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Political Conventions - He’s Tanned, He’s Fit, He’s Ready

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HE'S T ANNED, HE'S FIT, HE'S R EADY   229

He’s Tanned, He’s Fit,

He’s ReadyIf you haven’t guessed what politician this article is about,

I won’t spoil it. This is one of a dozen or so I wrote while on 

a tour of presidential libraries. Sometimes campaign tech-

niques were what caught my eye, and other times it was 

nostalgia for the era. On this occasion there were several 

matters, including some fantastic domestic policy that 

came from an unlikely source.

 What if we had a presidential candidate who decided to run independ-

ently of a major party, despite being a prominent member of that

party? How about a candidate who decided to run in every single

primary and win to prove electability? These might be unifying 

gestures in polarized times.

Once elected, what if this sitting president wrote a bill guaranteeing 

health care to every American instead of just promising to?

How about a president who reduced speed limits to save fuel andcreated new federal agencies to protect the environment and workers’

health and safety? How about wage and price controls, indexing social

security, and getting America off the remnants of the gold standard?

 America had that president 40 years ago—Richard Milhous Nixon.

For the record, Nixon created OSHA, EPA and NOAA for the environ-

ment and workplace health and safety. His DEA was created to fight

the drug trade. His Philadelphia Plan was the biggest and most

successful federal affirmative-action program of any president.

 When the Supreme Court ruled against delays in school desegregation,

Nixon’s labor secretary, George P. Shultz, set up local transition

committees that worked. Nixon desegregated more schools than any 

other American president.

Nixon reformed the federal budgeting process and initiated the daily 

press event and daily message that every other president has copied.

During his presidency, men walked on the moon. He visited China andnegotiated arms limitations with the Russians.

The AFL-CIO and United Auto Workers lobbied against his universal

health-care bill, hoping for a better deal after another election. They’re

still waiting.

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In some respects Nixon is still a huge influence on public policy.

The people he brought to Washington to serve in government include

George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig,

Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Casper Weinberger, James Baker and

many more who later served in senior posts.Nixon decided to run in every primary in 1968, to show he could

 win elections. This countered his losing image after unsuccessful

campaigns in California in 1962 and the presidential campaign of 1960.

The 1968 campaign featured telephone hookups at Nixon rallies so

that audience members could phone in questions. Callers would get

a customized letter back with a specific response. Nixon mailed out

cheap vinyl on stiff paper, so his statements could be played on record

players in people’s homes. In 1972, Nixon’s campaign was largely 

independent of the Republican Party.

The Nixon Library is on the old family lemon ranch, and the clapboard

home is part of the exhibit. It’s a great place to confront the contradic-

tions and counter-intuitive tidbits from Nixon’s career:

■ a great hamburger cook in the South Pacific, Nixon was also a

great poker player and left the Navy with enough money to

bankroll his first congressional run in 1946.

■ Nixon’s work on the Un-American Activities Committee exposedformer Franklin Roosevelt advisor Alger Hiss as a spy.

■ Nixon’s international interests and perspective made the cold

 warrior also a moderate or even progressive in the Republican

Party at the time.

■ He had only four years in congress and two years in the senate

before becoming vice-president at age 36.

■ He was the only politician to be elected twice to both the vice-

presidency and the presidency and the only president to resignfrom office.

■  An excellent student, Nixon won a scholarship to Harvard but

couldn’t attend for lack of money.

■ He was second in his class at Whittier College and third at Duke

University Law School.

■  A cold warrior from the start, Nixon claimed his first congres-

sional opponent was collaborating with Communist-controlledunions. In his first senate contest in 1950, he claimed his female

opponent was “pink” right down to her underwear. Helen

Douglas gave Nixon the nickname “Tricky Dick” and it stuck.

■  A loyal and tireless vice-president, Nixon had to announce his

own candidacy in 1956 when Ike wouldn’t.

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■ In 1960, when asked what Nixon’s contributions had been, Ike

famously said, “Give me a week and I might think of one.”

■ The great debater probably bested Khrushchev in the “kitchen”

debate at an exhibition in Moscow but looked weak in TV 

contests with other candidates or reporters.

■  With more than 20 years on the front lines of the Cold War,

Nixon settled on “détente” or cooperation with the Soviet

Union. Would this have been called appeasement in the 1930s?

■  A superb strategist, playing the China card when Sino-Soviet

relations were at a low, Nixon failed to end the Viet Nam War

before carpet-bombing the north and exiting through

Cambodia and Laos.

■ The great international tactician’s support for Israel in the 1973

 Yom Kippur War probably brought on the 1973 oil crisis but

may also have pried Egypt loose from the Soviets.

■ Nixon’s support for Pakistan may have hastened India’s nuclear

program.

■ In the Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon ordered the attorney-

general and deputy attorney-general to fire special prosecutor

 Archibald Cox. Both refused and resigned, but the solicitor-general, Robert Bork, complied.

■ Nixon reinforced the political dictum, “Keep it in the positive”

 when he said “I am not a crook.”

Nixon is endlessly fascinating, and thus so is his library. A piece of 

counterfactual history goes like this: had Nixon gone on TV after his

1972 landslide, apologized for over-zealous campaign workers, fired

half a dozen aides, donated a few hundred thousand dollars to the

Kennedy School of Government to study ethics in campaigning andannounced he’d burned the storehouse of White House tape record-

ings, he would have served out his second term and gone down in

history as one of the greatest US presidents.

HE'S T ANNED, HE'S FIT, HE'S R EADY   231