stephen E. Ambrose, “Nixon wanted to be judged by what he accomplished. What he will be remembered for is the nightmare he put the country through in his second term and for his resignation.” Biographer Jonathan Aitken, by contrast, feels that “Nixon, both as a man and as a statesman, has been excessively maligned for his faults and inadequately recognized for his virtues. Yet even in a spirit of historical revisionism, no simple verdict is possible.” Political historian and pollster Douglas Schoen argues that Nixon was the most important American figure in post-war U.S. politics, while constitutional law professor Cass Sunstein noted in 2017, “If you are listing the five most consequential Presidents in American history, you could make a good argument that Nixon belongs on the list.” Nixon’s onetime opponent George McGovern commented in 1983, “President Nixon probably had a more practical approach to the two superpowers, China and the Soviet Union, than any other president since World War II […] With the exception of his inexcusable continuation of the war in Vietnam, Nixon really will get high marks in history.” Nixon, could have gone in history as a very good president, maybe not quite great. But his psyche stood in his way. In 1950 Nixon was being treated for depression by psychiatrist Arnold Hutschnecker. Nixon felt that Kennedy had stolen the 1960 election from him, so in his 1972 campaign he took steps to ensure his re-election. Nixon told Kissinger that he was likely to be killed by his critics in the Watergate scandal. Nixon was unable handle the 1973 Arab-Israeli War Crisis, so Kissinger as National Security Advisor, ordered U.S. military forces to warn the Soviet Union that American vital interests were at stake. Kissinger alone gave the order to launch nuclear-armed B-52 bombers to airborne holding points.
The book, Arrogance of Power, based in part on interviews with Dr. Hutschnecker (Nixon’s former psychiatrist) includes information that:
• Nixon took Dilantin, an anticonvulsant that can affect a person’s ability to reason rationally and can cause confusion and memory loss. He obtained the pills from a friend, not by prescription.
• Concern for Nixon’s mental state was so great that Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger ordered the military not to react to orders from the White House unless they were cleared by him or the Secretary of State.
• Nixon was reported to have physically abused his wife.
• Dr. Hutschnecker said that Nixon “wasn’t psychotic, but he had a good portion of neurotic symptoms, anxiety and sleeplessness.”
• Nixon said in several interviews that the White House tapes would vindicate him, when in fact, they showed that he was a promoter and participant in the Watergate scandal, his moods changed in seconds, he used incredibly uncensored language, and he participated in unlawful acts.
• While delivering his speech resigning the Presidency, Nixon had rapid eye blinking and heavy sweating, signs of uncontrolled emotions.
Sources: britannica.com, “Richard Nixon, President of the United States,” By editors of Britannica; Millercenter.org, Richard Nixon: Impact and Legacy,” By Ken Hughes; quora.com, “Was Richard Nixon Good President,” Christopher Gilmore; LAtimes.com, “Readers React: Nixon was a great president — and Trump is exactly the leader we need now,” By Victor Chang; villages-news.com, “Richard Nixon battled paranoia and depression,” By Gabe Mirkin
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars