Is Nixon Underrated?

Today is Nixon’s 100th birthday. I wrote this piece about him about 5 years ago and think you might dig it.

Much has been made of Nixon’s gross errors, paranoid delusions, and chicanerous deceptions. But it is unfair to judge his entire presidency by his mistakes. There were numerous successes and some visionary policies. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the most succesful presidents in American history. He is the only man to ever be elected President twice and Vice President twice, and his victory in 1972 was one of the biggest landslides in American history. He was President when man first walked on the moon. Relations with Russia and China were both greatly improved during Nixon’s tenure. He was an impressive compromiser, able to succesfully push numerous bills through a Democratic Congress.

“If liberals were pressed to say something nice about Nixon, they’d probably mention his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and support for the clean water act, school desegregation, and affirmative action,” says Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor at Temple. “By current-day standards, Nixon’s domestic policies would be considered centrist, if not left-of-center.” In fact, renowned left wing activist Noam Chomsky once called Nixon, “Our last liberal President.” And Hunter S. Thompson, who despised Nixon all his life and who worked feverishly to assist George McGovern in 1972, offered him faint praise a few years ago. “Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush. Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him?”

As for conservatives? “Conservatives, on the other hand, would probably point to Nixon’s foreign policy as his positive side,” continues Arceneaux. “Neo-conservatives are especially pleased with his willingness to expand the powers of the presidency to pursue aggressively U.S. foreign policy goals, even if it meant keeping Congress in the dark or treating concerns for civil liberties as secondary.”

Hunter Thompson said this about him in an otherwise scathing obituary in 1994. “He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death…It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.”

He was a fighter, a compromiser, the son of an impoverished grocer who rose to be the most powerful man on Earth. He was also a crook. But to paint his entire Presidency with the broad brush of the Watergate fiasco is simply not fair.

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