Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, is a controversial figure in American history. While many condemn him for the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency, Nixon still has a base of loyal supporters decades after leaving office.
What is it about Nixon that inspires such devotion in some Americans? This article will explore the possible reasons why certain segments of the populace continue to admire the former president.
Nixon’s Foreign Policy Achievements
One of the main areas where Nixon draws praise is his foreign policy record. Here are some of the highlights:
Opening Relations with China
In 1972, Nixon made a landmark visit to China, marking the first time a US president had visited the country. This surprise move ended 25 years of no communication between the two powers. As a result of Nixon’s “ping-pong diplomacy”, China opened up diplomatically and economically to the West.
Detente with the Soviet Union
Nixon initiated a new era of detente, or relaxation of tensions, with the Soviet Union. He negotiated arms control treaties like SALT I and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. His summit meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev built greater cooperation between the two superpowers.
Ending US Involvement in Vietnam
Though he escalated the Vietnam War early in his presidency, Nixon eventually extricated the US from the quagmire. He instituted Vietnamization, withdrawing US troops while arming South Vietnam to fight for itself. While the communists did eventually conquer South Vietnam in 1975, Nixon fulfilled his promise to American voters to bring an “honorable end to the war in Vietnam.”
Nixon’s bold diplomacy with rivals like China and the Soviet Union produced durable geopolitical breakthroughs. Supporters believe these foreign policy achievements offset Watergate in the balance of history.
Nixon’s Domestic Accomplishments
Beyond foreign affairs, Nixon also had a lasting impact on the domestic front:
Creating the EPA
In 1970, Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by executive order. The EPA would go on to clean up the air, water, and land with policies like the Clean Air Act and become a pillar of the environmental movement.
Desegregating Southern Schools
Though not known as a civil rights advocate, Nixon continued to enforce desegregation of schools in the South as mandated by the Supreme Court. His administration threatened funding cut-offs for districts that refused to comply.
Starting the War on Cancer
Nixon declared a “War on Cancer” in 1971 and increased funding for cancer research. His policies laid the groundwork for advances in detecting and treating cancer in subsequent decades.
Implementing Affirmative Action
Nixon implemented the Philadelphia Plan, the first significant affirmative action program. It established quotas favoring minority hirings for federal construction projects. This expanded opportunities for African-Americans and others who faced discrimination.
While Nixon’s domestic policies were overshadowed by the chaos of Watergate, they made real improvements in areas like the environment, civil rights, and public health. This helps explain his appeal for some Americans.
Key Domestic Accomplishments of the Nixon Presidency
|Created the EPA||1970||Strengthened environmental protections|
|Desegregated Southern schools||–||Enforced civil rights laws|
|Started the War on Cancer||1971||Increased cancer research funding|
|Implemented affirmative action||1969||Expanded opportunities for minorities|
Nixon’s Political Skills
Richard Nixon had a brilliant political mind and possessed skills that even his detractors acknowledged. Here are some of the talents that earned him respect:
Nixon was a prolific writer who thought deeply about geopolitics and domestic issues. He crafted sophisticated strategies to achieve his foreign policy goals, outmaneuvering rivals. This strategic ability made him an extremely effective diplomat.
After losing the 1960 presidential election and the 1962 California governor’s race, most wrote Nixon off politically. But he resurrected his career with a successful 1968 presidential run, displaying tenacity. His comeback made him an inspirational figure to supporters.
While not known as a charismatic speaker, Nixon’s speeches—like the “Checker’s Speech” and “Silent Majority Speech”—strategically swayed public opinion at key moments. His oratory skills helped him recover from setbacks.
Savvy Political Operator
Nixon bested political opponents using cunning tactics. He excelled at politics’ inside game, making deals and maneuvering for advantage. As a master politician, he put together a winning electoral coalition in 1968 and a 49-state landslide in 1972.
Nixon had an unparalleled political acumen that allowed him to resurrect his career and achieve the pinnacle of power. This still earns him grudging admiration today.
The Personality Behind the Politician
Beyond his political achievements, there was also something in Nixon’s personality that people connected with:
Middle Class Values
Unlike the wealthy Kennedy clan, Nixon inculcated middle class values like hard work and thrift. This allowed middle America to see him as “one of us”, helping him forge a bond with the silent majority.
Nixon was an intense intellectual who was constantly strategizing. The fact that he wrote so many thoughtful policy positions and speeches himself endeared him to supporters as a serious thinker.
A lifelong Quaker, Nixon held sincere Christian beliefs. His speeches sometimes included religious references that appealed to the faithful. They saw reflections of themselves in his spiritual convictions.
Love of Sports
Many photos show the football-loving Nixon attending sporting events. His enthusiasm for sports like football, bowling, and golf made him a regular guy in the eyes of many Americans.
Despite his reputation as dour and aloof, Nixon’s personality conveyed a familiarity that generated loyalty from his political base.
In conclusion, Richard Nixon maintains a devoted following decades after the Watergate scandal ended his political career because of:
- His foreign policy achievements with China and the Soviet Union
- Domestic accomplishments like creating the EPA
- His brilliant political skills and comeback ability
- Personality traits like faith, intellect, and love of sports that Americans related to
For these reasons, Nixon continues to be remembered fondly by some Americans, even if history casts a harsh overall verdict on his presidency. His loyal supporters are still a constituency to be reckoned with today.
Frequently Asked Questions about Nixon’s Popularity
Why do some Americans overlook the Watergate scandal when considering Nixon’s presidency?
Some argue that Nixon’s breakthroughs in foreign policy, such as détente with China and the Soviet Union, were so significant that they balance out or even outweigh his downfall over Watergate. There is also a view that the Watergate break-in was not directly ordered by Nixon and that he does not deserve sole blame.
What Republican policies and values of Nixon appealed most to his political base?
Staunch conservatives appreciated Nixon’s “tough on crime” stance and emphasis on “law and order.” They also resonated with his strong anti-communist foreign policy. Nixon’s calls for self-reliance of citizens and limits on federal government aligned with Republican principles.
How did Nixon’s humble upbringing and personality contribute to his popular appeal?
Nixon emphasized his less privileged background compared to other politicians. This helped him connect with the “silent majority” of middle America. His intellectual seriousness, moral values, and love of sports cast him as a thoughtful, straight-laced patriot in supporters’ eyes.
Why do some pardon Nixon while condemning other disgraced presidents like Bill Clinton?
Some Nixon defenders point to lowered ethical standards of more recent presidents to argue his transgressions weren’t as severe. Others think Nixon’s achievements like opening China relations were so consequential that they excuse personal failings.
What insights does Nixon’s continued popularity among some groups reveal about American voters?
It suggests Americans may value a president’s policies and accomplishments over character flaws. Some are willing to compartmentalize personal conduct and public job performance. The persistence of a pro-Nixon base also indicates party loyalty outweighsobjective assessment for some voters.