As we head into another presidential election, there is a lot of talk about what kind of president the current candidates might be. No presidency is perfect, but some rank higher than others for sheer accomplishment, particularly in deeply challenging times.
Thirty-four years ago today, President Richard Nixon announced his resignation, to take effect at noon the next day, August 9, 1974. The Watergate scandal forced his early exit and forever marred what was one of the most visionary presidencies in American history.
As the candidates debate Paris Hilton and the current president puts the final touches on his own legacy, let’s take the anniversary of Nixon’s resignation to review his accomplishments:
1. The Opening to China. A diplomatic revolution that changed the world.
2. Detente with the Soviet Union. Set the stage for the end of the Cold War.
3. The SALT and ABM Treaties. The first truly significant offensive and defensive arms control agreements.
4. Vietnamization. Set the precedent for the current Iraq policy: the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops while training and equipping the Vietnamese to assume their own defense.
5. The Paris Peace Accords. Ended the Vietnam War.
6. Strong U.S. Involvement in the Middle East, including putting U.S. nuclear forces on alert in defense of Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
7. The Nixon Doctrine. Limited overseas commitments to only those involving direct U.S. interests.
1. Ended the Draft
2. Lowered the Voting Age to 18
3. Created the Environmental Protection Agency.
4. Clean Air Act of 1970
5. Strong Support for Affirmative Action (The Philadelphia Plan)
6. Desegregated Schools in the South
7. Created the Office of Minority Business Enterprise (OMBE)
8. The Title IX of Education Amendments Act (affecting girls and women in high school and collegiate sports)
9. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972.
10. The Consumer Credit Protection Act
11. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act
12. Women’s Educational Equity Act
13. Created the National Center for the Control and Prevention of Rape
14. The First Real Attempt at Health Care Reform
15. Earth Day (Hello, Al Gore!)
16. Kept the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Alive
17. Amended the 1971 Revenue Act. Gave working couples a child care deduction.
18. Reversal of Native American Policy. Led to the Strengthening of tribal land claims.
This is the serious legacy of a serious man. Although he disdained the characterization, Nixon was an intellectual. He thought about the world and about America’s place in it. He thought about the issues limiting America’s potential. And he did something about them, in the most dynamic, proactive, and deliberate ways.
The list above shows how far ahead of his time Nixon was on just about everything. From China and the Soviet Union to health care and the environment to civil rights for minorities and women, Nixon advanced policies considered highly controversial at the time, but which set the stage for accelerated movement in all of these areas.
He was a visionary.
As the current candidates debate tire gauges, they may want to take a moment to reflect on the policy legacy of Richard Nixon. Challenging times require sober analyses and real, forward-looking thought — not forward-looking, meaning two to four years ahead, but forward-looking, meaning ten, twenty, even thirty years ahead.
What will the world look like in twenty-five years, and what should American policy be NOW to shape that world? What will America look like in twenty-five years, and what should American policy be NOW to shape the country we want?
Tough questions. Nixon answered them, and answered them brilliantly.
Are the current candidates even thinking of the questions?