Although two months have passed since the centennial of President Nixon’s birth, it is only in the last week that two writers of eminence have written about it. Taki Theodoracopoulos, the Greek shipping heir, essayist, and bon vivant, and Conrad Black (also known as Lord Black of Crossharbour), former publisher of the Daily Telegraph and the National Post and author of mammoth biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and RN, both spent time with the thirty-seventh Chief Executive and grew to admire him enormously.
Taki’s “High Life” column in the most recent issue of the Spectator opens with a quote from a note of encouragement the President sent the author when he was temporarily a guest of Her Majesty at Pentonville prison, a stay which he transformed into literature in his book Nothing To Declare. Taki notes that he has this letter framed and hanging in his office, alongside a note from Sir Denis Thatcher, whose wife Lady Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s longtime prime minister. After drawing parallels betwen the fortitude and political acumen of both RN and Lady Thatcher, Taki makes his case that President Nixon was a leader who accomplished extraordinary achievements despite furious opposition. He notes:
The critics tried their best to ignore him, but his ideas and political nous were too much for their pettiness and ignorance. I dined with him often, in his house in New Jersey and at some New York restaurants. His grasp of politics was amazing. He gave speeches without notes and without a second of hesitation. What people forget is that Nixon was a determined advocate for the Civil Rights Act of 1957, as well as a trusted ally of Martin Luther King.
In turn, Taki’s column, as Lord Black puts it, “stung [him] to self-reproach” that he had not yet weighed in about the 100th. Therefore, this week he wrote an article for the Canadian Huffington Post about President Nixon’s accomplishments. Taki, in his column, stated that RN, as a President, was on a par with Washington and Jefferson. Lord Black, while viewing the former comparison as a little exaggerated, believes that much of the Nixon administration accomplishments compare more than favorably to Jefferson’s. (It is worth remembering that our third President, when choosing his accomplishments to be inscribed on his gravestone, omitted his time in the White House, preferring to emphasize his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia statute of religious freedom, and his founding of the University of Virginia.)
Then Lord Black, in one paragraph, ably sums up the achievement of Richard Nixon in a little over five years in the Oval Office:
All one need do is contemplate the condition of the United States when Nixon entered and departed the presidential office: In 1969 there were 550,000 draftees in Vietnam with no official clue of what they were doing there, and 200 to 400 returning each week to America in body bags. In 1966, when Lyndon Johnson had offered Ho Chi Minh the phased departure from South Vietnam of all foreign troops, all Ho needed to do was accept the offer, and return in overwhelming strength six months after the Americans had gone; he would not even do that because of his confidence that he could defeat the United States, with the encouragement of China and the U.S.S.R. Nixon withdrew entirely, obtained a peace agreement, and trained the South Vietnamese to the point that they won the ground war in 1972 without assistance, other than from the air, from the U.S. He preserved a non-communist government in Saigon and abolished the draft. Where in 1969 there were no relations with China or the major Arab powers, and no substantive discussions in progress with the USSR, Nixon opened relations with China, with immense positive consequences for that country and the world, started a peace process in the Middle East (that his recent successors have largely failed to continue), and signed with the Soviet Union the greatest arms control agreement in history. Nixon stopped the rioting, stopped inflation, the assassinations stopped, and he founded the Environmental Protection Agency. It is a record of achievement that puts him very close to the nation’s greatest presidents. It easily bears comparison with Theodore Roosevelt’s building of the Panama Canal, attack on J.P. Morgan’s financial empire, and promotion of conservation, or with Harry Truman’s Marshall Plan and NATO and defense of Korea, and surpasses the considerable presidential accomplishments of Jackson, Wilson, or Eisenhower.
There have been longer and more detailed assessments of the Nixon Presidency in recent months, but both of these articles ably and concisely argue the case that President Nixon belongs among the true giants of American history.