- - Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On a weekend some four decades ago, my then-4-year-old daughter, Charity, one of four perfect children, answered the phone at our home in Maryland. “This is the president,” said the caller. “Well this is Charity,” was the response. I’m told they had an interesting conversation.

The caller was President Nixon, pleased with the radio speech on education I’d written for weekend delivery, and wanting to discuss it. The memory of that whole episode, along with the high political value Nixon put on those weekend speeches, came back while reading “After the Fall.” 

According to Kasey S. Pipes, former adviser to George W. Bush, Nixon had persuaded Reagan to give similar weekend radio speeches. The upshot: “331 Saturday radio addresses during his [Reagan’s] presidency.”

As president, Richard Nixon, despite the undying hostility of the national media and the liberal establishment, which never forgave him for unmasking Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy, compiled a solid record of accomplishment. 

He was elected in 1968 to end the war in Vietnam, which his Democratic predecessors had dumped in his lap, and to put down insurrection at home. He did both. There was the opening to China, which along with detente, would recalibrate the international balance of power and constitute a first step in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.

On the domestic front, there was a host of programs and policies — the first clearly articulated and comprehensive national energy policy, a coherent program for health care reform, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the great wash of proposals that form the basis of all our environmental legislation today — and ironically enough, make Nixon our first, and so far our only, Green President.

In these and other areas, it was an administration of extraordinary accomplishment. In what Mr. Pipes calls “the greatest speech of his life,” delivered at the Nixon funeral, Bob Dole put it this way: “‘I believe the second half of the twentieth century will be known as the Age of Nixon.’”

Also at the funeral, Bill Clinton, who during his presidency received important foreign policy advice from Nixon, added this: “‘May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.’” 

In short, this is precisely what Mr. Pipes sets out to do in this crisply written and highly readable biography, the first to be written with access to the personal papers controlled by Nixon’s admirable daughters, Tricia and Julie. 

Mr. Pipes’ emphasis is on the post-Watergate years, from the first days in exile — national disgrace, the near-death experiences, the low point at which there was only $500 in the bank account, the mounting debts, Pat Nixon’s stroke — all presented cleanly, with appropriate sympathy but never maudlin.

Then the comeback — the decision to write his memoirs, re-establishing contact with political and world leaders, transforming himself into an elder statesman, whose advice was increasingly sought out. As Mr. Pipes puts it, “through it all he found a new life and a renewed purpose. Without the presidency, he had to rely on his greatest gift — his mind.”

“He wrote nine books, dozens of articles, and gave countless speeches in an attempt to influence foreign policy. The record shows he succeeded beyond what even he probably could have imagined.” 

Among those successes, Mr. Pipes includes the advice that Nixon gave to Reagan on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that shaped negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev, thereby changing history; and how Nixon traveled to China in the wake of Tiananmen Square to help preserve the relations he had established during his years as president.

Of these and other accomplishments during the last years of his remarkable comeback, Mr. Pipes quotes the historian Stephen Ambrose: “‘He didn’t just survive in those last years. He thrived. He became important again. He became acceptable again. He almost became indispensable. Just incredible.”

Mr. Pipes takes care not to project imagined Nixonian preferences onto today’s political scene. But there’s an interesting paragraph involving praise for a “potential political star,” to whom Nixon wrote in 1987: “I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me that you were great on “The [Phil] Donahue Show. As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and predicts that whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner.” The potential political star was a New York developer, Donald Trump, who today might well benefit from some Nixonian advice on handling China.  

• 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).

• • •

By Kasey S. Pipes
Regnery History, $29.99, 290 pages   

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