History will inevitably forgive Richard Nixon. Despite his obvious unlawful mistakes, he made a good president. Until 1968, most Americans saw Richard Nixon as a political has-been, a dour pre-McCarthy hunter of Communists. In 1968, however, Nixon won the Presidency by presenting himself as a healer of divisions. He demonstrated that he had greater ability to reinvent himself than any other modern politician. More than any other figure between the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his own resignation in 1974, Nixon was the pivotal postwar President.
The architect of detente, he also was the President who ordered secret bombing raids on Laos and Cambodia and then invaded Cambodia. The architect of the conservative Republican “southern strategy,” he also was the President who created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Voting Rights Acts. The man who painted himself as a friend of “law and order,” he broke the law and was forced to leave office in disgrace. During his presidency, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and Nixon made history by visiting China.
The Viet Nam War cast a shadow over Nixon’s successes, but the war finally ended in 1973 under his presidency. Nixon set milestones in foreign policy by improving relations with both China and Russia. Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger relentlessly pursued negotiations in the Mideast, with Israel, Egypt, and Syria. Yet Nixon is still remembered as a thief and a criminal. Why isn’t he best remembered for his foreign policy achievements? Yea, most Americans recognize his failure to bring a speedy, or even “honorable,” end to the Vietnam War.
Perhaps this notoriety is based on the fact that Nixon was one of the few presidents in American history who practiced foreign policy by design, setting certain goals and moving steadily, if sometimes secretly and ruthlessly, toward them, instead of merely reacting to the conditions of world affairs as had many chief executives in the past. He repudiated his anti-Communist past and became the first US president to visit the Soviet Union when he traveled to Moscow in May of 1972.
He sought peace with the opposing super-power and initiated negotiations with the Soviet Union to limit nuclear weapons, which resulted in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT). At the same time, he was making secret contact with the other great communist nation, the People’s Republic of China, which he visited publicly in February 1972, thus opening official diplomatic relations with China for the first time since the communist takeover in 1949.
But no—Nixon is not remembered for his good deeds; the mistakes he made seem to overshadow his accomplishments. Nixon never committed perjury before a Grand Jury. Nixon never had oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern half his age. Nixon never tampered with witnesses who could testify to such an affair. Nixon never sent his wife on national television to blame all his problems on a vast left-wing conspiracy–although a much better case could’ve been made – the Left wing media loathed Nixon ever since he uncovered Alger Hiss in 1948.
Nixon never sold nuclear missile technology to the Communist Chinese in exchange for illegal campaign contributions. They have a word for that; it is called “treason”. Nixon never money laundered illegal foreign campaign contributions via monks at a Buddhist temple. Nixon never rented out the Lincoln Bedroom at $10,000 a night to drug dealers, arms smugglers or international criminals; nor did he allow a fat-cat campaign contributor to be buried at Arlington Cemetery.
Don’t they call that, at the very least, “bribery”? Nixon never stole 900 FBI files on political opponents. For looking at one such file, Chuck Colson went to prison for eighteen months. Nixon never paid $500,000 of hush money to one of his former legal partners who was in prison for fraud and embezzlement. You can file that under “obstruction of justice” as well. Nixon never had the third highest ranking member of his Justice Department “commit suicide” and then move his body to Ft. Marcy Park, while rummaging through his office to remove incriminating paperwork.
When Billy Graham went to publicly ask the nation to forgive Nixon, Nixon told him to keep his distance so he, Rev. Graham, would not be tainted by the Watergate Scandal. (a nice contrast to Clinton’s “spiritual advisor” Jesse Jackson). When Nixon found out about Democrat voter fraud in the 1960 election (some late mysterious absentee ballots from Cook County, Chicago) — he refused to go public with it because he felt it would hurt America. And finally, Nixon resigned because he didn’t want to “tear America apart”.