Beinstein column: Recalling the better angels of Richard Nixon
The modern day GOP often treats Ronald Reagan as a demigod. It is true, without question, that Reagan’s actions helped create freer and more open societies in Eastern Europe.
And, yet, in searching for a modern-day Republican who stood up for both the interests of the common man and religious values, President Nixon might be the wiser choice to laud. He shouldn’t be deified, no man should, but Republicans should reconsider Nixon.
With respect to domestic policy, Nixon signed into law OSHA (workplace safety), the NIH (an agency responsible for creating many life-saving medicines), and the EPA (to ensure our natural environment is always at least partly protected).
Unlike Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Nixon always firmly defended civil rights and voting rights. In fact, the famous black baseball player Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball, was Nixon’s lifelong friend, encouraging him to never give up on politics.
And Nixon never looked to weaken the safety net or assistance to people down on their luck; he simply stressed the importance of keeping inflation low and balancing the budget, much like his successful old boss President Dwight Eisenhower did.
With respect to foreign policy, Nixon is best known for opening up China. But he should also be remembered for everything he did for Israel. He was the first U.S. President to visit Israel, had Israel’s back in its development of nuclear weapons, bravely appointed the first ever Jewish Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, stood up to Arab interests in his support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and maintained a close friendship with Israeli PM Golda Meir.
Yet, at the same time, he always advocated for peace between Muslims and Jews. He certainly would encourage balancing the Jewish dream of a Third Temple and the preservation of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock for the Muslims.
On a side note, the great irony is how much the Jewish and Islamic religions share: dietary restrictions, an outright rejection of idolatry, a version of the Sabbath, charity, and all the rest. All of these things, it should be noted, are also relevant to Christianity.
The great Christian theologian St. Augustine argued that, when Christ said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill,” it meant faithful Christians still must observe most of the laws in the Hebrew Bible, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, and banning graven images. In short, Jews, Christians and Muslims should all be able to bond over their shared Abrahamic heritage.
With respect to social policy, Nixon appointed the author of the main dissent in Roe v. Wade, William Rehnquist. At a time when the culture became radically liberal in the late 1960s, Nixon stood up to lawlessness, sexual promiscuity and drug use. His Quaker faith never left him.
None of this is to sugarcoat the many stains around Nixon’s legacy — Watergate, the pettiness, the deceitfulness.
But President Nixon’s 1972 re-election victory was the most decisive election by popular vote in the last 80 years. And there’s a reason for that. As one of his biographers, Evan Thomas, said, 35 percent of Democrats voted for Nixon because they felt like he would look out for their concerns.
America, for good reason, certainly doesn’t want to replicate its puritanical heritage. But it does want leadership that at least recognizes the role that the Ten Commandments, and our Judeo-Christian values more generally, play in shaping the contours of our society.
The greatest cause of poverty is the breakdown of the family; sexual immorality and self-love have done enormous damage to this country. And, yet, at the same time, America wants an economy where everybody, not just corporate executives, can share in its wealth. Whether that means expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, broadening Medicare, or enhancing opportunity through better education and infrastructure, time will only tell.
But one thing is certain: Democrats will never be a real governing party if they make fun of the Judeo-Christian culture of America, and Republicans will never be a real governing party either, if they primarily look out for the interests of the rich.
The last president who really seemed to do both was Nixon. For that alone, he is worthy of consideration and serious study. As is written on his epitaph, “The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.”
Alex Beinstein is a millennial who grew up in Aspen, lived in Carbondale for a while and now writes from Washington, D.C. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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