Will History See Another “New Nixon”?

Image from dukemagazine.duke.edu

Richard Nixon spoke in Greensboro during his first presidential campaign in 1960, which ended in a narrow defeat to John F. Kennedy, “I always remember that whatever I have done in the past, or may do in the future, Duke University is responsible one way or the other.” Nixon earned a full scholarship to Duke’s Law School, and he would later become president of the Duke Student Bar Association and graduate third in his class. Duke first distanced itself from its most famous alumnus by rescinding an invitation to have Nixon speak at the 1954 Commencement after the faculty decided against awarding him an honorary degree. In the aftermath of Watergate, Terry Sanford, the Democratic former Governor of North Carolina and President of Duke, negotiated for Nixon’s Presidential Library to be built on campus. However, Duke’s Academic Council voted 35-34 to block its construction and thus disown its most notable, and most controversial alumnus.

However, we must remember the nobler side of Nixon: his choice to decline a full scholarship to Harvard to remain in California and provide for his younger brothers, his tenacious pursuit of the woman who repeatedly repudiated his advances before acquiescing and agreeing to marry him, and his vision for an enduring global peace.

If Richard Nixon were still living, he would be 100 years old, and his presidency continues to be marred by controversy. Although he was, at times, unable to uphold the morals that he knew to be indispensable, he was hardly the scoundrel that he is too often presented to be. Confronted by the burden of being the world’s most powerful man, he found himself so overwhelmed by how vulnerable his administration was to critique that he compromised his integrity. However, we must remember the nobler side of Nixon: his choice to decline a full scholarship to Harvard to remain in California and provide for his younger brothers, his tenacious pursuit of the woman who repeatedly repudiated his advances before acquiescing and agreeing to marry him, and his vision for an enduring global peace.

His father, Francis Nixon, owned “the poorest lemon ranch in California.” Two of his four brother died of tuberculosis, while they were still young. Despite Nixon’s responsibilities which required him to drive a truck loaded with produce each morning to market, his excellent academic performance earned him a scholarship to Harvard. He declined in order to work at his father’s grocery store and support his younger siblings. Bob Dole spoke of Nixon’s determination during his eulogy for the former president, while standing in front of the house Francis Nixon built, “He was a grocer’s son who got ahead by working harder and longer than everyone else. How American. He was a student who met expenses by doing research at the law library for 35 cents an hour.”

Richard Nixon and Thelma “Pat” Ryan were cast in the same production of The Dark Tower at a community theater in Whittier.Nixon had never seen her before, and he decided that she was quite an attractive, promising young woman. He asked her to dinner, and she refused. He asked her again, and she refused. As she consistently declined his numerous invitations, Nixon declared that she could say no all she liked but that one day he would marry her. After two years of persistent courtship, she relented and became Mrs. Nixon.

As president, Nixon’s most memorable accomplishments were in foreign policy and included: the opening of diplomatic relations with China, easing tensions between the United States and Soviet Union with agreements such as The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and ending the Vietnam War. Nixon‘s administration is also known for its environmental reforms, which included the passage of the Endangered Species Act and the creation of Earth Day. His commitment to preserving the environment and protecting it for future generations demonstrates an altruism of sorts in which he emphasized the necessity of preserving the earth, even when it comes at a financial cost.

To the critics who contend that Nixon never took responsibility for his indiscretions during Watergate, a sorrowful Nixon apologized during an interview with David Frost : “I let down the country, I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt. Most of all I let down an opportunity I would have had for two and a half more years to proceed on great projects and programs for building a lasting peace.” In the years following his presidency, he resurrected his image; he was the American representative at the funeral of the Shah of Iran, and Bill Clinton regularly invited him to the White House for counsel.The epitaph on his tombstone is a quotation from his first inaugural address, “The Greatest Honor History Can Bestow Is The Title of Peacemaker.”

This article appeared originally in the August 8, 2013 edition of The News & Observer. 

Erich J. Prince is a co-founder at Merion West. Erich studies political science at Yale University. He has written for a variety of publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Hartford Courant, The News & Observer, the Orlando Sentinel, and The Daily Caller. His writing has been honored with two awards from the Columbia University School of Journalism. Erich is from Philadelphia. Contact Erich at erich@merionwest.com.

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