The new Nixon, Part Two

In responding to Michael Gerson’s comparison of Rudy Giuliani to Richard Nixon, I basically accepted Gerson’s description of Nixon as “a talented man without an ideological compass,” but found this description largely inapplicable to Giuliani. My conservative cousin from New York, a longtime student of all things Nixon, views Nixon more charitably. He writes:

Nixon was not totally an opportunist. He strongly supported an internationalist foreign policies that actively opposed the Soviet Union. Early in his career his support for NATO put him at odds with the isolationist wing of the GOP. Later his opening to China resulted in criticisms from the Goldwater-Reagan wing of the party. Nixon also was a consistent and often lonely voice in support of Civil Rights for Afro-Americans in the Eisenhower Administration.

One view of Nixon that seems fairly persuasive holds that his opportunism on domestic issues (e.g., embracing wage-price controls) was the price he thought he had to pay to obtain and hold the whip hand on foreign policy, which is what he really cared about. I believe Nixon’s close associate Leonard Garment is of this view.
It can be argued, though, that the guiding principle of Nixon’s foreign policy was belief in own his talent coupled with his resistence to ideology, including the strident anti-Communist ideology he had been associated with. The matter becomes tricky because, to over-simplify, non-ideological opportunism on behalf of one’s own nation-state can be viewed as a legitimate guiding principle when it comes to foreign policy.


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