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
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
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
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?