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Nixon the Liberal

Dr. Chet Richards argues the case.

10 Responses to “Nixon the Liberal”

  1. tdaxp Says:

    Well said.I did not know there was debate about this. Perhaps I am out of the loop / a generation too young?In 1960 both Kennedy and Nixon ran as cold-warrior liberals. Both governed and acted that way too. 

  2. historyguy99 Says:

    Thanks for the link.

    Chet blew away the hyperbole of Watergate to give a fleeting view of the lasting legacy of Nixon.
    What Watergate taught us; was that polititians will do anything skirting both sided of the law, to stay in power and push their agendas. How little, that’s changed today?

  3. zen Says:

    Dan – I think that characterization will be widely disputed until the Boomer generation passes from the scene. Prominent historians are still writing books that indicate that Nixon, now long dead, still has the power to unhinge their judgment. In fairness, Nixon would not have accepted that label – he walked a fine line early in his career of very moderate but highly partisan Republican but also a fierce anticommunist. The rockribbed Right ( Taft-Knowland-Goldwater-Reagan) distrusted Nixon except when he was redbaiting Democrats and the Democrats and liberal Rockefeller Republicans hated Nixon at a visceral level because Nixon had accurately nailed Eastern Establishment scion and New Dealer Alger Hiss as a Communist spy and traitor.
    Agree with you 100 %.

  4. joey Says:

    What Watergate thought us is that a Spy agency in the US possessed the power to manipulate a Newspaper into destroying an elected President by a series of damaging leaks.  You can view this as an Allegory about corrupt politicians using underhanded means, or you can view it as a Spy using controlled leaks to destroy the integrity of the state in order to pursue a personal vendetta.  Or you can view it as a Newspaper being willingly used by one one part of the Government to destroy an other,  increased newspaper sales being its payment for being a cats paw.  It was not a simple morality tale about corrupt politicians, it was much worse than that.

  5. Ralph Hitchens Says:

    Chet hardly needs to argue the case.  Nixon was that rara avis (these days at least) — a moderate Republican who embraced a certain amount of "big government."  I would further argue that his "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War was reasonably well thought-out and, by and large, promised success until he self-destructed as a result of the Watergate conspiracy.  He had US ground forces out of South Vietnam by early 1972, and made liberal use of airpower to sustain the South and persuade the North to agree to a cease fire.  Any speculation on parallels with Obama’s withdrawal strategy for Iraq?

  6. democratic core Says:

    Nixon was, above all else, an opportunist, as all successful politicians must be.  My hunch is that at heart he was a conservative, not a liberal, but that the timing of his political career forced him to embrace more "liberal" positions.  His career flourished in an era when the right-wing of the Republican Party did not appear to have much of a future.  Taft was crushed in ’52 and his supporters were basically shut out of the Eisenhower administration.  Eisenhower was much closer to Texas Democrats like his Treasury Secretary Robert Anderson (who in turn was very close to the Texas Democrats who ruled Congress, Rayburn and Johnson) than he was to Taft Republicans.  The Goldwater debacle might have signaled the reemgence of the Republican right within the party, but it did not create any great sense of a rightward shift in the country in general.  Thus, Nixon’s government generally looked to the old Eastern establishment to fill key positions (Kissinger, Mitchell, Rogers) and not surprisingly the policies of his administration generally resembled those of the Eisenhower administration.  However, he did pursue the "Southern Strategy" including the absorption of Southern Democrats into the Republican party, most importantly including powerful Texas Democrats like Connally, which ultimately brought about the political realignment that resulted in the Reagan landslides, and he began the process of slipping more ideological conservatives into his administration (Buchanan, Weinberger, Simon, Bork) reflected in policies such as the "law and order" emphasis, the dismantling of some aspects of the Great Society such as the OEO, and conservative Supreme Court appointments (notably Rehnquist) and attempted appointments (the two that failed, Haynsworth and Carswell).  On foreign policy, it does seem as though he had more in common with realists than with the group that became the neocons (who were mostly still Scoop Jackson Democrats in those days), but I’m not sure how much to read into that.  At the end of the day, even Reagan came to look more like a realist than a neocon.  On balance,  I suspect that if Nixon were around today, the politician he would most resemble ideologically would be Newt Gingrich.
    Joey: The leaks to WaPo came from the FBI (Felt), so I’m not sure which "spy" agency you mean.  Unquestionably, turf battles had a great deal to do with Watergate, as the constitutional violations entailed in the FBI Cointelpro operation that Felt led dwarfed anything that was done by Nixon’s Plumbers.

