Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nixon At 100

Long time readers of this blog know of my fascination with our 37th president. One of the highlights of my informal research of the Nixon administration over the years has been befriending Frank Gannon, a White House aide in the final years of his second term. Gannon rode with Nixon on the airplane after his resignation and later edited "RN", Nixon's memoirs published in 1977.

Anyway, to commemorate what would have been Nixon's 100th birthday today, I got an email from Frank, an excerpt from the infamous 1983 interviews he did with RN (and which are archived here at UGA in our special collections library).
When I asked him how he thought he would remembered, and how he would like to be remembered, by history, he took the question seriously and considered his answer.
This was his answer:
"A man cannot sit on his own jury.
"However, if I were to be presenting the case before the jury of history, I think this would be what I would say.  The instant historians, understandably, are obsessed with Watergate. They can hardly see anything else about me except Watergate and rate me very low.  I understand that.
"Historians maybe fifty years from now, I would hope, would see it in more perspective.  Yes, there was Watergate, the first president ever to resign the office.  That’s part of history.
"But there’s also a more positive part.  As far as the presidency is concerned, I’m the president that opened relations with China after twenty-five years of no communication.  I ended a war in Vietnam, in which there were five hundred and fifty thousand Americans there when I came in and none when I left.  I ended the draft.  I negotiated the fist arms control agreement with the Soviet Union.  I restored balance to the Supreme Court through my appointments.  I initiated programs in the field of the environment and hunger and cancer and drugs that I think are very sound building blocks for the future.  These are positive achievements.  They must be there, along with the negative ones.
"And I hope that the jury of history would consider that. I’d say finally, however, that as far as history is concerned, that my proudest legacy is something else.  Winston Churchill, in his book Great Contemporaries, wrote of Prime Minster Asquith, the great prime minister at the beginning of World War One, and he said his best memorial is his family.  I would say that my best memorial are my children.  And I would say that for Mrs. Nixon in spades, because she made them what they are."
Once you move past Watergate, and in comparison to today's hyper-extreme partisanship, Nixon comes off looking like a moderate/liberal Republican statesman, the likes of which have been sorely missing in that party, and in the country for that matter, for decades.

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