Nixon Dies; Ex-President Was Major Figure on World Stage
Presidency: Foreign policy achievements were obscured by Watergate scandal. The first U.S. chief executive to resign office was 81. He suffered massive stroke and was in coma at time of his death.
Richard Nixon, who strode the world stage for decades and was the only American President to resign his office to avoid impeachment, died Friday night, four days after suffering a stroke. He was 81 years old.
A spokesman said Nixon, the nation’s 37th President, was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m. at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where he had been taken by ambulance from his home in Park Ridge, N.J. His daughters, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Patricia Nixon Cox, were at his bedside. His wife, Pat, died last June of lung cancer.
President Clinton said the Nixon family “know that the best wishes of all Americans are with them during their moment of sorrow.” He praised Nixon as “a statesman who sought to build a lasting structure of peace.”
“He gave of himself with devotion,” Clinton said. “His country owes him a debt.”
Clinton said he would attend the funeral at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif. The library said the funeral will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m., followed by a private burial at the library near the grave of Pat Nixon.
At Nixon’s request, there will be no ceremonies in Washington, D.C., where former presidents often lie in state at the Capitol.
The former President had made out a living will stating he did not want heroic measures in the face of devastating illness. Respecting his wishes, his breathing was not assisted in his final days by a respirator. He had been in a coma since Tuesday night.
Even in the decade before his death, the former President demonstrated the uncommon resiliency that characterized his long and turbulent public life.
Many never forgave him for the activities that forced him from office as an unindicted co-conspirator of the Watergate scandal. Yet after a decade of shadowy, self-imposed exile, he had reclaimed a place on the national stage as a wise man of foreign policy. Through his writings, his visits to Moscow and Asia and his private conversations with world leaders, he had succeeded in raising himself from the political depths to the pantheon of elder statesmen.
Of all the men who have occupied the White House before and since, Nixon’s place in history is perhaps the most ambiguous and stirs the most divergent of sentiments. For nearly half a century, in office and out, he commanded the nation’s fascinated attention, inspiring both unshakable admiration and relentless loathing.
“I have never seen one individual as targeted in terms of hatred as Richard Nixon. There is no question that Nixon brought out this passion,” said Herbert S. Parmet, a history professor at City University of New York and author of “Richard Nixon and His America.”
His name will forever be linked to what his White House dismissed as the third-rate burglary at Democratic Party headquarters in Washington’s Watergate office complex--a brief episode on the night of June 17, 1972, that ultimately led to his downfall.
But even with that ghost, he remained a figure to be reckoned with: His pronouncements on issues of war and peace carried complex echoes of a political career born in a successful campaign for Congress in 1946, when the nation was in the throes of anti-communist fervor. He was still heeded nearly 50 years later, long after his political clout had vanished.
Before scandal ended his presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, in the midst of his second term, Nixon claimed a lasting achievement in the historic opening to China: His decision to end the Cold War isolation of the Asian giant won him acclaim even from liberal critics, who acknowledged that only a leader with ironclad anti-communist credentials could have accomplished the task.
Although he shared responsibility for escalation of the Vietnam War, and his Administration was the target of the most bitter and vehement anti-war protests, he also began the drawdown that led to the ultimate departure of U.S. troops from the Southeast Asian nation.
On domestic policy, he took unique positions for a Republican leader of his era, presenting the first proposal for a negative income tax, which would have distributed federal funds to the poorest citizens; imposing controls on wages and prices to stabilize the economy, and proposing overhauls of welfare and health care--measures that have only now returned to the top of the agenda, in the White House of a Democratic President.
“He was less of a partisan Republican than many believe, too independent for many, a man who used rhetoric as a stiletto. The rhetoric, more than anything else apart from Watergate, got him in trouble. It was what made people associate him with the right wing,” Parmet said.
