Theo Zographos has more than a passing interest in American politics. Were Richard Milhous Nixon still alive, he would be celebrating his 100th birthday tomorrow, and I dare say rather pleased with theo's kind words about him. GC.Ed.
Tomorrow marks the 100th birthday of Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States. One of the most influential figures of the 20th century, Nixon now needs to be remembered as one of the better American presidents, because a man with his achievements can’t be withheld of his place in history any longer.
There are many people who would say that Nixon has already been rehabilitated in the eyes of Americans and the world. Nixon worked hard post presidency to gain back the respect of the American people, and his death was mourned by a nation. Bill Clinton called on him for advice. Even Hillary, herself a young up and coming lawyer working for the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives during the Watergate hearings, openly met with Nixon whilst first lady. Nixon did have many friends in palaces and parliaments across the world too.
However in my time at university, in my working life and in my political experiences, the overwhelming anecdotal impressions I get from friends and colleagues is that “tricky dicky” was a crook and fraud, morally defunct and a disgrace to politics and government.
Therefore, I would say that the perception of Nixon amongst those who haven’t studied his presidency is of the tricky dicky variety.
That simply must change because Richard Milhous Nixon was so much more.
In looking at Nixon’s six years in the White House, five extraordinary achievements stand out:
Nixon ended American fighting in Vietnam.
Nixon visited China and the USSR, forging invaluable diplomatic relationships between America and the other superpowers.
Nixon initiated the government’s “War on drugs”, telling the congress in July 1971 that the issue was “public enemy number one.”
Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act, a groundbreaking environmental agenda, and also created the American Environmental Protection Agency.
Nixon ended the national draft.
There are also other distinctive political achievements in his career such as:
Nixon is the only Republican to appear on the national ticket five times.
Nixon was re-elected president by the widest Electoral College and popular vote margin ever up until that time.
Nixon created the Southern strategy for the Republican Party, cementing it as a stronghold for decades to come.
And my favourite: with all odds against him, Nixon surprised friends and foes alike with an incredible comeback and was elected president in 1968.
To many though, these accomplishments are overshadowed by the Watergate scandal. Nixon’s critics say that for any good Nixon may have done, his involvement in the cover up of the break-in at the National offices of the Democratic National Committee, means that Nixon should be condemned, derided even, and maybe even forgotten.
The fact that Nixon never really faced the music only strengthens their disdain for him. Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford. He was never able to be prosecuted for any crimes he “may have committed.” However this is a fundamental point. It is sometimes forgotten that Nixon was never impeached. Unlike Bill Clinton, Nixon was humble enough to resign before the presidency was put on such a public trial.
In the days leading to his resignation in August 1974, Richard Nixon had a job approval rating of 25%, according to Gallup. Bill Clinton, however, at the same point in his presidency, and in the midst of impeachment, faced enormous pressure to resign. Clinton has rehabilitated himself and his presidency is now seen as a golden era for the United States. He left office with one of the highest approval ratings of any departing president. Nixon never had the chance to serve his full term. He was denied the opportunity to win back the public’s support in the way Clinton did.
He was narrowly defeated in the 1962 California gubernatorial election. Many thought Nixon was robbed in the 1960 presidential election and that the Kennedys had been the beneficiaries of voter fraud. However Nixon was dutiful enough to not contest the results, knowing that to do so would divide his country. He chose the honourable path.
Nixon was regarded as honourable for much of his career. He who fought courageously in the Alger Hiss case and sadly lost two brothers by his 20th birthday. He also wrote best selling books and was the first ex-president to discontinue his secret service detail, saving the taxpayer $3 million a year during his retirement. Nixon was so devoted to his wife that he couldn’t bear living without her and he died some 10 months after she did. As Wednesday’s centenary milestone passes, Nixon is the man we should be remembering.
Theo Zographos is a Monash Councillor in Melbourne’s south-east and a former Liberal Party candidate who has been a volunteer on various American political campaigns.