Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of Richard Nixon's birth. The late Republican president's memory isn't being celebrated, however, the way the Republican icon Ronald Reagan's was two years ago on his centennial. Nearly four decades after Nixon dodged impeachment over the Watergate scandal by becoming the first president to resign from the office, Gallup says two-thirds of Americans still disapprove of the job Nixon did as president, giving him the dubious distinction of being the most toxic president of our time. Still, on the late Tricky Dick's birthday, historians and other observers are quick to point out that Nixon wasn't all bad. Here, four of the most common bits of praise directed at the nation's disgraced but influential 37th president:
1. He was resilient
Richard Nixon "was the ultimate symbol of American resilience," says Monica Crowley at Fox News. He saved his job as Dwight D. Eisenhower's running mate with his famous Checkers speech in 1952, then suffered a "heartbreakingly close loss to John Kennedy" in the 1960 presidential race. After losing the California gubernatorial election in 1962, he survived "six years in the political wilderness" before winning the White House in 1968 followed by a "thundering re-election win in 1972." And even after resigning, Nixon made a "slow, deliberate climb back to respectability" in his later years.
2. He was a pragmatist
Nixon, who died at 81 in 1994, was a bundle of contradictions, says the Los Angeles Daily News in an editorial. He rose to political prominence as "an aggressive anti-communist — but he opened diplomatic relations with communist China and negotiated arms treaties with the Soviet Union." He ran in 1968 as a social conservative, "but ended up promoting desegregation and environmental measures." He was a leading conservative of his era, but pushed for a government health-care plan and government involvement in the economy. "Today's political ideologues should learn from Nixon's pragmatism."
3. He was a brave leader
Nixon's admirers usually start their list of his accomplishments with his foreign policy, says Stanley Kutler at The Huffington Post. He "held his ground against his own right-wing allies in the Republican Party, people with whom he tirelessly had denounced Communism," and pushed through détente with the Soviet Union. The centerpiece of his legacy, though, is his "audacious opening to China." Whatever his faults, says Crowley at Fox News, Nixon was undeniably a "tremendously influential leader possessing that rarest of intellectual gifts — vision — and the extraordinary courage to carry it out." Above all, "Nixon mattered," and that's not something that can be said for every president.
4. Listen up, liberals: By today's standards, he was practically a Democrat
One thing centrists in both parties can admire in Nixon, says Timothy Stanley at CNN, is that he serves as "a reminder of an older, more centrist kind of Republican, the kind you don't see very much these days." He "bowed to the liberal consensus of his era," supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, founding the Environmental Protection Agency, and backing "the poverty-fighting measure of guaranteed income." He even established the first federal affirmative action program. For liberals, that leads to the nicest compliment one might hear directed at Nixon's memory today, says Taylor Marsh at her blog. "As far right as this country's gone today, Nixon would likely be considered a Democrat now."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 10 things you need to know today: September 19, 2014
- 6 super-helpful iOS8 tricks you probably don't know about
- How Scotland's independence movement lost the vote and still won everything
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
- Peter Thiel, and the not-so-secret secret of innovative success
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
Subscribe to the Week