He was an extraordinarily deft politician and perhaps the most resilient political figure of the modern era, displaying an almost uncanny ability to rebound from near-disaster. Yet he never fit neatly into either the Republican Party’s moderate wing of Nelson A. Rockefeller or the conservative camp of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
With an emotional speech less than two months before Election Day, 1952, he regained his hold on the Republican vice presidential nomination after being accused of paying personal expenses with an $18,235 “slush fund” created by wealthy Californians. As vice president for eight years, he survived a sour relationship with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
And from his cliffhanger loss of the presidency in 1960 to John F. Kennedy, and his loss of the California governorship in 1962 to Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr., he staged a remarkable comeback. In 1968, the most turbulent political year in the past half-century--when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, when national political conventions were disrupted by riots--he emerged from the smoke and tear gas and generational anger to defeat Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and claim his prize: the presidency of the United States.
Four years later, he scored a record-setting landslide victory against Democratic Sen. George S. McGovern of South Dakota.
But despite his successes, his career was dogged by the shadows of a darker side. He was awkward in public. He never demonstrated the ease of a successful politician, nor seemed to take any comfort from the adulation of the crowds.
On a deeper level, he was by nature suspicious and mistrustful.
It was those qualities that allowed--indeed enabled--the burglary at the Watergate to escalate into the most stunning presidential debacle in history.
Before it ended with his resignation, it had ensnared not only the President, but the most senior members of his White House staff, Cabinet members and the FBI, which he was accused of misusing.
Perhaps even more important, and certainly more lasting, it spread across the body politic a cynicism that infects the political process to this day.
The Early Years
Richard Milhous Nixon was born Jan. 9, 1913, to a Quaker mother and a Methodist father in Yorba Linda, where he spent the early years of his life before his family moved to Whittier. As a young boy, he did well in school and worked in his father’s grocery store, which provided the family with a modest income.
He graduated from Whittier College in 1934, ranking second in his class and earning plaudits and respect for his debating skills. He enrolled at Duke Law School, where he was known as a bookish young man who often studied while classmates played. He graduated third in his class and returned to Whittier, where he practiced trial law.
It was at a Whittier community theater, where they were auditioning for parts in a play, that Nixon met Thelma Catherine (Pat) Ryan, a tall, lithesome strawberry-blonde who was a shorthand and typing teacher at the high school. They were married in 1940.
Two years later, with World War II raging, Nixon began a four-year stint in the Navy. After the war, he returned to California and immediately sought and won a seat in Congress in 1946.
In Washington, the young Republican quickly gained a reputation for his zealous pursuit of communists working in the federal government. His platform was the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his most famous case involved Whittaker Chambers, a confessed Communist Party courier, and former State Department official Alger Hiss, who was accused by Chambers of passing secrets to Soviet agents.
The reputation boosted his popularity at home, and he rode the wave into his 1950 campaign for U.S. Senate. In that storied contest, Nixon branded his Democratic opponent, Helen Mary Gahagan Douglas, “the Pink Lady” and accused the New Deal Democrat of supporting American Labor Party leader Vito Marcantonio, a representative from New York known in Congress as a communist sympathizer.
Nixon’s supporters blanketed California with bright pink leaflets that linked Douglas and Marcantonio in House votes. With America in the throes of anti-communist fears, Nixon’s tactic was devastating. He won by nearly 700,000 votes.
The Senate contest brought Nixon national recognition, and the ambitious young politician, who had a scant half-decade of elected public service, trained his sights next on national office. He assailed President Harry S. Truman as soft on communism and correctly surmised that Eisenhower was a rising star in the Republican Party.
Nixon worked for the revered general’s 1952 presidential candidacy and was selected as Eisenhower’s vice presidential running mate. He was 39 years old.
Buoyed by a rousing reception at the Republican convention, Nixon hit the campaign trail with vigor--only to run into charges that he had personally benefited from the “slush fund” established by millionaires.
In what became known as the Checkers speech, Nixon defended himself against the charges in a nationwide radio and television address. He detailed modest personal items belonging to him and his family, including Checkers, a spaniel given to his children by an admirer.
“Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we’ve got is honestly ours. I should say this, that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her that she would look good in anything,” the struggling candidate said.
“I don’t believe that I ought to quit, because I am not a quitter,” Nixon said. “But the decision, my friends, is not mine.” He went on to urge those in the audience to express their views to the Republican National Committee about whether he should be taken off the GOP ticket. The public responded with more than 2 million letters and telegrams, urging him to stay by a margin of 350 to 1.
