Working today as a substitute, teaching junior high students about World War II. During my lunch break I fished out my flash drive to see what I felt like posting today. This is my obituary for one of the central figures of the post-war era. You might argue that Ronald Reagan had more influence on American politics as it stands today - but nearly everything Reagan did, Nixon paved the way for it.
My initial feelings were of relief and elation, not for the death of another human, but for the fact that that conniving little mind was finally shut down, that he could do no further harm. Then, gradually, for the first time I was able to see Nixon as a human being, not as a symbol, or as the author of his policies. I felt sympathy for him, his family and his admirers. And I was able to get in touch with those qualities of his that I myself admired.
It was the shallow and superficial nature of the coverage that cured me of this. Ignorant anchors who got their facts mixed up. Pundits eulogizing his "legacy" and downplaying his "mistakes." Pathetic man-in-the-street interviews: "Waaal, he opened up to China, and he brought our boys home from Vietnam, sure he made some mistakes, but who doesn't, evrybody's human, and I think he was one of the greatest Presidents we ever had..." YYYAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH.
Let us, as the saying goes, be perfectly clear about this. While he was not without admirable qualites, it is not difficult to find those same qualities, in greater abundance, in those with less blood on their hands. Far from being remembered as the President who "ended" the war in Vietnam, history will record that Nixon managed to nearly double the number of US dead without any significant change in the terms of the eventual settlement. Please compare the negotiating positions of the North Vietnamese and the US on the day Nixon took office with the text of the Paris Peace Accords signed on January 27, 1973. The main concession squeezed from the Vietnamese by four more years of war was that they dropped their insistence on a coalition government in the south before elections could be held. In contrast, the US dropped its insistence that all North Vietnamese forces disengage from the south before the US began its inevitable withdrawal.
Aside from the question of who was giving up more, can anybody explain to me why such a deal could not have been reached in 1969? By then it was "perfectly clear" that the US would be unable to impose its will on the Vietnamese, at least at a cost acceptable to the American people. Besides wasting another 28,000 US soldiers and countless (but far more) Vietnamese, Nixon also managed to spread the war into Cambodia, despite his having been elected (in part) on the basis of his "secret plan" to end the war.
But President Nixon's conduct of the Vietnam War after he took office, however criminal, must be weighed against a little-known historical fact about private citizen Nixon's actions in 1968. When the lame-duck Johnson Administration had at long last arranged for peace talks on Vietnam, conceivably to cut the same obvious deal that Nixon reached in 1973, Nixon sent an emissary to South Vietnamese President Thieu, urging him to stall on negotiations until after the US elections, promising he would get "a better deal" from President Nixon. Of course, this was yet another Nixonian lie, since Thieu was almost completely shut out of the 1973 deal. Unlike the quite plausible, but not completely proven "October Surprise" scenario involving Reagan and Bush in 1980, Nixon's treasonous backchannel dealings are proven historical fact.
Departing from the carnage in Indochina, we find Nixon's much-praised foreign policy to be one unmitigated disaster after another. His racist disdain for "our dusky friends" in the Third World led him to a studied indifference to wholesale slaughter in Bangladesh and Biafra. His shameful subversion of Chilean democracy led to a generation of bloodthirsty fascist rule. His Cold War blinders led him to ignore Anwar Sadat's early peace initiatives in the Middle East, a blunder that led directly to the easily preventable Yom Kippur War of 1973. And his slavish devotion to the hated Shah of Iran proved counterproductive beyond belief. Instead of the mildly nationalist regime we tossed out in 1953, we now face a fiercely nationalist and anti-American regime, one of Nixon's bitterest legacies.
Now, I don't mean to belittle Nixon's historic opening to China....well, yes I do. If we give him credit for abandoning an absurd 23-year old policy against recognizing China (a policy sustained in large part due to his unstinting efforts), we must also recognize the self-serving aspects of his "strategic" thinking. The nature of that thinking is best summed up by his astounding comment, "even more important than how Vietnam turns out is for us to handle these matters in a way that I can survive in office" (italics mine).
Nixon travelled to Peking and Moscow in 1972 not only to play those regimes off against each other, but also to beseech them into pressuring North Vietnam to allow the US a face-saving exit from the war, and perhaps delaying the final, inevitable reunification of Vietnam until after Nixon left office. In fact, both events took place much sooner than Nixon imagined. If such pressures did take place, they must have been exceedingly mild, since, as we have seen, Nixon made by far the greater concessions.
Both the Russians and the Chinese regarded their summits with Nixon as part of his 1972 re-election campaign. The Chinese were able to wangle major concessions simply by granting Nixon's ardent wish for prime-time TV coverage. The Soviets, who had noted Nixon's pique at the failure to convene a summit before the 1970 Congressional elections, worked out an "arms control" agreement that was a gift to the Military-Industrial Complexes of both nations. Kissinger himself regards the failure to curb multiple-warhead missiles as one of his greatest mistakes (there is, of course, plenty of competition).