  7. MK Says:

    I disagree that Watergate taught us that politicians will do anything to stay in power. To say that is to ignore the fact that each person has a somewhat differently calibrated moral compass. There are presidents and government officials who simply would not have done some of the acts that John Mitchell came to call "the White House horrors." Acts which eroded the managerial culture and ultimately brought his presidency crashing down. As Bud Krogh, a Nixon aide who went to prison after Watergate, observed in a recent book, there has to be an underpinning of integrity.The "abuses of governmental power" which the Nixon records law required that I identify in his secret recorded White House tapes while I was employed by the National Archives covered more than just the break in to the DNC. Most disappointing to me, as someone who had voted for Nixon, was the ease with which Nixon discussed using the Secret Service to perform surveillance on Teddy Kennedy for political purposes. The line should never have been crossed. There is a reason why we have a civil service, not a system of employment based on tribal loyalties. People in federal agencies depend on their chain of command to deal with them honorably. I’ve been a federal employee for 37 years. My success has depended on people, including myself, respecting laws, regulations, and standards. One cannot cherry pick which boundaries one will cross and which one will not. Over the decades, I’ve participated in debates about how to handle numerous problems. I also have seen the results of choices made by those facing tough decisions – myself and others — play out. In a statutory environment, which government necessarily is, some situations present bright line choices, other situations are more murky. But too much reliance on ethical short cuts doesn’t work. If a decision maker does not have a reliable moral compass, things often do not end well. So too with Nixon. His intelligence, his vision, his many good qualities could not save him from a fundamental mindset: "do to others before they do it unto you." Other presidents may have bent the rules, but it was that mindset which led to the casual misuse of federal agencies such as the IRS and the Secret Service.   Nixon failed to integrate properly his policy making and political sides.  His poor tactical choices and over reach on the political side brought down his presidency, ending his ability to implement well-thought out initiatives in the domestic and foreign policy areas.  The lesson is, intelligent presidents also have to be smart presidents.

  8. MK Says:

    For the record, the comment displayed as 11:46 am on March 30 was posted by me at 7:46 am eastern time from home.  I don’t know what the timestamp here is based on.  Despite the erroneous time, I did not post my comment, not even during a lunch break, from my workplace!  Still sipping coffee at home this morning at 8:04 am, heading out shortly.  Just the type of thing someone accustomed to working in a rules based environment would post, right?

  9. zen Says:

    Uh, you can relax. This is not HR 🙂 I reset the timestamp once while traveling and never fixed it subsequently

  10. MK Says:

    It’s a government thing, 🙂 Most people wouldn’t get it (Nixon didn’t, for one). Actually, the issue doesn’t center on HR. You may not know that I once was the subject of a minor Inspector General complaint by someone who didn’t like the fact that I had gone to the National Archives on a weekday to look at some of the Nixon records. This was after I had left the Archives’ employ to work at another federal agency. I was examining recently released records against which Nixon once had filed claims to prevent us from opening them a few years earlier. The complaint had nothing to do with my employer, did not emanate from my employing agency but rather from someone who had become aware of my presence in the Archives research room. Friends at the Archives with whom I later discussed it thought it probably was filed to discourage me from advocating on their behalf in then still ongoing battles with the former President’s representatives. The complaint stated I was spending work time on personal research. That I had signed for a vacation day easily was determined by looking at my time and attendance record and the case quickly resolved in my favor. In Washington, you never know who is going to try to do something because they don’t like the path you are on! Taking the high road can be a protective measure. Plus it is relaxing!
    Posted by Smartphone on my lunch break at 11:47 am eastern

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