“You’re my boy,” Eisenhower told Nixon after the broadcast.
Road to Presidency
In the wake of a landslide victory that fall, Nixon began serving the first of his two terms as vice president--during which he enjoyed extraordinary symbolic powers, even if his actual influence on policy was less substantive.
He was called upon to take an extensive goodwill tour of Asia in 1953, and he visited Central America in 1955 and South America in 1958. During his visit to Caracas, Venezuela, leftist mobs smashed Nixon’s automobile windows and perhaps would have killed him had Venezuelan troops not arrived. For his part, Nixon earned praise for maintaining calm during the attack.
Nominated as his party’s presidential candidate in 1960, Nixon became a victim of the same medium that had served him so well in the Checkers speech. His narrow loss to Kennedy was attributed largely to the striking difference between the two candidates in televised debates. Nixon’s heavy jowls, shadowed by stubble, and his nervous manner played poorly alongside Kennedy’s relaxed confidence, wit and youthful good looks.
Nixon’s political fortunes continued to sink as he lost the tough gubernatorial fight to Brown in 1962.
This time the anti-communist tactic failed Nixon, and in defeat he accused the media of sustained bias in covering his political career. His parting shot during his concession speech: “I leave you gentlemen now, and you will now write it. You will interpret it. That’s your right. But as I leave you I want you to know--just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”
But he came back. After joining a New York law firm in 1963, Nixon, showing party loyalty, campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the conservative Arizonan’s humiliating 1964 presidential race. Nixon became an effective fund-raiser and set his sights once more on the White House, winning the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and going on to narrowly defeat Humphrey.
Nixon’s victory that year was attributed to shrewd planning that exploited deep divisions among the Democrats who controlled the government. The diligent young men who ran the Nixon campaign became the core of the new White House staff, where they were extraordinarily adept at synthesizing problems for the President’s action and at shielding him from unwanted intrusion, protecting the privacy he cherished.
New Ideas Flourish
In the afterglow of his election on Nov. 5, 1968, Nixon told supporters that his goal was to “bring the American people together” under “an open Administration, open to new ideas, open to men and women of both parties, open to the critics as well as those who support us.”
New ideas indeed flourished in his Administration’s dealings with the communist world and in its concerted effort to reduce the federal role in routine government functions. The number of women in high posts increased, and even Democrats occasionally were appointed to the Nixon Administration.
At the same time, the Nixon White House always reflected the reclusive temperament and industrious work habits of its resident--habits shaped by his early years of work in his father’s grocery store. Access to this Administration was never open. Information was tightly controlled and unauthorized news leaks brought reprisals.
In 1972, Nixon appealed for a “new majority” that crossed the middle-class spectrum, but he left most campaigning to a platoon of “surrogate candidates” headed by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.
Members of the White House staff were deeply involved in oversight of the lavishly financed operation. With the nation deeply divided over the Vietnam War and weary of radical and occasionally violent confrontations on college campuses, Nixon’s campaign called for law and order in the United States and a strong American role overseas, and it portrayed his Democratic opponent, McGovern, as a liberal who sympathized with college demonstrators and who would surrender America’s interests abroad.
Nixon won by an overwhelming margin, with 61% of the popular vote and 521 electoral votes to McGovern’s 17.
During his 5 1/2 years as President, Nixon was confronted by a series of domestic and foreign crises, including inflation and the cancerous Vietnam War.
Nixon’s escalation of U.S. involvement in the war ignited a firestorm of domestic protests. At the same time, he tried to mute the criticism by ending the draft in 1973.
Law and order was one of Nixon’s prime domestic concerns: It was foreshadowed in 1968 campaign speeches, in which he saddled the Democrats with blame for mounting crime statistics. After the election, the theme was apparent in his choice of hard-line conservative John N. Mitchell, his former law partner and campaign director, to be his attorney general. It also was manifest in the Administration’s requests for measures to strengthen the prosecution’s hand in criminal cases, in the conservative trend of Nixon’s judicial appointments and in his Administration’s response to anti-war demonstrations.
