The Nixon tragedy: A man of unsurpassed courage and outstanding intelligence but without vision. An opportunist who missed his greatest opportunity.
Hard to believe that it is forty-four years since the infamous “I am not a crook” news conference of President Nixon. The video clip gives a taste of the surreal quality of those times. For the sake of attempting to cover up a politically inspired burglary in a presidential election that the Democrats were busily throwing away, Nixon in 1972 embarked on a cover-up that eventually destroyed his Presidency, with his resignation in disgrace coming in August of 1974.
Greek tragedy is too mild a term to apply when discussing the presidency of Nixon. Dealt a bad hand in Vietnam, he extricated the country from Vietnam while building up the South Vietnamese military to the extent that they could hold their own against the North Vietnamese, as long as supplies kept flowing from the US and their ground forces were supported by American air power. His diplomatic opening to Red China was a masterful, if fairly obvious, strategic win over the Soviets. Talks with the Soviets helped lower the temperature of the Cold War. Domestically Nixon was the liberal Republican he always was, with wage and price controls and an expansion of the Federal government.
The ironic thing about Nixon is that he was hated by liberals and the elite media, yet on domestic policy questions he was in virtual lockstep with them, including on abortion which he was privately in favor of, although he publicly opposed it. The intense hatred went back to Nixon’s early political career where he used anti-communism to win both his House seat and his Senate seat. Nixon also committed the unforgivable sin of being right about Alger Hiss being a Soviet agent.
Compared to many of his Democrat predecessors, Nixon’s crimes were fairly commonplace. LBJ got into the Senate in 1948 by stuffing the ballot box and who probably elected Kennedy in 1960 by doing the same in Texas. There was no crime that Nixon did that LBJ had not done, usually with more skill. Victor Lasky’s It Didn’t Start With Watergate (1977) demonstrated that the main difference between Nixon and preceding Democrat presidents from FDR, who had the IRS audit political foes, forward is that he didn’t have a protective press. Nixon was the first Republican president since the Great Depression, Eisenhower not really counting because of his national hero status. That made him illegitimate already in the eyes of most of the media that had grown up in a world where the Democrats controlled the Federal government. Nixon’s mile long streak of paranoia helped his enemies ultimately get him, but even paranoids can have real enemies and that was the case with Richard Nixon. If Nixon had made a clean breast of things after the Watergate break in he would have survived politically and doubtless have won re-election, but it was not in him to expose his neck to his enemies like that and trust to the American people.
Getting Nixon’s scalp was a classic pyrrhic victory for his foes. His destruction weakened his wing of the Republican party and paved the way for the rise of Ronald Reagan and a much more conservative GOP which has proven a much more successful adversary against the Democrats than the party that Nixon led.