Missing Richard Nixon or The Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame Swing Voters for Voting for Nixon

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.

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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11 Responses to Missing Richard Nixon or The Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame Swing Voters for Voting for Nixon

  1. Ron Chusid says:

    Nixon had many faults, but was not nearly as far right ideologically as Bush. While his handling of Vietnam subjects him to desrved criticism, I would also prefer Nixon over Bush on foreign policy. I think is is far less likely Nixon would have acted anywhere near as inept as Bush on Iraq.

    Regardless of the merits, McGovern was seen as very far left in 1972, and identified with the anit-war counterculture making him unacceptable to a huge number of voters.

    This comes from someone who was very anti-Nixon. I still have my Richard Nixon Voodoo Doll on a bookshelf.

  2. florida dem says:

    Last year, I saw someone at a local rally with a button that read: “Worst Administration Ever” with Xs on the faces of Nixon and his crew, who were replaced with the faces of ShrubCo.

    Yep. ShrubCo has set a new low. He even makes Reagan Inc. look good. Blech!

  3. NativeTexan4Kerry says:

    Thanks, Nick! I find this really interesting. And yes, compared to bush, Nixon is a mench! My dad was one of those idiots that stayed home in 1968. I never let him forget it, and thankfully he hasn’t made that mistake again! (on a side note, wasn’t Carter pretty conservative?)

  4. Nick says:

    Native Texan:

    thanks for the positive feedback. To answer your question on Carter the answer is “not at all.” Carter may not have been as liberal as Ted Kennedy or Tip O’Neill wished, but was still quite liberal. Carter increased funding for most social programs especially in the field of employment training and job programs for the unemployed (especially teenagers). Increaed social security and Medicare taxes to make them solvent, raised the minimum wage, and raised federal aid to urban areas over $12.5 billion in his four years. He created the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.
    His energy program went a long way in developing alternative sources of energy and raising efficiency standards on transportation vehicles and home energy. To pay for this and an investment in mass transit, he got Congress to pass a (gasp) windfall profits tax on oil companies-which enraged a Wyoming Congressman who later became an exec for Halliburton. I wonder whatever happened to that guy?
    Carter oversaw expansion of worker safety rules and created the Department of Mine Safety Administration in the Dept. of Labor. He also appointed a record number of women and minorities to government posts and supported a bill outlawing employment discrimination against pregnant women and forcing company health care policies to cover preganancy related health care costs (e.g. the delivery of the baby). He also passed Superfund to clean up toxic waste sites and established ANWR.
    Carter gets a reputation as a conservative mainly because he deregulated some industries (notably airlines and trucking), significantly raised defense spending (particulalrly in 1979-80) and was more concerned about cutting the budget deficit than many Congressional liberals. Some liberals also disapproved of his appointing Paul Volcker as Fed Reserve Chairman.
    What liberal critics tend to forget is that even Tip O’Neill supported increased defense spending while all the deregulation bills Carter signed, save one, were first proposed by Ted Kennedy (yep Uncle Ted). As for cutting the deficit this was hardly a new thing for Democrats. FDR had believed in balanced budgets as had Wilson and Truman. JFK never balanced the budget but did come close, while Lyndon Johnson’s last budget was balanced-so much for Guns and Butter. What’s more while Carter did slow the growth of somsocial e programs, he never actually CUT funding for them like Reagan did.
    As for the appointing of Volcker (whom everyone knew wanted to raise interest rates to squash infaltion) I don’t think Carter wanted to do it, but 10 years of high inflation left him no choice. Still, insofar as presidents go, it was Carter that brought down inflation, NOT Reagan. In the 1970s we had presidents who were willing to confront the real problems of the day. We haven’t been so lucky in this decade don’t you agree?
    Sorry this post was so long, but I am a teacher for a living. By the way, I’m assuming your dad voted for Kerry, so I guess that somewhat makes up for 1968. Still, your totally right to give him hell for staying home in 1968. I would do the same to my folks except they were only age 20 and 19 in 1968-this was before 18 yr. olds could vote.

  5. Nick,

    The day the supreme court ruling came down that gave the 2000 election to Bush, I told my son: They are going to take the worst parts of the Nixon and Reagan administrations and you are about to witness the most dishonest, corrupt and secretive administration our country has ever seen.

    Of course shorty after that, I also realized they were also apparently going to be the most incompetent.

