|Richard Milhous Nixon|
January 20, 1969 — August 9, 1974
|Preceded by||Lyndon Johnson|
|Succeeded by||Gerald Ford|
|Birthdate||January 9, 1913|
Richard Milhous Nixon is one of the monstrous figures of American political history. Now popularly associated with mendacity, Nixon is remembered as the only sitting U.S. President forced to resign from office, including the Watergate scandal. Nixon conspired with his future National Security Advisor and Secrtary of State Henry Kissinger to prolong the Vietnam War to win the presidency and while president ordered the invasion and massive aerial bombing campaigns of Cambodia that helped to bring Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge to power.
Born in Yorba Linda, California in 1913, Nixon was the son of a Quaker grocery store owner. He attended Whittier College in California and went to law school at Duke University, as well as serving as a Navy officer during World War II.
The extremely ambitious young lawyer post-war politics, winning his first term in Congress in 1946. Nixon then proceeded to made a national name for himself as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating Alger Hiss and his alleged espionage activity for the Soviet Union.
Nixon used his fame to run for the U.S. Senate in 1950, defeating Democratic opponent and Congresswoman Helen Gahagen Douglas with a vicious red-baiting campaign. Nixon described her as "soft on Communism"- Douglas, Nixon said, was "pink right down to her underwear." At about the same time he impugned the reputation of Jerry Vorhees, a liberal whose voting record resembled the voting record of people with known communist connections. Two years later, the thirty-nine year old Nixon was tapped to run with Dwight Eisenhower on the Republican presidential ticket. Nixon was supposed to provide youthful vigor to complement Ike's paternal charm, but he brought with him a youthful indiscretion--opponents accused him of having a private "slush fund" of campaign contributions. Eisenhower was ready to dump him from the ticket, but Nixon saved himself by going on television to defend himself. Playing the role of the honest victim, Nixon's plea became known as the Checkers speech because of his contention that if Pat Nixon were actually to get a fur coat it would have to be taken from their dog Checkers. His emotional appeal was enough to keep Nixon on the ticket.
Nixon kept busy as Vice President, earning his diplomatic stripes on numerous foreign trips and assisting Eisenhower during the general's numerous health problems. After Ike's two terms, Nixon won his party's nomination for the 1960 election, but narrowly lost to Democrat John F. Kennedy.
Nixon ran for governor of California in 1962, but was defeated by incumbent Pat Brown and held an angry, drunken press conference the next day telling reporters that he was quitting politics: "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore." Nixon left public life for a while to practice corporate law, but kept his hand in Republican politics behind the scenes, rehabilitated himself, and launched a political comeback in 1968, winning the Republican presidential nomination. Positioning himself as the representative of the "Silent Majority", Nixon edged out Vice President Hubert Humphrey and the Dixiecrat contender, Alabama governor George Wallace in the general election.
Realist Foreign Policy for the Big Powers
Nixon's primary interests in office were Cold War foreign policy and ensuring his reelection. A firm believer in Realpolitik or foreign policy neo-Realism, in 1972 Nixon used secret missions by Henry Kissinger to broker the first presidential visit to Communist China, hoping to exploit China's tense relationship with the Soviet Union. Ironically, the Republicans had steadfastly attacked any Democrats who expressed the slightest deviation from viewing the Chinese Communists as the implacable and natural enemy of the United States. Only Nixon could legitimize the PRC.
Nixon's trip to China set in motion the eventual recognition of the communist regime as the legitimate government of China, and the de-recognition of the ROC as a member of the Security Council of the United Nations. If Senator Church, President Jimmy Carter, et al. had not deflected the momentum toward a total sell-out of the non-communist residents of Taiwan, a deep stain of total and crass betrayal of loyal allies and innocent ordinary people would have resulted.
Under the administration of President Carter, the costs originally to be borne by the citizens of Taiwan as a result of U.S. adherence to Realpolitik were ameliorated by laws sponsored by Senator Church et al., and de facto diplomatic ties were maintained by a "non-governmental organization" that, as one State Department functionary put it, was a "wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. Department of State." The "no two China" policy has stood as accepted policy down to the present, and the U.S. exerts its influence to restrain mainland China from attacking and retaking Taiwan. The status quo has become more and more difficult to maintain as mainland China periodically fires missiles that come close to Taiwan and while a high percentage of people in Taiwan favor declaring independence from China. The original amoral approach of Kissinger and Nixon have left a legacy of potential conflict. It is known that mainland China has an ample supply of nuclear weapons, and it is clear that Taiwan could make its own at any time it desired to. Had not the Carter administration changed its intentions at the last minute, the course of events set in motion by the Nixon regime could have resulted in the quick demise of the Taiwan polity.
War Crimes in Southeast Asia
Prior to his election, the Nixon campaign conspired with his future National Security Advisor and Secrtary of State Henry Kissinger to prolong the Vietnam War by sabotaging the Johnson adminsitration's peace agreement with North Vietnam, all in an effort to win the presidency. Essentially the same peace agreement was signed by the Nixon administration and North Vietnam 4 years later after the deaths of another 250,000 Vietnamese combatants and civilains and another 25,000 Americans in uniform.
