It is interesting to take note of some of the most well-known quotes that defined RN, over the course of his life and now in the annals history. This is also meant to coincide with the recently-held Nixon Legacy Forum “Writing for 37,” which featured several of President Nixon’s senior speechwriting staff.
What follows is a list – and some explanations – of some of 37’s most memorable:
“If you take no risks, you will suffer no defeats. But if you take no risks, you win no victories.”
“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.” – A longstanding theme of RN’s life was rising over adversity and persevering. His repeated comebacks after significant crises in his life led the media to term him time-and-time-again a “new” Nixon.
“Tonight – to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans – I ask for your support.” – From the time of Nixon having used it in 1969, the term “silent majority” has entered the great American lexicon. The President and others saw the critical support of Middle America overshadowed in the media by demonstrations and public discourse against the Vietnam War.
“As this long and difficult war ends, I would like to address a few special words to the American people: Your steadfastness in supporting our insistence on peace with honor has made peace with honor possible.” – In one of his most personal victories, the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 and subsequent release of the prisoners of war in Vietnam ended America’s long and troubled conflict in Southeast Asia.
“A woman can and should be able to do any political job that a man can do.” – Among Nixon’s most substantive changes to the social climate of America was his signing of Title IX; the landmark legislative amendment banned exclusion or discrimination based on sex from any program receiving federal aid.
“I can see clearly now… that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.” – The President spoke and wrote extensively about Watergate in his retirement. He devoted roughly 300 pages of his Memoirs solely to the subject, and RN biographer Jonathan Aitken wrote that “No critic was able to identify any major mistakes or inaccuracies in its… pages.” He also spoke out about it in the subsequent interviews with David Frost.
“If an individual wants to be a leader and isn’t controversial, that means he never stood for anything.”
“If we take the route of the permanent handout, the American character will itself be impoverished.” – Though often generally labeled a conservative, many of President Nixon’s policies were more progressive or liberal, according to the standards of today. That’s not to say that he was by any means a leftist; working his way up the political ladder, he staked his future on his belief in the deficiency of communism and the case against Alger Hiss – and never forgot it.
“We must always remember that America is a great nation today not because of what government did for people but because of what people did for themselves and for one another.”
“[This has been] the week that changed the world.” – RN said this during his landmark trip to China in February 1972. This Cold War milestone will forever hold its significance.
“If you want to make beautiful music, you must play the black and the white notes together.” – This classic Nixon double entendre finds its root in its speaker itself. As any visitor who has toured RN’s boyhood home at the Nixon Library would know, he was expressly proficient in music. In fact, if he had not gone into politics, he would have been a musician. At a time of severe racial tension in the U.S., this subtle statement revealed profound truths about the President’s views on racial integration.
“Let us move from the era of confrontation to the era of negotiation.” From the standpoint of most historians, Nixon made good on this 1969 inaugural address promise, negotiating with China, the Soviet Union, North Vietnam, and significant Middle Eastern countries over the course of his presidency.
“No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.”
“The greatness comes not when things go always good for you. But the greatness comes when you’re really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes. Because only if you’ve been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.” – My personal favorite. Said on a day of such national tragedy, this is, ironically, such an inspirational quote.
“My own view is that taping of conversations for historical purposes was a bad decision on the part of all the presidents. I don’t think Kennedy should have done it. I don’t think Johnson should have done it, and I don’t think we should have done it.” – Though the reasoning behind putting the taping system in the White House is a complex one (a future piece about it is on the way), the bottom line is that Nixon was not the first president to record his conversations.
“President Johnson and I have a lot in common. We were both born in small towns and we’re both fortunate in the fact that we think we married above ourselves.”
“Tell them to send everything that can fly.” – In a furor while dealing with several issues on his plate, Nixon’s commitment to saving Israel was steadfast. He ordered airlifts of supplies to the troubled Middle Eastern ally (decimated in four days, they were doomed without resupply) to push back against Soviet-backed aggression of Egypt and Syria.
“Americans admire a people who can scratch a desert and produce a garden. The Israelis have shown qualities that Americans identify with: guts, patriotism, idealism, a passion for freedom. I have seen it. I know. I believe that.” – For more on RN and Israel, read and be sure to check out Ben Stein’s assessment of the man.
“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is opposed to every instinct in my body. But as president I must put the interests of America first.” – His basic rationale for resigning the presidency, delivered in a nationally televised speech on August 8, 1974.
“You’ve got to learn to survive a defeat. That’s when you develop character.”
“The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.” – Nixon’s epitaph.
“We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another – until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”
“You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” – While Nixon’s political comeback would come in 1968, something else completely was on his mind when he uttered this out of frustration in 1962. Speaking to a press contingency, RN let his feelings fly about the media when he announced his withdrawal from politics.
“When the winds blow and the rains fall and the sun shines through the clouds he still resolves as he did then, that nothing so fine ever happened to him or anyone else as falling in love with Thee-my dearest heart.” – Perhaps one of the more unknown on this list, RN wrote this in a letter to Patricia Ryan as they courted, circa 1940.
“To write a novel, you need an iron butt.” – Indeed! He wrote ten books, all best sellers.
“I wish I could give you a lot of advice, based on my experience of winning political debates. But I don’t have that experience. My only experience is at losing them.” – For much talk about RN’s seriousness, his self-deprecating humor is funny.
“I’ve never canceled a subscription to a newspaper because of bad cartoons or editorials. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have any newspapers or magazines to read.”
“I don’t know anything that builds the will to win better than competitive sports.” – A football fan all his life, RN played in college. He enjoyed his retirement years by often going to football games.