The Nixon Effect, The Money Cult, Ratf**ked
Posted on Jan 27, 2017
By Allen Barra
“The Nixon Effect: How Richard Nixon’s Presidency Fundamentally Changed American Politics”
No American president has been more maligned than Richard Milhous Nixon, and none has more richly deserved it. Vindictive and paranoid, he is perhaps the most polarizing figure in the history of the office.
Douglas Schoen, a Democratic campaign consultant for more than three decades, isn’t out to defend the man: “For forty years, Richard Nixon has been held up as the symbol of all that is corrupt and wrong about American politics. Despite his substantial accomplishments, Nixon became reviled across the political spectrum.”
But, “Beneath the hatred, however, lies a different reality. The shadow of Watergate obscures one of the most consequential and even salutary American presidencies of the twentieth century.”
Schoen makes a convincing case that Nixon promoted several programs that Republicans wouldn’t and Democrats couldn’t, such as laying the framework for the EPA: “It was Richard Nixon, not any of the Democrats, who first forged a strong environmental record for the White House, and it was Nixon who put in place the framework of the modern environmental regulatory apparatus.”
On China: “Nixon … was the president who opened relations with the Communist Chinese, a world-shaping event that gave him leverage with the principal adversary of the United States, the Soviet Union.”
Nixon even proved flexible on the seemingly peripheral issue of gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs, signing into law Title IX, which paved the way for millions of girls and women in high school and college sports. (In the interest of full disclosure, Schoen includes a generous quote from my own story in The New York Times on the 40th anniversary of Title IX.)
From those positives to the negatives, such as helping to create the Silent Majority and the Southern Strategy, Schoen covers the whole range of Nixon’s influence up to the Nixonization of the Democrats. Both Nixon and Bill Clinton, Schoen writes, “sought the center but came at it from different directions. Nixon found the policy center by supporting and expanding the welfare state constructed by FDR and LBJ, Clinton found the center by putting real substance into politics to lighten the weight of government and the American economy and the American taxpayer. …”
Finally, as our recent presidential campaign raged on, Schoen concludes, “anyone who doubts that Richard Nixon will preside — in spirit only, to be sure — over the 2016 presidential campaign … and much of what follows, simply hasn’t been paying attention to politics in the United States.”
“The Nixon Effect,” scandalously overlooked by political writers on both sides of the spectrum, is essential reading not only for students of presidential history but also for those of us who can’t understand how the Trump presidency happened.
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