- - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE NIXON EFFECT: HOW RICHARD NIXON‘S PRESIDENCY FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED AMERICAN POLITICS

By Douglas E. Schoen

Encounter Books, $25.99, 385 pages

Douglas Schoen, a respected Democratic campaign consultant and strategist whose most recent book is “The Russia-China Axis,” opens his discussion of the depth and reach of Richard Nixon’s political legacy with Bob Dole’s eloquent eulogy at the Nixon funeral:

“I believe the second half of the 20th century will be known as the age of Nixon. Why was he the most durable public figure of our time? Not because he gave the most eloquent speeches, but because he provided the most effective leadership. Not because he won every battle, but because he always embodied the deepest feelings of the people he led.”

As Mr. Schoen points out, Richard Nixon understood and acted politically on the great discontents of the 1960s and 1970s, when working Americans felt increasingly alienated from the Democratic Party, their political home since the days of the New Deal. This alienation reached its boiling point in 1972 with the McGovernite takeover of the party, and with powerful groups like the AFL-CIO sitting out the election for the first time.

Mr. Schoen quotes George Meany, the last great AFL-CIO chieftain: “The Democratic Party has been taken over by people named Jack, who look like Jills and smell like Johns.” And Democrats like Tip O’Neill, he writes, refused to attend the convention.

Through his first term, and during the 1972 campaign, Richard Nixon, with Vice President Spiro Agnew as point man, assiduously courted this constituency of forgotten Americans, “the silent majority.” Together with conservatives “of the Goldwater/Bill Buckley variety,” initially reluctant allies, “[George] Wallace-leaning supporters,” and traditional Republicans, Richard Nixon won re-election in a smashing landslide in 1972.

“The majority may have been silent,” writes Mr. Schoen. “But it was immense.” And by giving that majority a voice, Richard Nixon brought about a basic realignment in national politics, resulting in what we know today as Red and Blue America.

In his treatment of Richard Nixon, Mr. Schoen resists the temptation to apply pop-psychoanalysis, and he deals appropriately with Watergate and its fallout. But his focus is primarily on achievement.

Both in domestic politics and foreign policy, Mr. Schoen writes, his was “one of the most consequential and even salutary American presidencies of the twentieth century . Nixon’s influence is so overarching that I have no hesitation in declaring him to be the most important American politician of the postwar era — for both parties.”

In a chapter titled “The Foreign Policy Visionary,” Mr. Schoen analyzes the Nixon foreign policy successes, building that “lasting structure of peace” mentioned so frequently in his speeches.

Among the achievements: ending the war in Vietnam that had been steadily escalated under two Democratic administrations; recalibrating the whole international balance of power with his dramatic trip to China, thereby setting in motion the geopolitical shifts that would ultimately lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union; and saving Israel from threatened military defeat while effectively checking Soviet plans for expansion in the Middle East.

“What Nixon’s bold actions on behalf of Israel showed was that he was a statesman who could adapt to different situations bringing the entire complex of strategic and political analysis to bear on geopolitical questions, with the American national interest as the guiding principal.”

“Since Nixon,” writes Mr. Schoen, “the United States has had few successful foreign policy presidents, and the country has paid the price for it.” That’s especially true today, with policy being shaped by a president Mr. Schoen finds both naive and captive of an ideology reflecting “a determined rejection of American preeminence as a lead actor in world affairs.”

And in the process, Richard Nixon’s lasting structure of peace, so painstakingly constructed half a century ago and for the most part maintained by his successors, has begun to crumble.

In an afterword titled “Nixon in 2016,” Mr. Schoen leaves us with his impression of how Richard Nixon would weigh the issues and advise this year’s candidates. Here’s the crux of Richard Nixon’s advice to the Republican candidates, as channeled through Mr. Schoen:

“Right now, there is a lot of anger in the country and you, the Republicans, have to find a way to channel it positively; that’s what the silent majority was all about.”

“You need to reclaim some of Reagan’s vision and appeal . You have to prove yourselves as conservatives while reaching out to moderates — in short, you have to unify your party, and then go from there and unify our country.”

“Sure, it’s difficult. But for God’s sake, it’s been done before.”

And as Mr. Schoen so comprehensively shows, he did it.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide