Friday, January 1, 2010

The Great Nixon

President Nixon would be turning 97 next Saturday.

The Richard Nixon Library will celebrate the birthday, with special huzzahs from daughter Tricia. Can't wait to meet her. I'll make a beeline there since the Yorba Linda birthplace is just down the highway from me.

You can imagine the fireworks in three years for RN's 100th. All the living presidents are sure to show up.

They better. In Richard Nixon, they'll be toasting one of the best of the 43 men to run America. There's George Washington, yes. And Lincoln, Ike and Jefferson.

For pure accomplishments, give me Nixon.

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 won big.

Then there was the greatest card player to reach America’s highest office: Richard 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.

Just take those moon landings. Each one came while America was in the heat of the Vietnam War. Did Nixon wring his hands like lefty did five years ago 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.

That’s what makes America No. 1.

Now deal. We have a birthday to party for.

Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California who runs

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