Most of us remember the Nixon presidency, at least a little. He resigned 40 years ago on August 9. Today, he’s usually considered to be a transitional figure in the Republican Party, a kind of opening act on the way to Ronald Reagan, the Christian Right, and a much more harder-edged GOP. This is certainly true in policy terms. If we divide Nixon’s accomplishments into four areas, we can see that he oversaw a mix of conservative and liberal accomplishments.
- Domestic policy The man seems positively left-wing, at least by today’s standards. He instituted wage and price controls, signed legislation creating the EPA and the Clean Air and Water Acts, and much more (see links).
- Foreign policy: A more mixed – and bloody – bag. Nixon escalated the Vietnam war, costing us another 25,000 or so dead. But, he also went to China and started détente and nuclear arms control with the USSR.
But, Nixon’s real legacy, in my view, comes from the other two areas:
- Political strategy. He created the GOP’s famous “Southern Strategy,” to realign the South by riding the wave of reaction against the 1960s cultural revolutions. Nixon and his people invented the GOP‘s 40-years strategy of appealing to many Americans’ cultural fears and racial resentments (plus, to be fair, their anger at some liberal policy overreach) .
- Corruption: Nixon set a new standard for political corruption. His resignation echoed in our politics for years (e.g., it elected Jimmy Carter and contributed to Reagan’s rise).
So, Richard Nixon’s presidency is history but not history, past but still haunting our present. I think that will make for a good discussion. I’ll give a quick opening on Monday so we can have lots of time for debate. Please use the materials below to brush up on your Nixon Administration accomplishments if you need to.
The Nixon presidency –
- Summaries of Nixon’s:
- ABCs of Watergate scandal, in case you forgot.
Assessments of Nixon and his relevance today –
- Articles on his legacy written 40 years after resigning and 100 years after his birth (Atlantic Mag.) Recommended.
- Was he “America’s last liberal?” (Natl Review) Conservative POV.
- Was he a “hero to the left?” (Salon)
- Are we near the end of the resentments he stoked? A must-read.
- Not even close. The GOP is still the party of Richard Nixon. Must-read; a political scientist explains it for you.
Next Week: How bad/good are state-level Tea Party governments? (They are on the ballot, too, next month)