Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Nixon Reconsidered

“Always give your best; never get discouraged; never be petty. Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don‘t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

With these uncharacteristically humble words, Richard Milhous Nixon offered his resignation from the presidency. This was the first time an American president resigned from that most vaunted of offices.

But Aug. 9, 1974 was notable not just for the termination of a presidential administration, but also for the dispersal into the public discourse one of the most virulently controversial questions of the modern age – the question of the integrity, even the legitimacy, of the Nixon presidency, and whether it has affected our republic for better or for worse.

Popular wisdom holds that Nixon was a crook, a charlatan and an unabashed villain. He, to many people, epitomized just how wrong the American Right had become – he was paranoid, arrogant, and, to the common observer, possessed of an ideological Puritanism rivaling even the doctrinaire proclivities of the modern Tea Party movement.

In addition, his ostensible contempt for suspected communists – as well as for the American Left in general – equaled even that of Joseph McCarthy. The most infamous manifestation of the Nixon stereotype – the jewel in this thorny crown of indignation – was his ominous and unwitting nom de guerre, “Tricky Dick.”

This is the caricature – nay, the stereotype – that has endured for so long, even outliving Nixon himself, who died a short time after his wife in 1994.

However, a recent resurgence in Nixon scholarship and great contemplation regarding the watershed consequences of his presidency have demonstrated that he was not merely a petty criminal as portrayed by his opponents and by contemporary pop culture. Instead, he was a man possessed of an inexorable drive and indefatigable brilliance, but whose great talents were paralleled by very human flaws.

Nixon, truth be told, was a realist at heart – one who acknowledged the sordid unpleasantries of our world, and chose to use the opportunities at hand to clearly define and triumphantly overcome them.

One of the most overlooked aspects of Nixon’s life is his life itself. He was born the son of poor Quaker grocery store owners, and suffered a number of misfortunes from an early age, including the tragic death of two of his brothers. Impelled by his father’s musings regarding the myriad struggles of life, Nixon developed into a champion debater in high school and college, and was regarded as amongst the most diligent of the then-nascent Duke Law School’s students.

He was a man who destiny seemed to have chosen for its own purposes, so it should come as no surprise that politics was the profession that he was called to – and, indeed, it was in the political arena where his talents were most evident.

When those well-versed in the triumphs of the Nixon administration are queried as to its most triumphant aspect, most will respond with regards to foreign policy. Nixon has come to be viewed as one of the most quintessentially foreign policy-oriented presidents in American history.

This is a not entirely undeserved reputation, for under Nixon’s auspices, a period of detente was achieved with the Soviet Union, China was cleaved off of the Soviet bloc and brought into the American sphere of economic influence and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty – one of the first arms control treaties of its kind – was signed and approved.

These accomplishments – and the methods through which they were procured – were the embodiment of the ancient art of Realpolitik. It is worth noting that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, himself a polymath of diplomacy, played just as critical a role as Nixon in the deliverance of these fine achievements, and that both men ignored the reactionary impulses of the conservative fringe to actuate them.

However, the most overlooked achievement of this conservative White House was the one most yearned for by sizable portions of the American Left – the initiation of the military drawdown from Vietnam, which would mean, in time, the end of the Vietnam War.

Though Nixon is often accused of attempting to subvert the Paris Peace Talks that, some argue, would have hastened the end of the war, a similar push for complete victory was made quite recently by President Barack Obama in Afghanistan. What many fail to understand is that victory is always the impulse of a leader, but that only time – the father of all truths – can level the final results, and determine if that leader is truly great. The results, in this case, meant the end of one of the most unpopular wars in American history at the hands of a Quaker president who, by most accounts, expanded its scope and intensity early on.

Despite these myriad and remarkable accomplishments, Nixon is still remembered as an emotionally unstable caricature of the excesses of executive power. Regardless, his accomplishments are apparent and open for those who are ready to give him a fair shake in death – the one thing that, despite his tremendous brilliance, he could not have in life.

Dan Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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