BOSTON — The 25th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon's resignation on Aug. 9 started me thinking all over again about someone I now regard as a tragic figure. Maybe I needed 25 years to get over being listed as an "enemy" and subjected to an FBI investigation. But, as the Watergate memory fades, there comes into focus the other Nixon, who could have been a presidential great were it not for the tricky side, the paranoid side.
As Nixon started his presidency, cartoonist Herblock, who habitually drew him with a deep 5-o'clock-shadow, gave him a clean shave. In his inaugural address, Nixon called on Americans to "lower our voices," and elsewhere he recalled a campaign poster that said, "Bring Us Together."
And he did try. Nixon is best remembered for his foreign policy achievements - the China break-through, the dtente with the Soviet Union, the arms control treaty. But he also left his mark on domestic policy.
He pledged to end hunger in America, and did extend food-stamp programs to almost every county in America. Aided by adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he proposed a bold welfare reform that would have pioneered the idea of a guaranteed minimum income. It was defeated in Congress by an unholy alliance of liberals and conservatives.
Responding to Earth Day, he established the Environmental Protection Agency and named as its vigorous first administrator William Ruckelshaus, who, later, as deputy attorney general, would be fired for refusing to fire the Watergate special prosecutor.
With Labor Secretary George Shultz, Nixon pushed a plan for school desegregation in the South, although he opposed mandatory busing. He sponsored an affirmative action program called "the Philadelphia plan," requiring government construction contractors to hire a specified number of minority workers.
And, as astonishing as anything he did as president, Nixon reached into the bag of liberal big government ideas to freeze wages and prices as an anti-inflation measure.
Elliot Richardson, who resigned as attorney general in a conflict over the surrender of the White House tapes, looked back in a speech in 1987 and said, "Richard Nixon had it within his grasp to be our greatest post-World War II president."
It fell from his grasp by his own actions, but I thought it might be worth remembering the other Nixon.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society