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Richard Nixon’s Puzzling Legacy

Richard Nixon
How do you explain Richard Nixon? He was a profoundly complex and contradictory person. Nixon remains the first and only U.S. president to resign. He left office due to his role in the criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice associated with the Watergate burglary coverup.

Richard Nixon’s 5 1/2-year presidency, 1969-1974, continues to be surrounded by questions and controversy: Why did he wiretap his own aides and diplomats? Why did he escalate the war in Vietnam? Why did he lie about his war plans to his secretary of defense and secretary of state? What were the Watergate burglars searching for, and why did Nixon tape conversations that included incriminating evidence?

Nixon Against the WorldBetween 2007 and 2014, tens of thousands of files from the Nixon White House, National Security Council, CIA, FBI, State Department and Pentagon were declassified. And, in 2013 and 2014, hundreds of hours of Nixon’s tapes were made public. After having pored over these documents, Tim Weiner, in his recently published book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, provides answers to many of the questions surrounding Nixon.

Earlier this week, Richard Nixon was the focus of NPR’s Fresh Air on an episode called Fueled By Fear, How Richard Nixon Became ‘One Man Against The World’. In the program, Tim Weiner mentioned that Nixon was consumed by fear that “turned into anger and that anger turned into self-destruction and every hour of these new tapes and these released transcripts adds to the record of a man committing political suicide day-by-day.” During the interview, Weiner elaborated on several key issues:

  • Nixon’s determination to settle the Vietnam War.
  • The motivation for the break-in at Watergate, the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
  • Why Nixon recorded himself — and why he didn’t destroy the tapes.
  • Nixon’s signing legislation, such as the Environmental Protection Act, because he had no other choice.
  • The secret bombing of Cambodia.
  • Nixon’s problem with alcohol.

The bad Nixon is on display on the White House tapes and transcripts, swearing and vowing to crush his enemies, even to the point of threatening to launch a nuclear war. The tapes do not lie, and they reveal Nixon at his worst. In private, Nixon often wanted to be a decent person who did the right thing, but over time, his demons betrayed him.


About Gary Reiner

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