The demonstrations began during the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration and they continued despite Nixon’s warning at a 1969 news conference that “under no circumstances will I be affected by them.” Nor were the demonstrators appeased by Nixon’s decision in June, 1969, to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam.
The protests spread from U.S. campuses, and about half a million Americans took part nationwide in a solemn, orderly “moratorium day” on Oct. 15, 1969.
Vietnam War Protests
Nixon’s stated plan for Vietnam was to “Vietnamize” the war by training and equipping South Vietnamese troops for an ever-larger role in the conflict. But it also entailed bold military strokes to protect the Americans who remained in Southeast Asia.
Late in April, 1970, an attack was secretly mounted on the communist bases in the jungles of neutral Cambodia, and anti-war protests revived.
The nation was horrified on May 4, 1970, when a confrontation between demonstrating students and Ohio National Guard troops at Kent State University ended in a volley from Guard rifles that left four young people dead.
Nixon issued a stiff statement that deplored the affair and observed that, “when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy.” Within a week, upward of 50,000 students converged on Washington in an unplanned protest that was bitter but nonviolent.
Amid signs of White House concern, student groups were invited to talk with presidential aides, and Nixon met with a group from Kent State to say he recognized the right of peaceful protest.
At dawn the next morning, the President appeared unannounced among demonstrators bivouacked at the Lincoln Memorial. He later said he advised the students: “Keep it peaceful--remember, I feel as deeply as you do about this.”
But the demonstrations flared again after U.S. planes provided massive support to South Vietnamese troops that crossed the border into Laos in February, 1971, in another attempt to destroy communist sanctuaries.
Nixon viewed street disorders as an outward symbol of a trend to “permissiveness,” which he deplored as a candidate and as President. He sought to reverse it by appointment of judges committed to rigid interpretations of the Constitution, and he began at the top with the Supreme Court.
No actions of the Nixon presidency may have cast a longer shadow into the future than the lifetime appointments he made to fill the four vacancies on the nine-seat court that occurred during his first term. Collectively, the changes spelled the end of the liberal activism that had characterized high court decisions for nearly two decades.
2 Nominees Rejected
The process was not easy for the President, for two of his nominees were rejected by the Senate after tempestuous confirmation hearings.
Nixon had no difficulty in winning clearance in May, 1969, for Warren E. Burger, a conservative appeals court judge from Minnesota, to replace the retiring Earl Warren as chief justice.
A second vacancy cleared the way in August, 1969, for nomination of Clement F. Haynsworth, a South Carolina appeals judge, but the Senate balked. It also rejected G. Harrold Carswell, the Florida district judge Nixon nominated after Haynsworth.
Nixon protested that he could not achieve confirmation for a strict constructionist who “happens to come from the South,” and nominated Harry A. Blackmun, a Minnesota appeals court judge. Blackmun, who became the court’s leading liberal, is retiring in September.
Throughout much of his tenure, Nixon was plagued by a troubled national economy, resulting largely from a combination of Vietnam War expenditures and Johnson’s spending on Great Society programs.
The Republican President tried a series of economic remedies, including a 90-day freeze on all wages and prices in 1971, with any increases subject to approval by a cost of living council. Nixon also persuaded Congress to change the Post Office Department into the quasi-private agency it is today.
And, with the help of Congress, he embarked on a course of “new federalism,” providing state and local jurisdictions with $30 billion over five years as revenue-sharing funds.
The initiatives were part of a period of experimentation with domestic policy, producing a precursor to some of the programs being advanced now by Clinton.
Although Nixon generally ignored minorities and the poor, developing few programs targeting them, he did attempt in 1969 to overhaul the welfare system through a guaranteed annual income, thereby departing dramatically from Republican tenets.
But the plan, created by Nixon aide Daniel Patrick Moynihan, now a U.S. senator from New York, was scrapped the next year as congressional liberals and Southern Democrats opposed it. In addition, blacks were skeptical of the proposal, noting Nixon’s persistent criticism of busing as a remedy for school desegregation and his efforts to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices.
