Monday, August 22, 2016

What we might learn from Nixon

I've recently watched PBS' "Presidents" series on John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Oh, the memories of the sixties and seventies! The JFK program affirmed my admiration for the man whose presidency and influence were cut tragically short. The LBJ series made me want to go back and re-read all four volumes of Robert Caro's extraordinary biography of Johnson, one of the most influential and tragic of presidents. I had commented in the past about what President Obama could learn from LBJ, who knew how to cajole members of Congress to pass his tectonic civil rights legislation.

The segment on Nixon brought back so many memories of the early 1970s, when I was working in Washington, Nixon was in the White House and the "plumbers" were in the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee. I've always thought that Nixon's problems as president were the result of his own paranoia, his distrust of everyone and his resentment of people born wealthier and luckier than he. The PBS segment bolsters that impression but also gives credit to Nixon's visionary foreign policy. Under Nixon there was a global strategy for building peace through alliances with other nations. His opening to China, his Middle East negotiations, and his arms accord with the Soviet Union were portions of an overall strategy to balance global interests and power for peaceful progress. Even his Vietnam strategy, although never successfully implemented, sought a peaceful, political exit from a military stalemate.

In an election year, it would be comforting to think that our presidential candidates have a grand strategy for balancing trade, military power and national interest. I'm not hearing that from either national candidate this year, so we might well stumble into another war or a disastrous series of protective tariffs that cripple world trade and the global economy.

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