Today is the unfortunate day when CNN will debut a film — in primetime, no less — it helped produce about disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon, endearingly entitled Our Nixon. CNN’s angle here is that the hundreds of hours of Super 8 mm home movies — from which the film was created — that have been kept under lock and key for roughly 40 years since the FBI confiscated them during the Watergate scandal, offer a rare, unimpeded glimpse into the real Dick Nixon.
But ex-Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein is none too pleased with CNN’s finished product:
Richard Nixon’s goal was to create “a generation of peace.” By his adroit diplomacy and use of force on occasion, he did it: Ended the war in Vietnam (later undone by Congress ), brought the POW’s home, saved Israel in the Yom Kippur War and set up a long lasting peace in the mid-east, created a new power balance by cozying up to China, thereby ending Soviet hopes of expansion and domination and setting the stage for the end of the Soviet Union, negotiating and signing the first strategic arms limitation agreement with the USSR. The list goes on and on.
He also created federal affirmative action for black workers, ended the last vestiges of school segregation in the South, brought into being the EPA, presented and signed the first federal Clean Air Act, and presented to Congress a proposal for universal health care for all Americans, far more simple and comprehensive than Obamacare. He also proposed a comprehensive energy policy that has been copied by every President since. (I wrote the messages delivering the health care and energy bills to Congress so I follow the subject closely.)
His accomplishments, especially in peace-making, were stupefyingly important. We live in a world Nixon built.
Nixon revisionism was always inevitable, and has steadily gotten more vocal since his passing. Ben Stein is only one of many who are imploring Americans to take another, objective look at Nixon’s record sans Watergate, where you’ll find a flawed but strong presidency — hugely successful abroad; innovative and progressive at home. Ben Stein wants you to believe that if Watergate — which he puts in quotations and refers to as allegation — never happened, Nixon would go down as one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century.
Thankfully, that’s all bullshit.
Let’s pretend for a second that Watergate never happened — it will always remain as one of the worst moments of the American presidency — and play the revisionism game. I’ll even capitulate and give Nixon the credit for China, where he did in fact make an impact, forcing the Soviets to change pace (you know the rest).
But forget China: the most important foreign policy event during Nixon’s tenure was Vietnam. Stein writes that Nixon “Ended the war in Vietnam”. To be clear, while the Vietnam war ended on Nixon’s watch, he by no means ended it. The revisionism by Stein is almost revolting. In 1968, then presidential-candidate Richard Nixon purposefully sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks intended to bring to an end the 13-year old Vietnam War, by setting up back-channel communications with South Vietnamese leaders, convincing them to walk away from the accords. Why? Because Nixon was running on a platform of “ending the war”, and knew that if a settlement of peace was reached before the election, his candidacy would be demolished. So why did the south Vietnamese agree to walk away from peace talks? Nixon’s senior campaign advisor Anna Chennault assured them that if they were to reject peace under Johnson’s presidency, Nixon would get them a better deal.
The peace talks died and the war continued. Nixon went on to win the election with just 1 percent of the popular vote, and Stein would have you believe that once he did, peace was the priority. Rather, Nixon escalated the war for years, extending the conflict into Laos and Cambodia where hundreds of thousands lost their lives, along with 22,000 more Americans, before a peace agreement was struck in 73′. A peace agreement that could have been struck in 68′.
The rest of his record really fares no better and is avaliable for anyone who dares to look. Beyond Vietnam and its aftermath, the exacerbated inflation, out-of-control entitlements, and runaway regulatory policies — taken all together — paint a clear and damning picture of his atrocious domestic work.
As years pass, ex-presidents — no matter how atrocious — are often subject to more kind, gentle scrutiny; and you can be sure that the great breadth of revisionism will come from those who used to work alongside them, as it does here. But no amount of revisionism will change the fact that Richard Nixon will go down as one of the worst presidents in American history.
(photo by David)