Domestic Vs. Foreign
For Nixon, the salvation of blacks was in “black capitalism,” a theme he explored in a speech in October, 1965, to black Republicans at a $300-a-plate dinner in New York. Nixon, whose 1969 executive order established the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, likened the group of blacks to sports heroes, saying they should shun quotas and instead seek progress by “being the best.”
Citing the success of Jackie Robinson in baseball and Arthur Ashe in tennis, Nixon said: “These people are not champions because they are part of a quota, but because they are the best. The same has to happen in private enterprise.”
Although many believe that his record on domestic issues was mixed, Nixon’s foreign policy achievements were more apparent.
In May, 1972, the onetime redbaiter visited Moscow--just two weeks after the Soviet Union had vehemently criticized a new round of U.S. air attacks launched on North Vietnam in a double-edged effort to blunt a communist offensive in the South and to jolt the Hanoi regime into serious peace negotiations.
Despite continuing differences on Vietnam, Nixon and Soviet leaders signed agreements to limit offensive and defensive strategic weapons. A spate of lesser accords also flowed from the meetings. One byproduct was a $1-billion deal to sell U.S. grain to Russia that brought election-year joy to American wheat farmers as a supply squeeze boosted domestic prices to record highs.
The former President’s pragmatic views toward the Soviet Union showed up years later, in March, 1986, when he addressed the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, calling for “a new realism” in dealing with the Soviets. Nixon said the two superpowers “can never be friends, but we cannot afford to be enemies,” and he urged leaders of both countries to avoid an “insane” continuation of the nuclear arms race.
Nixon cited the “Nixon Doctrine” as one of his more significant contributions to foreign policy. Initiated partly to quell domestic criticism of the Vietnam War, the doctrine acknowledged the limitations of U.S. military power and promised to restrict its use in international crises that might arise in the future.
But clearly, Nixon’s greatest triumph was with China, especially his trip there in February, 1972. It was a political image maker’s dream: the hard-line anti-communist visiting the world’s largest communist country and pronouncing it fit for relations with the United States.
In an interview with The Times in June, 1984, Nixon cited a 1968 article he had written advocating improved relations with China and said, “I had made up my mind before coming to office” to do so.
He saw the long-term importance the Pacific Basin held for the United States, said Parmet, the historian, “and he felt very concerned about pursuing our interests in that area without China.”
In the short term, Nixon’s trip led to limited resumption of U.S.-Chinese relations, which had been frozen since the Korean War, and to modest trade, travel and cultural agreements. Ultimately, it led in 1978 to resumption of full diplomatic relations and steadily expanding relationships in many non-military fields under the Jimmy Carter Administration.
By 1986, Nixon had paid four return visits to China as an ex-President and was received on each occasion as an elder statesman. In February, 1976, for example, he and Mrs. Nixon went to what was then Peking as guests of the government at ceremonies that officially commemorated the fourth anniversary of his initial visit and unofficially provided desired exposure for Acting Premier Hua Guofend, who praised Nixon’s “farsightedness” in building ties between Peking and Washington. Mao Tse-tung, China’s venerable Communist Party chairman, gave Nixon an audience that lasted an hour and 40 minutes.
Hua had succeeded Mao as party chairman when the Nixons paid their second visit in September, 1979, again as a guest of the government, and Deng Xiaoping was in Hua’s powerful former post. When Nixon visited China in September, 1985, a college vice president glowingly described Nixon as “an old friend of China,” and the Chinese mobbed him after a speech as he headed for a Red Flag limousine, seeking his autograph or just a touch of his hand.
Trouble at Home
Nixon also was received like a hero in Egypt in June, 1974--even as the curtain was rising on the last act of the Watergate drama. He made the trip as part of a Middle East tour that also took him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria and Jordan.
But by then, Nixon was a President disgraced.
The Watergate scandal was named for the June, 1972, break-in at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate, a sleek, sprawling office and apartment complex that overlooks the Potomac River near Georgetown.
Tenuous links to the White House were made soon after the break-in, when some of the burglars--who were caught by a security guard--were found to be carrying White House telephone numbers.