It's not surprising that a crude autocrat like Leonid Brezhnev would find common ground with the Quaker boy from Whittier. Nixon's biggest buddies among foreign leaders, both in and out of office, were vampires like Stroessner of Paraguay and Ceaucescu of Rumania. His domestic allies were hardly more savory. The most important, and most overlooked aspects of his career are his lifelong ties with members of Organized Crime, expatriate Nazis, and persons connected to the JFK assassination.
Nixon's ties to the Mob are painfully obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it, which few reporters did, even at the height of Watergate. His official Best Friend, Bebe Rebozo, with whose finances Nixon's were inextricably linked, was the middleman for a wide variety of scams involving associates of Mob kingpin Meyer Lansky. Nixon's first campaign manager, Murray Chotiner, with whom Nixon developed many of the nasty campaign tactics that have become sadly ubiquitous in US politics, was an attorney for literally hundreds of Mobsters. Many of Nixon's cronies were so blatantly criminal that the Secret Service had to warn the President not to be seen in public with them. In fact, one of the ways Alexander Haig finally convinced Nixon that the jig was up in August 1974 was by quietly commissioning a report on Nixon's Mob connections.
One of the first bills offered by Senator Nixon in 1951 was designed to ease the immigration of Nazi war criminal Nicolae Malaxa, who had escaped Europe with over $400 million in war booty. When the bill failed, Nixon and his Whittier cronies set up a dummy front comapny called Western Tube, hired Malaxa, and successfully appealed to the INS to allow him to remain in the US. Unashamed by his toadying to this monster, Senator Nixon also invited Rumanian Nazi Valerian Trifa to lead the Senate in prayer.
It is not necessary to overstate Nixon's ties to the conspiracy that murdered JFK. Nixon himself was in Dallas that very day, and subsequently lied about it to federal investigators. Nixon's several stories about his activities on that day are relatively unique for a moment that every thinking American alive that day can recall in excruciating detail. Among the cast of characters in the case, we find Jack Ruby, who worked with Congressman Nixon as far back as 1947; Mob honcho Santos Trafficante, who helped Vice-President Nixon hatch assassination schemes against Fidel Castro and others before correctly predicting JFK's demise; and future Watergate burglars Hunt and Sturgis, intimately connected to the nexus of forces manipulating the patsy Lee Harvey Oswald.
It would take the murder of a second Kennedy brother in 1968 to assure Nixon's ascension to the Presidency-who can doubt that Bobby would have beaten him handily? In light of this, it is worth noting that the family of the accused Lone Nut Sirhan had been sponsored for immigration by associates of...Richard Nixon. Lately we have heard commentary to the effect that "without Watergate" Nixon's Presidency would have been highly regarded, as if the habits of a lifetime could somehow be divorced from his record. Even if such surgery could be performed, and we disregard his amoral foreign entanglements, we are left with a handful of worthwhile domestic programs - doubtless impelled by strong Democratic majorities in the Congress - and a shockingly inept mishandling of the economy.
His feverish efforts to get the Federal Reserve to bless him with a strong economy in 1972 served to deepen as well as delay the recession that followed his re-election. Much of the economic chaos of the late 70s that was laid on the doorstep of the hapless Carter is rightfully attributable to the policies of Nixon (and, to be fair, LBJ). Both Presidents contributed to the inflationary spiral by failing to raise enough revenue to pay for the War in Vietnam. The oil shock of 1973 was, arguably, a scam by Nixon and Kissinger to enrich Big Oil cronies, and, significantly, the oil-soaked Shah. The oil shock of 1979, of course, was due to the inevitable fall of the Shah.
Much of the adulation that followed Nixon's demise can be traced to a superstitious fear of speaking ill of the dead, and a peculiarly American need to ennoble the occupants of the Presidency. While the Press is either blamed or credited with his downfall, more careful attention to his lifelong pattern of criminality might have prevented Nixon and his men from attempting the Watergate break-in in the first place. Likewise, his final comeback would have been impossible without reporters' gullible acceptance of his "brilliant, off-the-record, extemporaneous speeches. without the benefit of notes!"
Insipid fools! The ability to memorize a litany of platitudes does not constitute brilliance...unless compared to Reagan's extemporaneous speechmaking. In fact, Nixon sent his aides around to slyly point out to each reporter how Nixon had actually managed the feat note-free, lest they fail to mention it. One need only compare a few of these spontaneous eruptions of brilliance to see the same chunks of erudition recycled endlessly, not unlike his shameless exploitation of his father's recent death, on the 1956 campaign trail, in city after city, with the identical catch in his voice: "You know, my father loved Cleveland, [Poughkeepsie, Cheyenne, Vegas, Nome, Bismark]..sob....he always said it was his favorite city!"
Richard Nixon, a dismal, loathsome toad of a man, left this world a much nastier place than he found it, in large part due to his career. His true legacy is not the mythical "Generation of Peace," but a virulent, and quite justified, strain of cynicism and despair in the body politic.