50th anniversary of the Watergate burglary: A good time to remember that Nixon had exploits too
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There is, unsurprisingly, a barrage of media attention marking the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in the nation’s capital, which occurred on June 17, 1972 and was overthrew the presidency of Richard Nixon and his administration. The golden anniversary of this tarnished episode in American history generates not only multimedia narratives, but also personal memories of the scandal and its far-reaching repercussions, including Nixon’s resignation nearly 26 months later.
As historians dwell on what happened and why – as in a compelling and fresh account from a book called “Watergate: A New History” by Garrett M. Graff – Nixon’s significant accomplishments during his more than six years in power deserve some praise.
To be sure, Nixon had many flaws, evidenced by chronic lying, malice, revenge, and criminality, among several venal characteristics. These deplorable characteristics, particularly his breaches of the law, have helped place him in the lower echelon of presidential academic rankings, but they should not overshadow some of the iconic accomplishments he and his administration have achieved, and their impact here. in Minnesota.
Although not exhaustive, the following constitute some of the achievements before and even after the birth of Watergate:
• The war: Nixon ran his successful presidential campaign in 1968 on the assumption that he had a “secret” plan to end the Vietnam War. It turned out to be quite underground, if it ever existed. But he managed to pull the American troops out, ultimately pulling the nation out of a quagmire that seemed endless at the time, though it cost great loss of life and expense to the treasury as he and his team first escalated the war to new heights.
• Draft: Nixon also ended the military draft. In late 1969, the administration launched a lottery, which lasted several years, to determine who would be drafted. But it faded in 1973 when the war in Southeast Asia ended and the nation switched to an all-volunteer army, which has been the practice ever since.
• China: Nixon also opened the country’s diplomatic doors to China, despite his long dislike of the communist country. His historic visit to the country in early 1972 led to the nation’s recognition some 23 years after the Reds took control. While relations have seen their ups and downs between the two countries, it took an old anti-China hawk like him to usher in a new era of outright reduced belligerence.
• Voting age: Nixon was disliked by younger voters, who were generally supportive of the Democratic Party. But he managed to secure a majority of young voters in his 1972 re-election campaign – not surprisingly, since he won by such a side of the earth, taking more than 60% of the overall vote. One factor that may have bolstered his appeal to young voters, not that he needed this riding to win, was his promotion of a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 18. Although the president does not play an official role in constitutional amendments, his administration supported the decision, which was also passed by Congress and ratified by the required three-fourths of the states in 1971 – with Minnesota among the five first to do so – as the 26th Amendment, providing that all 18-year-olds are eligible to vote in all elections.
• Title IX: Another measure that particularly appealed to young people was the enactment of Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act, which the Nixon administration supported in 1972. This measure required the elimination of financial and other disparities in athletic opportunities for young people. women in schools receiving federal funds, which is pretty much all of them. This provision was heralded as a major boost for the women’s movement in general, with participation in intercollegiate sports on a more equitable basis than in the past.
• The Supreme Court: Nixon played a major role in overhauling the Supreme Court, with four appointees, all in its first three years. They were a mixed bag, ranging from “law and order” conservative Warren Burger, a native of St. Paul, to replace Earl Warren, the retired chief justice and liberal icon. But he redeemed himself by naming Harry Blackmun — Burger’s St. Paulite “Minnesota Twin” — to the bench. Joining as another conservative, he became a member of the liberal wing in many ways, evidenced by his authorship of the Roe v. Wade decision establishing the constitutional right to abortion, a decision that Burger has joined, along with five other members of the tribunal. at the time.
The other two Nixon appointees were William Rehnquist, a staunch conservative who later changed his views a bit after replacing Burger as chief justice, and Lewis Powell, a moderate conservative who abided by precedent, a trait apparently absent. among some of the curators now. in the court. The president’s lower federal trial and appellate court judges — some of whom still stand, such as Donald Alsop, a senior federal trial judge in St. Paul of New Ulm — were generally seen as competent and capable, cut of the conventional conservative fabric of the times.
• The EPA: Although not known as an environmental guru, Nixon supported legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by his domestic policy adviser, John Ehrlichman, one of those at the heart of the Watergate scandal. The measure provided the framework for expanded environmental protection not only at the federal level, but it also trickled down to the states, including the development of environmental protection agencies here in Minnesota, such as the Council of Environmental Quality, Pollution Control Agency and other alphabetical organizations. .
• OSHA: A similar concern for health and safety sparked the enactment that same busy year, an election year no less, of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, creating the agency which, along with its state counterparts here at Minnesota and 21 other states, was designed to monitor and promote improvements in workplace standards.
These actions, while not exhaustive, constitute a substantial collection of progressive undertakings, perhaps greater in number and impact than those who followed Nixon into the Oval Office or most of his predecessors in the exception of monumental figures like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and the two Roosevelts – although no one rushed to put his portrait on Mount Rushmore, as a few supporters of Donald Trump tried to do for this twice impeached president.
By today’s standards, Nixon would be considered a progressive on many topics, although no one would confuse him with card-carrying member of the team, the designation given to a group of current progressive members of the House that includes Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
While Watergate should not be forgotten or downplayed, it should not overshadow the positive characteristics of the Nixon administration. Although Nixon’s rise and fall has sometimes been likened to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the epitaph that best serves him on the golden anniversary of the beginning of the end may be another Shakespearean observation: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is often buried with their bones.”
Although he was not emperor, Nixon had tendencies in this direction. While Watergate ignited the spark that set his presidency on fire, in his legislative endeavors, international affairs and other endeavors, he did not fiddle while his administration burned.
Marshall H. Tanick is a Twin Cities employment and constitutional lawyer.