The episode was initially dismissed by the White House as a “third-rate burglary” unauthorized by anyone of rank.
But during the next two years, inquiries pressed first by a judge and the press, then by Congress and special prosecutors, unraveled a web of political crimes: “hush money” paid to the burglars, other efforts to block investigators, wiretaps of “White House enemies,” establishment of the White House “plumbers” to plug information leaks, campaign “dirty tricks” and more.
The developing scandal diminished public confidence in the President. In late 1973, it limited his efforts to cope with an energy crisis that threw the economy into a tailspin. The immediate effects were a quick jump in unemployment and a surge in an inflation rate that already was causing concern.
Nixon had proposed a long-range program to make the nation self-sufficient in energy resources before the crisis struck. But his Administration was ill-prepared when a new flare-up of hostilities between Israel and its Arab neighbors led in October, 1973, to an Arab embargo on export of oil to nations friendly to Israel--particularly the United States.
While thermostats were lowered and lines at gasoline stations grew longer, Nixon dispatched Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger to half a dozen capitals in an attempt to loosen the embargo and bring peace to the area. Kissinger’s prodding helped produce an uneasy truce between Israel and Egypt, and Arab oil began flowing again after a five-month shut-off.
All the while, Watergate continued to unravel. As public revelations brought responsibility for the cover-up closer and closer to the White House, Nixon’s top lieutenants toppled like dominoes. First Mitchell resigned as his campaign director. Then H. R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, his closest White House aides, resigned.
A Senate committee chaired by the late Sam J. Ervin Jr. (D-N.C.) investigated Watergate on national television in the spring and summer of 1973 and learned that a secret taping system had recorded all of Nixon’s White House conversations. The evidence from those tapes, which are still played daily for tourists at the National Archives, proved to be some of the most damning against the President.
Six days after the break-in, Nixon, on tape, agreed with a suggestion by his chief of staff, Haldeman, that orders should be given to the Central Intelligence Agency to impede the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate money trail.
But what was not on the tapes was equally damning: On one of the seemingly most crucial tapes, a gap of about 18 minutes and 15 seconds gave rise to suspicion that even more damaging statements had been erased.
And, with the raw presidential language demonstrated on the tapes, their publication introduced to the American vocabulary the phrase “expletive deleted.”
Nixon initially refused to turn over the tapes to Archibald Cox, the special Watergate prosecutor in the Justice Department. When Cox pressed his demand, Nixon ordered Atty. Gen. Elliot L. Richardson to fire him. In what became known as the “Saturday night massacre,” Nixon fired first Richardson and then his deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus, for refusing to fire Cox, before Solicitor General Robert H. Bork became acting attorney general and carried out Nixon’s order.
‘I’m Not a Crook’
The President of the United States persevered. “I’m not a crook,” he told a November, 1973, meeting of journalists at Disney World in Florida.
The same could not be said of other top figures in the Administration. After Houston attorney Leon Jaworski replaced Cox as Watergate special prosecutor, a grand jury indicted Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and four others on charges of covering up the Watergate break-in. Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
In July, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment, charging Nixon with obstructing justice, misusing his presidential power and defying committee subpoenas. But before the full House could consider the impeachment articles, Nixon resigned on Aug. 9.
“If some of my judgments were wrong--and some were wrong--they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the nation,” Nixon said as he announced his resignation. But he admitted no guilt.
“While I was not involved in the decision to conduct the break-in, I should have set a higher standard for the conduct of the people who participated in my campaign and Administration. I should have established a moral tone that would have made such actions unthinkable. I did not,” Nixon wrote in 1990 in his ninth book, “In the Arena.”
Emerging From Exile
A month after his resignation, many in the country were outraged when Nixon’s successor, Gerald R. Ford, issued a pardon for all crimes that Nixon “committed or may have committed or taken part in” during his presidency.
Retreating to Casa Pacifica, his beachfront home in San Clemente, Calif., Nixon made few forays outside. For a time, an occasional 18 holes of golf with close friends at the Shorecliff Club near San Clemente was his most public activity.
