Continuing the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, a Nixon Legacy Forum on President Nixon’s whole legacy was held in the Nixon Library Theater. How Will Richard Nixon be Remembered: The Legacy of the 37th President attracted a crowd of over 250 and included panelists who served in senior positions in the Nixon White House:
- Fred Malek, Special Assistant and Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Nixon Administration
- Barbara Franklin, Staff Assistant to President Nixon and Secretary of Commerce under President George H.W. Bush
- Larry Higby, Special Assistant and Assistant to the Chief-of-Staff in the Nixon White House
- Tod Hullin, a Associate Director of the Domestic Council for Urban and Community Affairs in the Nixon Administration
- Bobbie Kilberg, Staff Assistant to the Domestic Council on Native American issues in the Nixon Administration
Fred Malek began his assessment of the President by retracing the turbulent 1968 campaign. Once RN narrowly won the White House, Malek noted, he became the first President in over 100 years to have both houses of Congress held by the opposing party. Malek later noted that RN should be remembered for, among other things, indexing Social Security to inflation and thus pulling millions of elderly Americans out of poverty.
In order to accomplish his agenda, he had to reshape the structure of the White House. He felt that decisions should be made in the White House, and carried out by the Cabinet. Larry Higby noted that this was a “very different, very professional White House.” Higby recalled that the SALT Treaty, signed by RN and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in 1972, was the first successful attempt to limit nuclear weapons in the world. The world order was reshaped under Nixon, bringing China into the fold and improving relations with the Soviet Union. Indeed, he noted that in regard to both domestic and foreign policy, RN was a bipartisan President – and had to be to get anything passed through Congress.
Among the most forward-looking of RN’s priorities was to increase the number of women in the workplace. Barbara Franklin said that “President Nixon served to bring equality for women into the mainstream of American life.” And she quickly noted as well: “Pat Nixon was right in there lobbying.” Franklin recalled that prior to the Nixon years, there were not any admirals, general, FBI agents, etc. that were women. Only during and after the Nixon years did this begin to happen. “President Nixon did something of great importance in our society that continues,” said Franklin. Indeed, his initiatives toward women changed American life, and Franklin commented that people do not recognize Richard Nixon’s empathetic side enough.
Tod Hullin said that the President felt that government bureaucracy had grown too far in excess. RN instituted a process of “New Federalism,” in which power once vested in the federal government was instead transferred to the states. Interestingly enough, “Most of the future government officials” in the United States, noted Hullin, “were a product of Richard Nixon.” This includes those such as George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, four Secretaries of State, and dozens of Congressmen. He labeled RN among the world’s most intelligent dignitaries.
Bobbie Kilberg said that no presidency since that of Nixon “has had the caliber and character of individuals.” She noted multiple agencies and programs established during his tenure, “clearly needed in their time,” including the EPA, affirmative action, welfare reform, healthcare reform, and the first funding to the National Endowment of the Humanities and National Endowment of the Arts. An all too often overlooked legacy of the Nixon years is in regard to Native American issues. Kilberg, who specializes in that field, stated that there had been no more deprived group at that time than the Native Americans, and RN implemented policies to improve economic development for them. To Kilberg, these policies were part of RN’s “just society.”
Watergate, moderator Ron Walker noted, will of course be apart of how RN’s administration will be remembered. But there was so much more than just that, and all five panelists produced mounds of material, completing the entire Nixon legacy.
Photo (Left to Right): Fred Malek, Bobbie Kilberg, Larry Higby, Barbara Franklin, Tod Hullin, and Ron Walker