Nixon also expanded the Vietnam War through a rightist miltiary coup d'etat in Phnom Penh and the U.S.-South Vietnamese invasion of eastern Cambodia and massive aerial bombardment of all of Cambodia. The rightist miltiary government of Cambodian strongman Lon Nol installed by the U.S. initiated the genocide in the country with mass executions of ethnic Vietnamese. The genocide achieved a horrendous scale when Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge seized power, killing perhaps one-fifth of the country's population. The Khmer Rouge were able to develope from a small fanatical buit isolated organization into a massive political movement because the Nixon administration's invasion and massive aerial bombardment of Cambodia drove most of the country's traditionally passive, monarchist and conservative peasantry in to their arms.
Another tragic legacy of the Nixon administration is the shift the direction of the U.S. space program by devoting scarce funding to the Space Shuttle Program. This decision, made to encourage "space commerce," foreclosed more important space exploration and settlement goals, including the construction of a lunar base and manned missions to Mars. The space frontier was efectively closed for at least a generation as a consequence. The inefficient and dangerous Space Shuttle required a destination, and the only marginally more useful but still expensive International Space Station was the consequence. Because of Nixon and the conservative ideological obsession with profits from commerce, Americans have not walked on Mars and do not have a base on the Moon.
Nixon was equally as ruthless in domestic politics, turning the force of the federal government against those he considered "enemies"- potential Democratic opponents and journalists being his favorite targets. As the election approached, Nixon's campaign team embarked on a campaign of "dirty tricks" by which they hoped to influence the outcome of the Democratic primary process and thus to face a weak opponent in the general election. A group of operatives known as the Plumbers, including ex-CIA agent Howard Hunt, Nixon campaign counsel G. Gordon Liddy and a young lawyer named Donald Segretti, sabotaged Democratic campaign events, placed spies in Democratic camps, and bugged offices at the Democratic National Headquarters located in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. The dirty tricks were paid for by a secret Nixon reelection fund comprised of under-the-table donations, and controlled by top White House officials, including former Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon's right hand at the White House, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman.
The sabotage worked, as Nixon won a landslide reelection over South Dakota Senator George McGovern, but the victory would soon become Pyrrhic. Seven Plumbers were arrested during a Watergate bugging attempt at Democratic headquarters; among them were veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion (recruited by Howard Hunt) and ex-CIA agent James McCord, who was working as "chief of security" for the Committee To Reelect The President.
Publicly, the White House dismissed the bugging as the work of a few bad apples (Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler called it a "third-rate burglary"), but several journalists, most notably Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were uncovering the much more concrete links between the Watergate burglars and Nixon's inner circle. Nixon, who knew the burglary was much more than a few zealous supporters getting carried away, worked with Haldeman, advisor John Ehrlichman and White House counsel John Dean to stop federal agencies from following the Watergate trail to the White House. As he told Haldeman, "I don't give a shit what happens. I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up or anything else, if it'll save it, save this plan. That's the whole point. We're going to protect our people if we can."
As the various investigations went on, responsibility for the dirty tricks and other abuses of power crept closer and closer to Nixon, who himself became more and more enmeshed in the coverup. It was during a House hearing that White House employee Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a taping system in the Oval Office; the tapes, which were only released by Nixon after the Supreme Court unanimously ordered him to do so, eventually revealed Nixon's complicity in Watergate. Facing certain impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 8, 1974. Gerald Ford assumed the presidency the following day.
Requiem for a Liar
Nixon withdrew from the public eye after leaving office, owing to stress and poor health, perhaps the result of guilt stress and heavy drinking. In time he returned to the "arena" in an effort to restore his public image, writing numerous books and offering foreign policy advice to Presidents and other world leaders. The increasingly conservative news media cooperated with this image make-over.
In 1977 interview with the UK journalist David Frost, recaptured in the film Frost/Nixon he stated that " if the president does it, it's not illegal", thus running in the face of his law training and centuries of precedent.
Nixon suffered a massive stroke in April 1994 and died several days afterward. Nixon's funeral included eulogies by California governor Pete Wilson, Senator Bob Dole and President Bill Clinton (it was also the last time that all of Nixon's successors through Clinton- including an ailing Ronald Reagan- would appear in public together). Like Jimmy Carter Clinton often played to an often forgetful ideological center in American politics.
- "Aren't the Chicago Seven all Jews?" and "Davis is a Jew, you know."
- Cambodia and Vietnam
- Frances Fitzgerald. 1972. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316159100.
- Conspiracy and Secrecy
- Seymour M. Hersh. 1983. The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House. Summit Books ISBN 0671506889.
- Six Crises, 1969.
- The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, 1978.
- Real War, 1979.
- Leaders, 1985.
- No More Vietnams, 1987.
- In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal, 1990.
- Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World, 1992.
- Beyond Peace, 1994.
White House Staff
- Pat Buchanan, Executive Assistant
- Alexander Haig, Chief of Staff (1973-74)
- H.R. Haldeman, Chief of Staff (1969-1973)
- Ben Stein, Speechwriter
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