But he emerged three years later for five televised conversations with interviewer David Frost. In the interviews, excerpted from 20 hours of tapes and for which Nixon was paid upward of $600,000, the former President displayed the full range of his moods, from self-pitying gloom to expansive confidence.
“I let down my friends. I let down the country. I let down our system of government,” Nixon said. He conceded that he had come so close to the “edge of the law” in advising White House associates on “how to present their cases” that a “reasonable person could call that a cover-up.”
But he declared that he “didn’t think of it as a cover-up” and said: “If I intended to cover up, believe me, I’d have done it.”
Nixon’s revealing interviews were televised as he and a rear guard of loyalists finished work on the former President’s memoirs.
Tale of Two Books
As a personalized footnote, the work was dubious history. Nixon’s foes campaigned against it under the slogan, “Don’t buy books from crooks.” But the 1,090-page book, “RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon,” yielded close to $2 million in syndication rights and royalties for its author.
Nixon told Frost that his wife, Pat, had suffered a stroke in 1976, three days after reading “The Final Days,” a book about Nixon’s last days in office by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters whose aggressive pursuit of the Watergate story had won the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize. Calling the book trash, Nixon said the media had achieved a “license to lie,” and suggested that public figures under media attack should “come right back and crack ‘em in the puss.”
In the years since, however, Nixon mellowed and began emerging more frequently into the public eye. Most recently, in mid-March, he made his 10th visit to Russia and met with the ultranationalist leader Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, whom he described as “a brilliant political tactician” who “pushes hot-button issues that are totally irresponsible.”
Later, the former President wrote in the New York Times that “Russia’s political scene can only be described as chaotic.”
Playing up to the final days of his life the role he carved out for himself--that of the interpreter for the United States of the mysterious ways of the Kremlin--he wrote: “President Yeltsin has lost much of the mystique from his historic role in the destruction of Soviet Communism. He may be finding that history is against him. Over the centuries, revolutionary leaders have not been good nation-builders.”
It was through such writings--his 10th book is expected to be published in June--that Nixon worked assiduously to repair his public image, and he did so with some success.
When he left office, his popularity stood at 26%. But another measure of popularity in 1986 demonstrated a rebound: 54% said Ford was correct to have pardoned him and nearly 40% said they would like to see him in a public role, as an ambassador or presidential adviser. Still, a poll last November found that only 37% approved of the job he had done as President--trailing Kennedy and each subsequent President, with the exception of Johnson.
Although out of the Watergate shadow, he kept a relatively low profile. He offered advice to Republican candidates, and political handicapping. In June, 1992, he predicted a close presidential race between George Bush and Ross Perot; in September of that year, he told Bush--correctly, it turned out--to give up on California.
On occasion, he expressed himself on the domestic issues of the day, taking what his onetime speech writer, William Safire, pegged a progressive position in a column last December in the New York Times:
Abortion? “The state should stay out; don’t subsidize and don’t prohibit.”
Gun control? “I’d go further than the Brady bill. Guns are an abomination.”
TV violence? “Hollywood thinks America is sick . . . ! They’re the sick ones.”
He quietly tried to head off the lifting of the trade embargo on Vietnam, more than a year before Clinton eventually took such action, and he spoke by telephone with Clinton--eventually meeting with him privately--to tutor him on the need for the United States to take the lead in delivering aid to Russia.
The Nixons sold Casa Pacifica in mid-1979 to three Orange County businessmen and moved without ceremony to a Manhattan townhouse for which they paid $750,000 in February, 1980. They sold it, too, in September, 1981, to the Syrian government for $2.6 million as a residence for its U.N. ambassador. Leaving Manhattan, they bought a modern dwelling in suburban Saddle River, N.J., for a reported $1 million, and, later, moved to the nearby community of Park Ridge.
Although most of the books the former President wrote after leaving office dealt with foreign policy and his view of the world, “In the Arena” was more personal.
“Two thousand years ago, the poet Sophocles wrote, ‘One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.’ There is still some time before the sun goes down, but even now, I can look back and say that the day has indeed been splendid,” Nixon wrote.
