History, According to 60's Leftists

Nixon and FDR biographer Conrad Black trashes Rick Perlstein’s book Nixonland and argues convincingly for the achievements of Nixon’s presidency:

…The title [Nixonland] comes from an effort by Adlai Stevenson to represent Nixon as ethically and culturally unfit for high public office. Nixonland was the collapse of civility and the rise of political stridency and thuggishness in American politics in the fifties. The Democrats were incapable of running effectively against General Eisenhower, who in the public mind combined being a kindly, smiling, golfing uncle with his status as a vigilant, victorious, five-star soldier-diplomat.

So the Democrats ran instead against his running mate, the young, dark, and sometimes awkward Nixon, to whom Ike delegated his (voluminous) political dirty work. Stevenson even announced to the nation on election eve, 1956, that such was the state of Eisenhower’s health, a vote for him was a vote to make Nixon the president at some point in the next four years. This was a more tasteless political sally, from a normally elegant source, than any that Nixon ever produced from his ample bag of tricks.

Mr. Perlstein engages in the usual psychological liberties of Nixon-haters, denigrates his hard-scrabble, terribly earnest Quaker youth, endlessly engages in unsubstantiated mind-reading, and gives Nixon no credit for anything but a manic, corrupt, rat cunning. His academic advance by scholarship, distinguished war record, defeat of a five-term congressional incumbent, reelection as candidate of both the Republicans and Democrats, destruction of establishment favorite Alger Hiss for perjury, election to the Senate by the greatest majority in the country at age 37, vital role in bringing the Republicans out of isolationism and flat-earth conservatism, and nominating Eisenhower over Robert Taft in 1952, and his election as vice president at age 39 — all are unexplained and almost unmentioned.

Nixon receives no recognition at all for the key role he played in disposing of Senator McCarthy; nor for declining to challenge the 1960 election, which he may well have won; and is alleged to have disgraced himself by losing the presidency in 1960 to Kennedy and the governorship of California in 1962, a few days after Kennedy’s resolution of the Cuba missile crisis. Nixon receives almost no credit from Mr. Perlstein for the greatest political comeback in U.S. history, for persevering to victory in the terrible year of 1968, when at one time or another, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, as well as Eugene McCarthy and George Wallace, were running against him for president.

It is not mentioned that only Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in more daunting circumstances than Nixon. Four years later, he was reelected by 49 states and a plurality of 18 million votes, because he stopped the assassinations, race riots, anti-war riots, skyjackings, inflation, extracted the U.S. from Vietnam without losing the war, opened relations with China, warmed up relations with the U.S.S.R., negotiated and signed the greatest arms control agreement in history, started a Middle East peace process, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, vastly expanded the national parks system, pioneered welfare reform and fiscal decentralization, reduced the crime rate, eliminated the draft, and ended school segregation without recourse to the court-ordered nostrum of transporting millions of schoolchildren all around the cities of America by bus to effect racial balance. He was overwhelmingly reelected because he was an excellent president, not because of dirty tricks and the ineptitude and hypocrisy of his feckless opponent, George McGovern.

According to Mr. Perlstein, almost none of this really happened. All was cynicism, opportunism, and chicanery. He implicitly states that the Democrats, who pushed the U.S. into Vietnam and sent 565,000 draftees there on a questionable national security justification, were absolutely right to demand a complete and crushing defeat of the United States in that war. The fact that the South Vietnamese army, albeit with massive U.S. air support, defeated the North Vietnamese in the great offensive of March and April, 1972, passes without notice. He dismisses the South Vietnamese army, which took more than 500,000 casualties defending the anti-Communist majority in the South, as a “joke.”

Mr. Perlstein does recognize that Nixon was and is popular, though he doesn’t know how popular and can’t explain why. He doesn’t recognize Nixon’s genius in building a huge and durable voting bloc of the awkward, the ordinary, the unpretentious, and the law-abiding. And he doesn’t tackle at all Nixon’s astounding post-resignation comeback to widespread esteem. Nixon is portrayed as a mutant who snuck into the White House and remained there until the Washington Post, New York Times, and CBS pulled back his shower curtain and revealed his cloven feet.

Nixon was an unusual character, to be sure, and some of his notions of how to conduct his office were unacceptable. But he was also a very capable and considerable president who rendered great service. He must be situated in American history as the man who spent more time in national elective office and for whom more people voted than anyone else in the country’s history. The real story is not a garish and fractious Nixonland; it is the imperishability of interest in Nixon.

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