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The other side of Nixon

Michael Plummer, Op-Ed Editor

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In the seventh of the biblical beatitudes, Christ told his disciples: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Quite rightly, this verse follows praise for the pure of heart; for only in the absence of malice may one foster peace.

President Richard Nixon is perhaps the most misunderstood leaders in American history; a man whose legacy is confused and muddled with half-truths and falsities. Character assassinations on Nixon have sought to tarnish the reputation of America’s 37th president since long before he reached the office.

Despite the gross defamation he endured at the hands of his political opponents, President Nixon has one rightful legacy for which he deserves enormous reverence: the legacy of the peacemaker.

Chief among Nixon’s accomplishments is that he, despite an overwhelmingly uncooperative legislature and media, gradually and with resolve ended the war in Vietnam. When President Nixon assumed office in 1968, approximately 300 American soldiers were being killed every week in Vietnam with no end in sight. Slowly but surely, through skillful diplomacy, Nixon achieved what many thought to be impossible—he brought the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table, brought our prisoners of war home and ended American combat in Vietnam.

Nixon is well remembered for his stated goal of bequeathing to the American people “a generation of peace.” With the full force of the liberal media, academia and the Democratic congress against him, ending the war in Vietnam is something that only Nixon, the peacemaker, could do. Nixon’s leadership, in tandem with the incredible sacrifice of the men who served in Vietnam, brought about this generation of peace.

Let us pause for a moment to remember what the late 1960s were like: large-scale civil unrest resulted in riots across the country, from Los Angeles to Detroit and dozens of cities in between. The latter half of the 1960s saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and by 1968, the entire country seemed to be burning out of control; spiraling downward, ostensibly into revolution.

Enter Nixon, called upon by the American people to put the fire out.

When Nixon took office in 1968, it had been nearly 15 years since the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

However, at the time of Nixon’s election there remained almost as many segregated schools as there were integrated schools. This was particularly the case in many southern states, especially the Deep South.

Nixon’s justice department dismantled the existing segregation in these areas and desegregated more school districts than any president in history, before or since. Such was the success of Nixon’s directive that by the time he left office—a year and a half into his second term—there were hardly any schools left in the country that had not been integrated under the instruction of Nixon’s justice department.

Nixon also created the Philadelphia Plan, a groundbreaking federal policy that oversaw the employment of minority contractors and workers on federal projects. Such a program was the first of its kind and represented a monumental civil rights victory for the administration.

Nixon brought into being the first and largest-ever environmental program in U.S. history with the Clean Air Act, and created both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality.

Nixon believed in the benefits of health and the creation of a sustainable, livable world. Perhaps more importantly, however, he did not believe in using environmentalism as a political tool. Instead, Nixon’s action on this front is rooted in the same ethos as so many of his directives: he did it because it was the right thing to do.

The breadth of Nixon’s accomplishments would have been even greater if it were not for the perennial stonewalling he received from congress. During Nixon’s five and a half years as president, his party never controlled both houses. Amongst the legislation Nixon pitched to congress were bills that—if adopted—would have became the country’s first comprehensive health insurance and energy plans, respectively.

His aim in the former was simple: to identify those who could not afford health insurance and buy it for them. His plan did not call for interference in the marketplace but instead would have permitted free choice while leaving no American without coverage. It is worth noting that this plan was likely to have worked wonders and saved lives.

Additionally, Nixon’s energy plan included the introduction of alternative energy sources, conservation efforts, tax credits and incentives in an effort to curb America’s dependence on foreign oil in the wake of the devastating 1973 oil embargo. If enacted, it is likely that such a policy would have drastically reduced the effects of the second oil embargo that rocked our country in 1979.

Nixon was a peacemaker both at home and abroad. In 1972, President Nixon shocked the world when he visited Mainland China to meet with Mao Zedong. Nixon’s visit marked the first time an American President traveled to the People’s Republic of China, who had up until then been considered one of the United State’s primary adversaries on the world stage. The resulting détente between the U.S. and China showed the Soviet Union they could not win the Cold War so long as the two nations worked together. The resulting stalemate for the Russians made possible a series of events that culminated in and made possible the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union.

While the president’s accomplishments were numerous, little attention is paid to them in contemporary discussions of his legacy. Of course, the most infamous aspect of Nixon’s time in office was the Watergate scandal. But what was Watergate after all? Indeed, it was an attempt at a botched cover-up. Make no mistake about it.

But, as Nixon’s former speechwriter Ben Stein points out, Nixon’s gaffe was mild by comparison:

“It wasn’t starting a war in IndoChina over a false incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, it wasn’t leading us into a world war when we were unprepared for war, it wasn’t refusing to bomb the rail tracks into Auschwitz . . . it was a cover-up and lies were told, but compared to other mistakes presidents have made it was pretty darn small-change. Certainly, it was not enough to drive an otherwise gifted peacemaker from office.”

People have a nasty tendency to boil historical events and figures down to simplistic caricatures, but this is truly an act of folly. Nixon was a complicated man and he was certainly not without sin. But the duty incumbent upon us as Americans is to uphold the legacy of Nixon: the greatest peacemaker our country has ever known.

Michael Plummer is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The Student News Service of West Chester University
The other side of Nixon