“In the end, what matters is that you have always lived life to the hilt. I have been on the highest mountains and in the deepest valleys, but I have never lost sight of my destination--a world in which peace and freedom can live together. I have won some great victories and suffered some devastating defeats. But win or lose, I feel fortunate to have come to that time in life when I can finally enjoy what my Quaker grandmother would have called ‘peace at the center.’ ”
Times staff writer John J. Goldman in New York contributed to this story. Times researchers Pat Welch and Linda Malone also contributed.
* A LIFE IN POLITICS: A glance at Nixon’s career, in words and pictures. A20-A22
Key Dates in Richard Nixon’s Life
Education: Whittier College, Whittier, Calif., 1934; Duke University Law School, 1937.
Experience: Served in Navy in World War II. Congressman from California, 1946-50; U.S. Senator, 1951-52; Vice President, 1953-61; President, 1969-74.
Family: Wife, Pay Ryan, died in 1993. Two children, Julie and Tricia.
Jan. 9, 1913: Born in Yorba Linda, Calif., son of Francis and Hannah Nixon.
June 21, 1940: Marries Thelma (Pat) Ryan.
1946: Elected to first of two terms in U.S. House.
1950: Elected to U.S. Senate. In the course of his victory, brands his opponent, Helen Mary Gahagan Douglas, “The Pink Lady,” accusing her of supporting Vito Marcantonio, a representative from New York known in Congress as a communist sympathizer.
1952: Elected vice president as running mate to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ran into charges that he benefited from a “slush fund.” He successfully defends himself on national television. “You’re my boy,” Eisenhower told Nixon later.
1956: Re-elected as vice president.
1960: Narrowly loses presidency to John F. Kennedy.
1962: Loses California governor’s race; bitterly tells reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”
1968: Elected President over Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey and independent George C. Wallace.
Jan. 20, 1969: Sworn in as 37th President of the United States.
June, 1969: Nixon announces the beginning of troop withdrawal from Vietnam. This hardly appeased anti-war demonstrators, who stepped up their protests.
July 15, 1971: Makes surprise announcement of plans to visit China.
February, 1972: Makes historic first trip to Communist China.
June 17, 1972: Break-in at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex.
November, 1972: Re-elected in landslide over George McGovern.
Aug. 9, 1974: Resigns as President in culmination of Watergate scandal.
Sept. 8, 1974: Receives unconditional pardon from successor Gerald R. Ford.
June 22, 1993: Pat Nixon dies of lung cancer.
Notable Quotes from Nixon’s Career
On His Trip to China: “There can be no stable and enduring peace without the participation of the People’s Republic of China. . .I have taken this action because of my profound conviction that all nations will gain from a reduction of tensions and a better relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.”
In announcing his acceptance of an invitation to visit China July 15, 1971.
On U.S.-Russian Relations: “There has been too much of a tendency to assume that everything is going smoothly between our two countries. That is not true. Because if you look at the situation in Russia and in America, there are some profoundly disturbing developments.”
From his address to Russian lawmakers during a recent visit, March 14, 1994.
Notable Quotes From Nixon’s Career
On Watergate: “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I earned everything I’ve got.”
From speech to the Associated Press Managing Editors Assn., Disney World, Nov. 17, 1973
“I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover-up or anything else, if it’ll save it--save the plan. That’s the whole point.”
Instructions to John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Robert Haldeman and John Mitchell, March 22, 1973).
On Charges He Benefited From a “Slush Fund”: “Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we’ve got is honestly ours. I should say this, that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her that she would look good in anything.”
From his Checkers speech to the nation, Sept. 23, 1952.
Notable Quotes From Nixon’s Career
On The Vietnam War: “If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”
From speech to the nation on the invasion of Cambodia, April 30, 1970.
On The Presidency: “Let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth--to see it as it is, and tell it like it is--to find the truth, to speak the truth, and to live the truth.”
From speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Aug. 8, 1968.
“I believe in the battle--whether it’s the battle of a campaign or the battle of this office, which is a continuing battle.”
In an interview after his second inauguration, Jan. 20, 1973.