Nixon Legacy




Richard Milhous Nixon, now at rest, finally has achieved the elusive peace he pursued following the tragedy of the Watergate scandal.

The debacle he tried to shroud in secrecy instead blew up in his face, permanently scarred his presidency and could have led to impeachment and imprisonment if Gerald Ford had failed to proclaim a full pardon.

So Richard Nixon, who hoped for notoriety, especially in the field of foreign policy breakthroughs, instead faded into temporary obscurity as the first U.S. president to resign from office.

The ultimate peace of the grave for Nixon at Yorba Linda, California had been preceded by a measure of what had to be satisfaction at achieving an elder statesman status in his final years. Even though Boris Yeltsin spurned him in Moscow recently for meeting with leaders of the political opposition, Nixon could pride himself as an advisor of sorts to President Clinton, who is now praising his statesmanship.

After a monk-like retreat for introspection for a time after Watergate, Nixon eventually took to world travel and political meetings. He retained the respect of some world leaders and remained on good terms with them. They gained through his rich storehouse of experience and skill in the fields of domestic and international politics. And it was a two-way street for Nixon counseled those occupants of the White House who cared to lend an ear.

Success in penning several books also illustrated his grasp of international affairs and proved there was little diminution in his latter years. Despite what is considered a red-baiting past, political experts and historians cite as a crowning-although ironic-achievement the establishment of relations with the Peoples Republic of China.

Ever since China's revolutionary, post-World War II birth, Beijing and Washington had remained alienated. For compelling geopolitical reasons, Nixon had the vision to tuck away the past and send Henry Kissinger on a secret mission from Peshawar, Pakistan that led to ties with the reclusive Chinese. The "Bamboo Curtain" has been breached ever since.

In national politics, Nixon had a well-deserved reputation as a devious schemer and relentless fighter, who did not hesitate to stoop to questionable-even illegal-tactics to achieve his ends. Watergate proved that.

He was unable to shake the "Tricky Dick" ID bestowed on him by Helen Gahagan Douglas in the California congressional race that sealed his early career in Washington. She gave him that moniker for branding her pinko soft on communism. He won the election and later rode the anti-communist theme to political popularity in the 1950's. Nixon vaulted to the vice-presidency under Dwight Eisenhower. However, his evasiveness-some even said "shifty eyes"-and faltering image in contrast to the charm and "on-top-of-the issues" demeanor of John F. Kennedy in their TV debates contributed to Nixon's defeat in the 1960 election, and a return to private life and law practice.

His loss, exasperation and public sniping at the media with a "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" swan song seemed to sound his political death knell. But with his never-say-die resilience again paving the way, he beat the odds. Nixon bounced back again in the 1968 presidential election to political rebirth in the White House environment had had long coveted.

Even his opponents concede that Nixon was a remarkable man in countless ways. A segment of the electorate takes a similar view. Despite the cancer of Watergate which marred the political complexion of the country, and what a large segment of American society branded as a failed Vietnam policy, thousands streamed by his casket to bid final good byes in California.

His political opponents, Republican insiders and former aides characterize Nixon as a complex, torn man. Even admirers concede that some of the pages of his administration's history are checkered and redolent with unmatched levels of corruption. At first glance, it could appear that Nixon's achievements are overshadowed by machinations springing from the so-called dark side of his personality.

Former close associates, anxiously perhaps to try to even the scales of historical evaluation, decry his motivations and errors of judgement, but are quick to express admiration for his logic, intelligence, far-sightedness and achievements, particularly in seeking world peace.

What are John and Jane Doe to think of this secretive, brooding, shy, Machiavellian figure, so uneasy with people in public, yet renowned for his loyalty to colleagues and for brilliance in conceptual and abstract thinking?

Some, of course, persist in rejecting him. They are unable to forgive the illegal activities; wiretapping even of trusted aides; his ethnic bigotry, revealed through White House tapes he had installed without even informing those whose words have made sometimes sordid history.

Some detractors were scandalized by the White House declaration of a National Day of Mourning, which closed down the government and cost the tax payers probably in excess of $30 million in these days of towering budget deficits. The White House notes the tradition of such proclamations, citing the passing of such leaders as Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

It did seem certain that the vast majority of government workers--like the critics who color the Watergate stigma in the deepest shade of black--were not necessarily mourning the passing of a man who was a symbol of White House shame a generation ago.

Still, anyone who indulged in the flood of media offerings in the wake of his stroke, death and funeral certainly has encountered a fuller measure of Richard Nixon and what he represented. In a way, this could be regarded as vindication, of sorts, for the once-besieged Richard Nixon. The thrust of memorial addresses, editorials and recollections by those who knew him seems to be to emphasize his gifts and accomplishments, rather than the character flaws that brought him down.

And after all, wouldn't the former disgraced chief executive, were he able to observe from New Jersey or California or the world capitals which he so often visited, revel in the front page emergence of a more balanced perception of his record as president and elder statesman of the most powerful nation on earth?