In The New York Times, Gail Collins writes:
Back in 1971, Congress passed a bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them. It was bipartisan, which in those days meant more than a whole lot of Democrats and somebody from Maine. “Having been a working mother, I knew what day-care problems were like,” said Martha Phillips, who was at that time a staffer at the Republican Research Committee in the House.
Then Richard Nixon surprised almost everyone by vetoing it, with a scathing message written by Pat Buchanan, claiming the bill would “commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing.”
The social right, which was just beginning to come into its own, was delighted! Opponents reinforced the message with a massive letter-writing campaign. They accused members of Congress of plotting to deprive parents of the right to take their offspring to church, give children the power to sue their parents for forcing them to do chores, and, in general, turn the country into a Maoist concentration camp.
Collins is wrong: Nixon’s decision surprised no one. For months, administration officials had objected to its cost and intrusiveness. More than two weeks before, on November 21, 1971, the New York Times reported that the measure faced “an almost certain veto.” Notwithstanding Collins’s out-of-context quotation, the veto message made clear that Nixon strongly supported day care:
Federal support for State and local day care services under Head Start and the Social Security Act already totals more than half a billion dollars a year–but this is not enough. That is why our H.R. 1 welfare reform proposals, which have been before the Congress for the past 26 months, include a request for $750 million annually in day care funds for welfare recipients and the working poor, including $50 million for construction of facilities. And that is why we support the increased tax deductions written into the Revenue Act of 1971, which will provide a significant Federal subsidy for day care in families where both parents are employed, potentially benefitting 97 percent of all such families in the country and offering parents free choice of the child care arrangements they deem best for their own families. This approach reflects my conviction that the Federal Government’s role wherever possible should be one of assisting parents to purchase needed day care services in the private, open market, with Federal involvement in direct provision of such services kept to an absolute minimum.
As the first streaks of dawn quietly announced the arrival of morning on Sunday, November 16, 1969, a 35-year old preacher from Ohio named Harold Rawlings had already been awake for a while after a fitful night of what-could-barely-be-called sleep in a room at Washington, D.C.’s storied Mayflower Hotel. He would in a few hours face a crowd punctuated by the most powerful men and women in America, assembled in the most unusual of venues for any clergyman – the East Room of the White House.
These days, most Americans have moved on from wondering about Barack Obama’s church attendance habits now nearly a year into his presidency. Some of this inattention is due, no doubt, to the swirl of events, but a measure of it is likely because Mr. Obama is demonstrating a kind of ambivalence to church attendance that has become par for the presidential course over the years (though with some exception, e.g., Jimmy Carter).
Most presidents have likely never read Theodore Roosevelt’s “Nine Reasons A Man Should Go To Church.” Among the things TR said was this gem: “Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in a man’s own house as well as in church. But I also know, as a matter of cold fact, that the average man does not thus worship.”
Richard Nixon decided in the first days of his presidency to reconcile the ethic of church attendance with the realities of security and logistics during his time in the White House, by having regular Sunday services in the East Room. Of course, he was criticized for it. Some saw it as political grandstanding and others (many in the clergy) feared Nixon might be setting a trend for “stay at home” worship. Billy Graham noted, though, that in the early days of Christianity churches met almost exclusively in houses. So, on Nixon’s first Sunday in the White House, Graham shared a sermon, beginning a long run of non-sectarian religious services at 11 o’clock most Sunday mornings.
Rev. Rawlings had received an invitation, via the recommendation of his congressman, Donald “Buzz” Lukens, to bring the message during one of those services. But the preacher had to pay his own expenses to the nation’s capital, something gladly accomplished by his church, Landmark Baptist in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the lanky clergyman shared pastoral duties with his father, the senior minister of the church.
The preacher also had no idea when he accepted the White House invitation that he would be performing his prelatic duties against the backdrop of a city in turmoil.
Pastor Rawlings and his wife Sylvia made their way to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, November 15, while 250,000 protestors were in virtual control of the city’s streets and parks. The Washington Post headline the next day said, “Largest Rally in Washington History Demands End to Vietnam War.” There was a lingering hint of tear gas in the air and the remnants of torn and burned flags littering the ground. Other flags were prominent and not burned, but they bore only one star and just two stripes – the banner of the Viet Cong (National Liberation Front or “NLF”). The night before, 76 nearby buildings had been damaged, and nearly that many more would experience the same fate that day.
The swarm on Washington had been organized by an outfit called the New Mobilization Committee. This group was the successor to the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which had been part of the infamous Chicago riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968. Basically, it was a leftist mosaic made up of people from Students For A Democratic Society (“SDS”), the Youth International Party (“Yippies”), and assorted fellow travelers.
And though the “festivities” had ended late Saturday night, thousands remained in the streets overnight continuing to shout things like, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is Going to Win!” This made sleep that much more difficult for Rev. and Mrs. Rawlings.
The couple enjoyed breakfast in the Mayflower’s restaurant, their waitress discreetly pointing out the famous “psychic”, Jeanne Dixon, who was sitting across the room near the booth where J. Edgar Hoover regularly ate lunch. This brush with celebrity would be nothing compared to the experience awaiting Harold and Sylvia when they arrived at the White House.
They climbed a stairway to the second floor and were immediately met by the First Lady, Mrs. Pat Nixon, who invited them into the beautiful Yellow Oval Room, where they sat in Louis XVI style chairs. Tricia Nixon soon joined them, followed a few minutes later by President Nixon, who took Pastor Rawlings on a personal tour of the adjacent rooms, sharing details about their history. Nixon was in a great mood, no doubt bolstered some by the latest Gallup Poll showing that around 70% of Americans gave him high marks, this in the wake of his already famous “Silent Majority” speech a few days earlier.