    I first knew we were in trouble as soon as he appointed Dr. Rice as his NSA, after learning her main qualification was that she was a Soviet expert. My immediate reaction was, WTF?? A Soviet expert? The USSR doesn’t even exist anymore. Remember, Ronnie whipped their butts singlehandedly a few years back. How about a Middle Eastern and terrorism expert, since that’s where our main national security threats currently are and are going to be. But I guess that’s just me and one of the reasons I wouldn’t make a good conservative republican now-a-days.

    Next things were hearing that his admin was going to be real tough on the Russians and Chinese. I had the same impression then that apparently Richard Clarke had. When he said it was like were frozen in amber, that’s exactly what I’d thought.

    Then after declaring how tough they were going to be on the old Commies, what two things happen within several months?

    The Chinese decide to test the new U.S. president and his admin and force down one of our spy planes. Reaction? Bush admin talks very tough, rattles some sabers then rolls over on it’s back, apologizes for invading their airspace and PAYS them for their trouble to give us our plane back, in pieces. Fortunately, the crew isn’t returned in pieces at least. Chinese determination(and anyone not a drooler), Bush is all hat and no cattle.

    Soon after that Bush visits Putin and announces, “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” I thought, you looked into the eyes of an ex high level KGB officer and old Soviet, saw his soul and liked what you saw?. I just bet you did Shrub, I just bet you did. Just your kind of guy, huh? I could hear the peels of laughter from the Kremlin all the way over here. Then the next year, Bush even starts calling Putin “Pootie-Poot”. I just hope nobody at the Kremlin injured themselves laughing so hard at what the U.S. had for a president.

    I’d read after that the Putin had decided to study Bush, so when he met him he’d know exactly how to act and what to say so that Bush would fall for him. So Putin commiserated about having twin daughters with Bush, told Bush that when he was young his mother secretly taught him how to pray etc, etc. Result, Bush is eating out of his hand in no time. What a friggin light weight fool….

    Also like you, I’d said a couple years ago I’d take Nixon over Bush in a heart beat. Nixon may have been paranoid, power hungry and considered himself totally above the law, but at least he was intelligent and competent. And as you noted, he actually did some good things for our country and not all of his policies were horrible. Bush has absolutely no redeeming qualities what so ever in any way, not as a president or as a person. Nada.

  6. Ron

    “I still have my Richard Nixon Voodoo Doll on a bookshelf.”

    Maybe Donnie can hook us all up with some Bush voodoo dolls from N.O.!

  7. I hated Nixon and Agnew with a passion back then but they were a breath of fresh air compared to Bush/Cheney

  8. I wasn’t happy with Carter for a couple reasons but I thought appointing Volcker and his raising interest rates through the roof showed that Carter was willing to suffer huge political damage for the good of the country and economy. For some reason, Ford’s idea of wearing “WIN” buttons “Whip Inflation Now” for anyone not around then, just wasn’t cutting it. Along with the hostages in Iran and the failed rescue attempt, Volcker’s raising interest rates so high was what cost Cater reelection.

    Then the mild recession, which breaks the inflation and the invention of the PC: Reagan walks into a boom.

    Ronnie continues and builds on Carter’s decision to help the Afghan Mujahideen. Soviets finally give up, beaten and broke. The rise of Poland’s Solidarity and Lech Walesa, with support from John Paul II, then Mikhail Gorbachev coming to the realization that the good old days are finally gone and we have the collapse of the USSR. Ronnie doesn’t screw it up and gets another gift.

    Yay, Ronnie was a great President, NOT!

    That’s my take anyway but I’m just a humble observer and ranter… 🙂

  9. Nick says:

    Dave (aka humble observer and ranter)

    Sounds like a pretty good take on history to me. Excellent summary of the period from 1979-89.

  10. Nick says:


    Your take on Bush is also good too. A few months before Election 2004 I told my mother (who’d been born in the Truman years) that Bush combines qualities of the three worst presidents of her lifetime into one person: Nixon’s secrecy and corruption, Clinton’s immaturity and petulance, along with Reagan’s economic royalism/elitism. Three bad guys stuffed into one= worst president we’ve had in over a century.
    I hear that Karl Rove idoloizes McKinley. After reading Kevin Phillips’ book on McKinley and finding out that McKinlery was a pro-labor lawyer who refused to use anti-trust laws against unions but planned to do so against BUSINESS TRUSTS in a second term, I gotta say I miss ole Bill (McKinley that is). Even he’s better than this guy.

  11. Thanks Nick. Coming for our resident statistician and historian, that’s high praise. Hey, wait a minute! You could ruin my rep, buddy! Nah, I think I’m safe. Hmm, I must be a tad off tonight though… 🙁

    Yeah, I think you got Bush pegged a little better. Guess that’s another “trifecta” for him, as he likes to say.