In last week’s Wapo there was a mention of a woman wearing a shirt saying “I’d Never thought I’d Miss Nixon”. As a historian I would rate Nixon as one of our worst presidents. He unnecessarily prolonged Vietnam, failed to tackle inflation, undermined America in Latin America with the ovethrow of Allende in Chile and carried most of his policies to a degree that was so cyncial it undermined them (even the good policies). Oops, almost forgot Watergate. It was a great day when Nixon lost to Kennedy in 1960 and a sad one when Nixon beat Humphrey in 1968.
Still, during the Bush years I’ve found myself missing Nixon (though I wasn’t born until after his 1972 re-election). What’s more I get real angry when folks dismiss Nixon’s election (especially his 1972 trouncing of McGovern) as happening because “the people were stupid.” With an atittude like that its no wonder Nixon (and Bush) won second terms.
Some folks here may not be familiar with the ESPN show “The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame” where ESPN lists reasons that attempt to exonorate someone who is blamed for something in sports history.
For example: the top five reasons you can’t blame Bill Buckner for the Red Sox losing the 1986 World Series.
5.) The Red Sox lost two of the three games played in Fenway Park (or is it PAAHK)
4.) Bob Stanley’s Wild Pitch in game 6 had already tied the game before Buckner’ error lost it
3.) Calvin Shiraldi pitched poorly in relief in both Games Six and Seven.
2.) Their was still a game seven for the Red Sox to blow
1.) John McNamara made bad managerial moves throughout that series, including in game 6.
Here are the top 5 reasons you can’t blame “Middle America” for Nixon
5.) Anti-war folks stayed home in 1968. Had the anti-war folks not decided to be such intellectual snobs and say “I’m sitting this one out. I can’t vote for LBJ’s vice-president,” Nixon never would’ve been elected. Hmm anti-war (aka blue state) people who don’t bother to vote even though the Democrat nominee has criticized “the war” and promises to end it and as a result the GOP wins the popular vote. Sound familiar? I’m sorry folks, but anybody that could’ve voted in 1968 or 2004 and chose not to has nobody but themselves to blame for Nixon and Bush’s popular vote victories.
4.) Vietnam was a Democrat screw-up. Lyndon Johnson-not Eisenhower, not John Kennedy, and not Nixon- Americanized the War. As Robert Caro notes: on the day Kennedy died only 16,000 Americans were in Vietnam in an advisory role in what was essentially considered a Vietnamize War there had only been 73 casualties. By the time LBJ left office the war had been Americanized and 30,000 of the eventual 58,000 causualties had already occurred. Sure Johnson was a man of great domestic acheivement AND foreign policy achievement (e.g. the second Arms deal with the Soviets). Still if a democrat who wins an election in a landslide (1964) promsiing to “not send American boys to to the job Asian boys should be doing for themselves” pulls a stunt like Americanizing the war you can’t really blame folks for being leery of Democrats.
3.) Unlike in 2004, the economy in 1972 really was booming. Indeed the gap between rich and poor was at the all time smallest during the 1970s. Since the 1970s that gap has grown wider than several chasms combined.
2.) George McGovern. McGovern wanted to pull out of Nam even if it meant leaving behind the POWs. He supported abortion but never specified that it should be safe legal and rare. McGovern never criticized the radical elements of the anti-war movement that claimed to support him. Silence may be golden, but it calso signal acceptance.
McGovern supported racial busing but never acknowledged that the problem was not so much race as it as class. Then as now, middle class blacks and whites get good schools (as do wealthy ones) while poor whites and poor blacks get too often get the educational shaft. Mcgovern also wanted to give the poor $1,000 each (rather than give them the jobs the poor and their communities needed). Let’s face it, Nixon got want he wanted: the perfect foil to show Dems cared about the poor but at the expense of the middle class, cared about blacks more than whites, and turned a blind eye to immoraility.
1.) On domestic policy Nixon was a pretty liberal president. No Nixon was not the last liberal president, that honor goes to Jimmy Carter. Come to think of it Ford wasn’t all that right-wing either. If he was Reagan wouldn’t have challenged him for the GOP nomination in 1976.
Yes it is also true that Nixon as horrible on civil liberties, cut some social programs, and vetoed the Clean Water Act (which Congess overrrode).
Still let us not forget these accomplishments that Nixon is partially (and in many cases mostly) responsible for:
Creation of the Occupation, Safety, and Health Administration, creating the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Spieces Act, creating the US Postal Service and Amtrak, Social Security Disabaility Income for those who are diabled and can’t work, indexing Social Security payments to inflation (which dramatically lowered an already falling poverty rate among the elderly), the Philadelphia Plan which launched affirmative action, the Justice Department finally got rid of the last vestiges of school segregation. Nixon (like Kennedy and Johnson before him and Ford and Carter after him) increased federal aid to the cities.
I know Nixon had a Democratic Congress-all the more reason to focus on 2006 so in 2008 the newly elected Democrat president can have one too. Had he won John Kerry would’ve accomplished much and stopped the right-wing march, but how much could even President Kerry accomplish in 2005-06 with a GOP Congress? Many liberal reforms would have had to wait until after the 2006 midterms.
Bottom line: as terrible as Nixon was in many respects, at least there were some things on the positive side of the ledger. Under Bush we have had Nixon levels of corruption, lies, and secrecy, but not the economic progressivism or peace treaty making (think China and Soviet Union) that also marked the Nixon years (as well as the years of his two predecessor and two successors). Nixon was most definitely not an economic conservative who favored the rich over the poor and middle class to the nth degree, as has been the case in Washington since 1981.
As distasteful as this liberal democrat hates to say it: Some people only missed Nixon after Iraq or Katrina. I’ve missed him since Dubya took office (and even before that) at least as much as one can miss Nixon.