It’s “complicated” to discuss Richard Nixon, as Chuck Todd said this morning. He started the EPA, was for women’s rights, opened the door to China, and ended the Vietnam War. He’d be a liberal today in many ways. But he ran for office incorporating the Southern Strategy, and had harsh words for Jews and African-Americans. Hard to believe he’d be 100 today.
In honor of Nixon, there will be a dinner for 400 at the Mayflower Hotel on Wednesday night, put on by the foundation bearing his name. His family participated in a ceremony by his gravesite last weekend, which included a military flyover. The foundation will also organize a May trip to trace Nixon’s historic visit to China.
But despite his best late-in-life efforts at reputation rehabilitation — and a complex legacy that extends beyond the events that caused his downfall — Nixon will always get more attention on the anniversary of the Watergate break-in than on his birthday.
Bob Woodward believes now that the Watergate scandal was much worse than he realized as a young Washington Post reporter, chasing the story in the 1970s.
“Those tapes are a tire iron wrapped around the Nixon legacy that no one’s going to ever get off,” he said in an interview. “You listen to those tapes, and he literally is using the presidency as an instrument of personal revenge and reward.”
Modern Gallup polling shows that 2 in 3 Americans still disapprove of the job Nixon did as president, making him by far the most toxic president of the past 50 years.
“Ultimately, the Nixon we remember is ‘Tricky Dick,’ so you’re not going to have people clamoring to celebrate his birthday,” said Rutgers professor David Greenberg, who wrote a book called “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image” on the contest over his public image. “That dark side, that shadowy side of Nixon who got into Watergate is the Nixon who remains with us most strongly … Just like the one thing you remember about Warren Harding is [the] Teapot Dome” Scandal.