One hundred years ago today, Richard Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California. In post-World War II American history, he is probably one of the three most influential presidents. Here, we’ll look at why his legacy is so important.
Watergate – Everyone reading this understands that Watergate is just a short-hand for a number of different events that occurred during the 1972 presidential campaign. Nixon resigned in order to avoid impeachment; in effect, the 1974 and 1976 elections directly resulted from these actions.
China – Prior to Nixon’s presidency, China was merely a vast, unknown land. What little we thought we knew about this nation was caused by the Korean and Vietnamese Wars, when we thought it better to fight China through its smaller surrogate allies. When he went there in 1972, he opened relations between the United States and China, which directly led to its movement from amorphous enemy to trading partner today. Nixon going to China is a term still used for when a politician does something that is ideologically unexpected.
Vietnam/the Draft – The Vietnam War extended through much of Nixon’s presidency. When students in college protested the war with huge numbers, Nixon led the move to stop war protests by ending the draft. He was right; once they were no longer personally at risk, the anti-war feelings subsided. Once we had an all-volunteer military, people rarely have had visceral feelings about our military actions since then.
Southern Strategy – Nixon is generally regarded as the author of this political plan. Johnson, his immediate predecessor, noted when the civil rights bills were passed during his tenure, that the south would be lost to the Democrats for the next generation. Nixon took advantage of this, moving a large region of the nation into the solidly Republican camp.
Looking at Nixon from today’s ideological prism presents a paradox; his presidency installed programs like the EPA; he also was singularly responsible for Title IX of Affirmative Action, which moved it from a racially based system to one that emphasized gender based perceived inequities. He was an unrepentant hawk, whose actions led us to a long-term peace with our largest enemy. He was uncomfortable with people, yet was on every Republican presidential ticket from 1952 to 1972 (with the exception of 1964, when he turned down a chance to be the candidate again).