President Nixon had his flaws from ethics to some of his policies. However if one takes a closer look at his accomplishments while in office, they might see a version of President Nixon that is much different than that often portrayed in the media and I suspect President Nixon’s stock will continue to rise slightly over the next couple decades.
President Nixon was a traditional Republican who was progressive on many issues from the environment to health care, but sought proper balance with fiscal responsibility. On the environment, President Nixon signed the landmark Clean Air Act and established both the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency to monitor environmental efforts. In 1971, he proclaimed the first Earth Week.
Presiding over the continuation of the Vietnam War, it is clear President Nixon was not opposed to the use of force. But he seemed to prefer diplomacy as a first resort and notably opened the door to relations with China. Today, Presidents and candidates are criticized for meeting with leaders of nations that do not share our values, but Nixon’s foresight and courage set a precedent for effective diplomacy.
Other notable items include Nixon’s creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Nixon signed into law Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLA’S) for Social Security. He also increased funding for agencies related to equal rights and created Supplementary Security Income to provide income to “the aged, blind, and disabled.
On health care, he supported a universal health care plan that utilized private insurers, but imposed mandates on employers (rather than employees), provided subsidies based on ability to pay including subsidies for the unemployed, eliminated caps on coverage, eliminated preexisting condition exemptions, and covered mental health and other illnesses. Nixon’s plan was by all means as progressive as the Obama plan and in many ways the two plans mirror each other. Nixon’s plan failed because those on the left sought a more progressive plan. The problem with ideology vs. pragmatism is evident here as we could have had nearly 35 years of near-universal coverage without preexisting conditions and other exemptions. Sometimes greed taints one’s vision.
All of this is not to say President Nixon was without his faults. Certainly one would not have to look beyond his cynical “Southern Strategy” or Watergate to see he had policy and ethical issues that were very problematic. His presidency overall had mixed results. But it is clear that Nixon was far more progressive than he is typically given credit for and he took the United States giant steps forward in many areas.