Attention, lefties over the age of 50: The Republican we all loved to hate in the 1960s and 70s, the President we reviled for his intransigence on Viet Nam, the guy who blatantly broke the law by authorizing the Watergate break-in and the ransacking of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, the President who was “not a crook,” whom we scorned for telling us that “if the President does it, it’s not illegal, “ the anti-Semite who pandered to fear and racism, whose impeachment we reveled in—yeah, Richard Milhaus Nixon—it turns out that, by comparison to today’s radical-right, Republican political terrorists, he’s practically a liberal icon. In retrospect, he governed farther to the left than any president after him. In an op-ed in The New York Times, entitled “The Madman Theory,” guest editorialist Kurt Andersen [host of public radio’s “Studio 360”] lays it all out:
The overreaching Euro-socialist nanny state that today’s Republicans despise? That blossomed in the Nixon administration. Spending on social services doubled, and military budgets actually decreased. He oversaw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. His administration was the first to encourage and enable American Indian tribal autonomy. He quadrupled the staff of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, almost tripled federal outlays for civil rights and began affirmative action in federal hiring. He supported the Equal Rights Amendment and signed Title IX, the law granting equality to female student athletes. One of his Supreme Court appointees wrote the Roe v. Wade decision. Nixon made Social Security cost-of-living increases automatic, expanded food stamps and started Supplemental Security Income for the disabled and elderly poor. It helped, of course, that Democrats controlled the House and Senate. But it was the president, not Congress, who proposed a universal health insurance plan and a transformation of welfare that would have set a guaranteed minimum income and allowed men to remain with their welfare-recipient families. It was Nixon who radically intervened in the free market by imposing wage and price controls, launched détente with the Soviets, normalized relations with Mao’s China and let the Communists win in Vietnam. And, for good measure, the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts grew sixfold, by far the biggest increase by any president.
It helped—a lot—that, during the Nixon years, Democrats held the majority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, Andersen points out. But facts are facts. I don’t like them They violate my long-held stereotypes and liberal dogma. I never thought I’d post an image of Nixon on this progressive blog. But I guess we oldsters will just have buck up, adjust our thinking and live with the painful reality that even Richard Nixon—Nixon!—was better than the Republicans we have today. [Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain]