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OUR OPINION: Nixon’s gone but his legacy lives forever

Our Opinion

Richard Nixon was a scoundrel. It’s just impossible to describe him any other way, and his repeated, almost impulsive, attempts to make himself seem otherwise are repugnant in hindsight.

It’s been 40 years since Nixon stepped away from the presidency as a way to avoid almost certain impeachment. In the negative light of the Watergate scandal, he resigned on Aug. 8, 1974. If America thought he was a crook — his words — back then, imagine what Americans must think now, after volumes of his papers and taped conversations have been reviewed ad infinitum during the past four decades.

Adding to his infamous legacy is a new documentary on HBO titled “Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words.” The program plays clips of Nixon’s own secret tapes, and they show Nixon for what he really was: paranoid, devious and just plain mean.

It hasn’t taken an HBO special to expose Richard Milhous Nixon, though. Previous releases of tapes and personal papers have shown that Nixon was obsessed with portraying a gentle side that he hoped would resonate with America.

Other samples of his writings and conversations show he was quick to point out his “good deeds” — again, his words. He called people who were sick and wrote to those experiencing hard times. He visited sick children and veterans groups. He called it “the whole warmth business.”

Alas, he sighed. Nobody noticed.

Perhaps in an effort to boost his image, he always was good for photo ops, showing a wide grin and holding arms aloft with his fingers forming a “V” sign.

To be fair, Nixon also must be remembered for a few political accomplishments. He remarkably opened diplomatic relations with China, which in turn led to improved relations with Russia. He established the Environmental Protection Agency and, with his signature, made the Clean Air Act a federal law.

Nixon, who died in 1994, was a political titan. He was in Congress for six years before serving as vice president for Dwight Eisenhower. He edged Minnesota Democrat Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election and then stormed past George McGovern of South Dakota in 1972.

Yet it’s hard to acknowledge such accomplishments when the real Nixon spent so much time slinking around behind the scenes, denigrating blacks, women and the Jewish. He constantly lied to the media and was astounded when reporters wrote unflattering pieces about him. He blacklisted several reporters and ordered IRS investigations for staff at certain newspapers. He told his own staffers to spy on political rivals. He lied about so many things.

And, of course, there was Watergate, which led to his resignation but really was only one of his many deceitful acts while in office.

Nixon spent so much time trying to convince America that he was a caring, honest and decent person. Ironically, it was his own secret taping system – which he ordered installed – that has helped forge a lasting image of Nixon that is just the opposite.