WASHINGTON, December 23, 2016 – To many historians and to his supporters, Richard Nixon is a misunderstood figure. He was misreported and is misremembered by people who remember him only in terms of Watergate.
Nixon was among the greatest practitioners of foreign policy to ever occupy the White House. In hindsight, Watergate feels like a contrived conspiracy, a creation of the liberal media that “accused and vilified” the president.
Nixon is often called conservative’s conservative. He did not seek the presidency for personal financial gain but was motivated by his deep desire to exercise his talents on behalf of the United States.
He was a friend of women and minorities, still vital voting blocks more than four decades later. These blocks did not come out for Hillary Clinton, but they did help Donald Trump to become the next president of the United States. They represent the people who Mitt Romney and the GOP failed to reach in 2012.
Possibly more than any other president until now, Nixon had his media ups and downs, starting even before he was elected as General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president.
During the 1952 campaign, Senator Nixon was railroaded by the press for a modest fund that had been established to help defray his campaign expenses. The media called it a conflict of interest.
There were only $18,000 in the fund. Nixon delivered his “Checkers speech,” baring his financial soul in a televised defense of his honesty. He explained the very modest life he lived and that running for vice president was not free to a man not born of wealth.
He explained that he did not create, administer, or know who had donated to the fund.
In that speech, Nixon laid out his background and financial situation, beginning with his birth in Yorba Linda, his poor upbringing in a Quaker family of faith, and the family grocery store in which the Nixon boys helped out. He explained that he had to work in college and law school. He laid out his service record and said that at the end of the war, he and Pat Nixon had $10,000 in savings, all of it patriotically in government bonds.
“We lived rather modestly. For four years we lived in an apartment in Parkfairfax, in Alexandria, Virginia. The rent was $80 a month. And we saved for the time that we could buy a house. Now, that was what we took in. What did we do with this money? What do we have today to show for it? This will surprise you, because it is so little, I suppose, as standards generally go, of people in public life.”
The TV camera moved to show Pat Nixon, sitting beside her husband, watching as her husband embarrassingly detailed their meager assets and liabilities, including a modest, mortgaged home in Washington and the similarly mortgaged home in California that was occupied by his parents.
He laid bare the loans from his parents and from Riggs Bank; that he borrowed-against his life insurance policy; that he had no insurance on his wife or children. That the family owned a two-year-old Oldsmobile and the family furniture, and that he and his wife owned no stocks or bonds.
“Well, that’s about it. That’s what we have and that’s what we owe. It isn’t very much but Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we’ve got is honestly ours. I should say this—that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she’d look good in anything.”
He then made his most well-remembered statement:
“One other thing I probably should tell you because if we don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me too, we did get something—a gift—after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?
“It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”
Nixon was an early champion of civil rights, though he did not always make the right decision. When Dr. M.L. King was jailed in 1960, Nixon failed to go to his defense; this in part led to his losing the election to John F. Kennedy, who helped secure the civil rights leader’s release.
The week before Nixon lost the election to Kennedy, the “blue bomb” was not the ubiquitous blue Twitter tweet, but a light blue pamphlet, “The Case of Martin Luther King,” which told the story of “No Comment Nixon” versus “a Candidate with a Heart, Senator Kennedy.”
“Two million copies were printed on light blue paper and delivered to black churches the Sunday before the election, and would be dubbed “the blue bomb”. In a silent coup, black America was being moved overnight to the Democratic side of the ballot, from the party of Lincoln to that of the Kennedys.” On The Issues
In that race, Kennedy received 112,827—0.17 percent—more votes than Nixon nationwide, along with a 303 to 219 Electoral College victory.
A month into Nixon’s presidency, reporter Vera Glaser asked him,
“Mr. President, you have so far made about 200 high-level Cabinet and other policy position appointments, and of these, only three have gone to women. Can you tell us, sir, whether we can expect a more equitable recognition of women’s ability or are we going to remain a lost sex?”
“I had not known that only three (positions) had gone to women, and I shall see that we correct that imbalance very promptly.”
A White House Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities was formed the following year, and Glaser was among its members. The task force released its report “A Matter of Simple Justice,” which “advocated for an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution, the promotion of civil rights and equal opportunity for women, and as an example for society, the advancement of more women to executive positions in the federal government.”
That program promoted women like Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who served a seven-year term on the Federal Trade Commission and was later elected U.S. Senator from North Carolina in 2003. There there is Carla Hills, Assistant Attorney General, who later became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to President Ford and U.S. Trade Representative to President George H.W. Bush.
Nixon inherited the highest rate of inflation since the Korean War as well as a country divided by calls for civil rights for both African Americans and women. He was an early proponent of environmental policy, forming the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and supporting the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act of 1972, not because of policy goals but because he felt the amount of money allocate to them was excessive. After Congress overrode his veto, Nixon impounded the funds he considered excessive.
In 1971, Nixon proposed a private health insurance employer mandate, federalization of Medicaid for poor families with dependent minor children, and support for health maintenance organizations (HMOs). In 1974, he proposed more comprehensive health insurance reform—a private health insurance employer mandate
In 1974, Nixon proposed more comprehensive health insurance reform—a private health insurance employer mandate and replacement of Medicaid by state-run health insurance plans available to all, with income-based premiums and cost sharing.
Nixon was a master of foreign policy. His work in China, the Soviet Union and Latin America are, in hindsight, warmly remembered.
In 1972 Watergate began the slow destruction of Nixon’s presidency, resulting in his resignation in 1974.
In 1987, Richard Nixon wrote Donald Trump regarding his appearance on the Phil Donahoe show:
Richard Nixon is now returning to the Oval Office as that letter will now be framed and hung on the walls in the office that Nixon, and Trump, fought so hard for.