I never thought I’d live to see the day when I would recommend one of Paul Krugman’s opinion columns in the New York Times as a “must see” for readers of The New Nixon.
That day has come (actually, it came yesterday, but I was on deadline on a speech, so I’m a day late).
Dr. Krugman’s “Missing Richard Nixon,” is well worth reading, even though it does include one of those gratuitous, de rigueur swipes at RN’s character that any mainstream media column that praises Richard Nixon must, by unwritten law, contain.
And while staunch Nixonites will undoubtedly find some bones to pick in Dr. Krugman’s characterization of RN’s effort to provide all Americans with affordable health care, we should appreciate the column for what it is: a rare example of a liberal columnist finding something in President Nixon’s record that’s worthy of praise. It’s like that old saw about the dog that could walk upright on his two hind legs – we can appreciate it, not because he does it well, but because he can do it at all.
Even more heartening to me were many of the comments left by Dr. Krugman’s readers. I clicked on the comment link with some trepidation, fully expecting to see Krugman roundly excoriated by his devotees for even suggesting that RN had ever done anything praiseworthy. Much to my surprise, most of the comments that mentioned RN were decidedly favorable.
Adam L. of Albany, New York posted this: “I firmly believe that Richard Nixon would be remembered today as one of our greatest and most consequential presidents [except for Watergate]. He got us out of Vietnam, if belated. He achieved a détente with China that prevented the rise of a tripolar globe with two of those poles aggressively opposed to the West. Most importantly, he (along with his successor Gerald Ford) was among the last of moderate Republican presidents…. Nixon was, for better or worse, a leader.”
Scottsdale Jack of Scottsdale, Arizona reminded us that: “The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded during Nixon’s Presidency. Can anyone imagine any of the current crop of Republicans doing anything of substance in favor of the environment?”
Mickey Vail of Buenos Aires, Argentina predicted that: “Richard Nixon, who, when history is studied in 50 or so years, will be regarded as one of our better presidents…”
ThinkB4Talk of Potomac, Maryland responding to a previous commenter, wrote: “Nixon is the worst? Nixon opened the door to China. Nixon ended Vietnam war which Kennedy escalated. I am not a Republican. But, I am afraid that I have to disagree with you. Nixon is a president with strategic visions.”
John Thomas of New England wrote: “I miss Richard Nixon, too…. Because he was a master of the political game, because he was a leader, because you could talk to him, and because he would negotiate.
Dr. J. C. Reed, writing from our nation’s capital, wrote: “The simply truth is not only is our political system broken today but it was broken during the Nixon administration. He was hated by the Democrats and their hatred of him was one of the reasons they rejected health care reform.”
Michael in New York City, took Krugman to task for his attack on RN’s character: “As for the failings of President Nixon, those were primarily personal and your perspective on him seems distorted completely. Perhaps you forget that the Nixon administration worked diligently to balance U.S. power abroad and belatedly got the country out of its quagmire in Vietnam under pressing conditions (a war escalated under his Liberal predecessor), opened relations with China and pressed for a detente with the Russians. While not known for his domestic agenda, you rightly point out his push on health care and lest we forget Nixon was perhaps the most environmentally friendly President of our time. The man, after all, did institute the EPA. Let’s not put partisan prejudices ahead of a correct reading of historical fact.”
I have long believed that President Nixon would not get a fair shake from the media or the academic community until those journalists who cut their teeth on their opposition to Vietnam and their pursuit of Watergate had passed from the scene. Perhaps I have been too pessimistic. Perhaps Dr. Krugman’s column, and the response it received from his readers, is the beginning of the long overdue adoption of what President Clinton called for in his eulogy of RN 15 years ago: bringing to a close the judging of our 37th president by anything less than his entire record.