Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nixon's Grand Stage

For Richard Nixon fans, just-past Aug. 8 stands tall in our hero’s history.

On that night in 1968, he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Miami Beach with grandeur.

“We do not seek domination over any other country,” he said above the din. “We believe deeply in our ideas, but we believe they should travel on their own power and not on the power of our arms. We shall never be belligerent. But we shall be as firm in defending our system as they are in expanding theirs.”

On that date in 1974, he resigned the presidency with crystal-clear foresight.

“In the Middle East, 100 million people in the Arab countries, many of whom have considered us their enemy for nearly 20 years, now look on us as their friends,” he said from the White House. “We must continue to build on that friendship so that peace can settle at last over the Middle East and so that the cradle of civilization will not become its grave.”

The six years between those speeches gave us Nixon’s big-win presidency — so consistent with giants in the White House.

America keeps rising because we have always played for high stakes. Thomas Jefferson put serious chips on the Louisiana Purchase. Abe Lincoln bet hundreds of thousands of lives on preserving the Union. FDR gambled on D-Day. They all hit the jackpot.

Then there was the greatest card player to reach America’s highest office: Nixon. The man who cleaned up playing poker in the Pacific during World War II played for huge pots as president and collected.

Let’s count President Nixon’s winnings for America:

China. This was Nixon’s ace. He saw the world’s biggest population in darkness and drew open the curtain. Since his 1972 drama, the Chinese have been performing an economic boom on the world stage. Amid all that buying and selling of our goods, watch for another act that comforts America: China rejecting communism.

Vietnam. Nixon had a winning hand in January 1973. He ended America’s longest war. South Vietnam looked like it would stay free the way South Korea did. Only when Congress pressured the president to resign the next year and surrendered in Southeast Asia did that hand fold.

Air and water. Nixon started flushing the grime from America’s skies and rivers by opening the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

Voting age. Nixon shuffled the law to let 18-year-olds vote. His signature on the bill in 1970 lowered the age limit from 21 in federal elections. The next year the 26th Amendment to the Constitution made the age change for all elections.

Israel. Nixon proved to be a stud at what he called nut-cuttin’ time. He saw the Jews losing steam amid the Yom Kippur War in 1973, so he stepped on the gas. He shipped every aircraft in sight to Israel’s defense. It turned out to be a bigger airlift than the Berlin version of 1948-49 — and saved our ally in the desert.

Desegregation. Nixon faced a weak hand when the Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that schools had to bus children to achieve racial balance. He displayed bluff and brilliance, somehow steering the buses past livid parents and through a Southern Strategy that turned those states his way in the 1972 landslide.

Killing the draft. After China, this is Nixon’s lasting chip. He pledged in his 1968 campaign to end the draft, and he came through on July 1, 1973. Thus started the all-volunteer Army. With soldiers who want to fight for America and earn the good money that comes with service, the Nixon-born military has grown into the most muscular in history.

The moon. Nixon oversaw all six manned lunar landings from 1969 to ’72.

Think big. Act big. That was Nixon.

Take those moon landings. Each one came while America was in the heat of the Vietnam War. Did Nixon wring his hands as liberals did over dealing a lousy 4% of Social Security taxes into private accounts? No. The president stared at the cards he was dealt and raised the stakes.

“We must now ensure that the one-quarter of the world's people who live in the People's Republic of China will be and remain not our enemies but our friends,” Nixon said on his last night in the Oval Office.

Then he was out the door, with his ideals forever staying put.

Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California:

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