Tags: President | Richard Nixon | Watergate | Polls

Richard Nixon Rises in Presidential Polls as Watergate Facts Emerge

By    |   Friday, 08 Aug 2014 05:02 PM

Image: Richard Nixon Rises in Presidential Polls as Watergate Facts Emerge
U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. (National Archives/Getty Images)

When Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal in August 1974, his approval ratings hovered around a paltry 24 percent, but he became convinced that history would vindicate him.

"Some people say I didn't handle [Watergate] properly and they're right," Nixon told a college audience in 1978. "I screwed up and I paid the price. But let's get on to my achievements. You'll be here in the year 2000 and we'll see how I am regarded then."

So how is the 37th president regarded today?

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Public opinion surveys don't identify Nixon as the nation's worst president. But in more than a dozen polls conducted since 1982, he averages 32nd among all presidents and finishes no higher than 23rd in any of them.

Some political observers have been taking a fresh look at Nixon and concluding that his transgressions were not as serious as once thought, and his achievements in the realms of foreign policy, civil rights, and environmental policies endure.

Commentator Ben Stein called Nixon "the greatest foreign policy maestro we have ever had." He made peace with China with a historic 1972 trip to the communist nation, and "by so doing, he, in a general way, encircled the Soviets and made certain they knew they were on the losing side of the Cold War."

Presidential historian Craig Shirley writes: "Did Nixon commit impeachable offenses — at least those that qualified as 'high crimes'? Was he guilty of treason as prescribed by the Constitution? No.

"Judge Andrew Napolitano, a constitutional scholar, says yes, Nixon was guilty, in part because of his 'failure to do his job faithfully.' Even so, Napolitano says, 'by today's standards, he was tame."

Much of what Nixon was accused of amounted to "idle and even downright silly conversation that never went anywhere," Shirley observes.

It is also unclear what Nixon knew about the actions of his subordinates.

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But there is no doubt that his role in Watergate, regardless of the depth of his involvement, accounts for his low rankings.

The scandal began as a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972 — the same year he won re-election in one of the largest landslides in U.S. political history — and was followed by a cover-up by the president and his closest advisers.

Two years later, Nixon avoided the impeachment process by resigning and left office as a maligned figure.

Victor Lasky wrote in "It Didn't Start With Watergate" that "prior to Watergate, dirty tricks were an accepted practice in political life, and no one paid too much attention."

Nixon's problem, though, was that the national media paid Watergate a great deal of attention. His enemies controlled the three networks, the two weekly news magazines, and all the newspapers, Shirley asserts.

But Nixon's image has certainly softened over the years. He won respect by writing nine books in his retirement, many of them focusing on foreign policy, and took a big step back into the limelight when he actively supported Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign in 1980.

Throughout the 1980s, he stayed busy traveling, writing, and speaking. By the 1990s, his standing had been restored to the extent that President Bill Clinton met with him at the White House and openly sought his advice on foreign policy.

Nixon may not be more respected by today's Americans, but he is likely less reviled.

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When Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal in August 1974, his approval ratings hovered around a paltry 24 percent, but he became convinced that history would vindicate him.
President, Richard Nixon, Watergate, Polls
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2014-02-08
Friday, 08 Aug 2014 05:02 PM
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