They then made their way to the East Room, with Sylvia taking her seat next to Mrs. Nixon and Tricia. President Nixon, as was the custom, opened the service, “After a very awesome display yesterday,” pausing briefly for effect, knowing that some would think he was referring to the demonstrations, he continued, “of football, we thought it would be proper to have someone here from Ohio.” Ever the football fan, he was referring to the Buckeyes’ 42-14 win over Purdue.
Pastor Rawlings had been asked to suggest two hymns for the service and did so several weeks in advance, only to be called back by the White House and told, “President Nixon doesn’t know those – could you choose two others?” He did, and the service that day included the majestic strains of “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name,” a song Nixon knew well. A choir from New York Avenue Presbyterian Church sang.
The President then introduced Rawlings, who chose as his theme that day, “The World’s Most Amazing Book.” Many notables were in the crowd of about 350, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, Secretary of State William P. Rogers, Treasury Secretary David M. Kennedy, Labor Secretary George P. Schultz, and United States Senators Claiborne Pell, Mark Hatfield, John Sherman Cooper, Gale McGee, John Williams, and Charles Percy. And the service was broadcast live across the country via the Mutual Broadcasting System.
“If men and women would spend more time in the serious study of the word of God,” said Rev. Rawlings, “earth’s questions would seem far less significant and heaven’s questions far more real.” He then quoted former President Eisenhower, among others. The great man had died eight months earlier and his life and career had intersected with Nixon’s so significantly.
Rawlings affirmed that, “The Bible is not only good for the soul, but also for the body.” He illustrated this point with a moving story about a soldier in Vietnam, Army Private Roger Boe, who after being ambushed found an enemy bullet “lodged in his Bible, just short of the ammunition clip.” The preacher, describing America as “a haven for freedom and peace,” urged prayer, “to make us morally worthy of protection against outward aggression.” He also issued a reminder about praying for the men of Apollo12, at that moment racing through space, “our three astronauts that they might be blessed with safety and good health on their voyage to the moon.”
During a recent conversation with Harold Rawlings, who is a long-time friend, he told me that following the service Chief Justice Burger told him that his sermon was “the kind of message America needed to hear.”
A reception followed, with President and Mrs. Nixon personally introducing Rev. and Mrs. Rawlings to those filing by. Nixon, though, was at least a little bit in a hurry. He was going out to Robert F. Kennedy stadium that afternoon to see the Redskins play the Cowboys. In fact, this would itself be historic – the first time a sitting President of the United States attended a National Football League game. He was pulling for the home team, but conceded to a reporter that the Cowboys would come out on top, “I think they’ll win because of their running attack.”
But it turned out that the Redskins lost because Sonny Jurgenson threw 4 interceptions – three of them in the fourth quarter. The one bright spot of the game for Nixon was the play of Ricky Harris, who returned a punt 83-yards for a touchdown – only to have it called back because of a penalty. Harris then intercepted a pass at a crucial moment – only to have Jurgensen then quickly proceed to throw his own interception (Harris these days sits every Sunday on the front row of the church I pastor.)
Possibly, the fate of the Redskins that day was a harbinger of things to come that week for Mr. Nixon. The very next day, American newspapers first mentioned something about a massacre in Vietnam at a place called My Lai. And later that week, the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Clement Furman Haynsworth, was rejected by the Senate, 55-45.
This just reinforces something else Teddy Roosevelt said about why people should go to church: “In this actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid down grade.”
In President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech last Thursday, he cited President Nixon’s trip to China as an example of a bold and controversial action by a leader that furthered the cause of peace:
In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe.
In his speech, the President named some of the men and women whose “vision, hard work, and persistence” led history to bestow on them the title of peacemaker:
John Paul II
Martin Luther King, Jr.*
John F. Kennedy
George C. Marshall*
Aung Sang Suu Kyi*
*asterisks indicate Nobel Peace Prize laureates; Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, received the first Peace Prize in 1901.
The President’s inclusion of RN amongst this noble company drew little attention and scant controversy. Indeed, writing in Politico about the Oslo speech, Larry Sabato observed:
Obama also smartly included Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in his parade-of-history salutes. Reagan properly receives some credit for the fall of Communism, but if any modern Republican deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, it was Nixon. Yes, Nixon-and this is written by someone who wasn’t exactly a Nixon fan during the Vietnam War and Watergate. But in the light of history, Nixon’s opening to China and his policy of détente with the U.S.S.R. made enormous contributions.
In fact, President Obama’s inclusion of RN as one of these leaders, visionaries, and peacemakers may be seen as the thirty-seventh President’s passage from the exurbs of rehabilitation to the outskirts of apotheosis.
There have been many turning points and milestones on the long and winding road from 9 August 1974 in Washington to 10 December 2009 in Oslo.
In 1978, the publication of RN’s memoirs –RN— following on the broadcast of David Frost’s four 90-minute TV interviews, marked the return of the former President as an active presence on the American scene.
The Frost interviews were broadcast in May 1977 and RN was published in the fall of 1978.
In the summer of 1980 the Nixons moved to New York —“the fastest track in the world” as he called it— and the former President began enjoying a busy life as a best-selling author, adviser to politicians and presidents, globe-trotting traveler, committed sports fan, and doting grandfather.
In 1984 CBS broadcast an hour of Nixon interviews on 60 Minutes, and in 1986 he appeared on the controversial and widely discussed Newsweek cover that announced: “HE’S BACK.”
In 1987 John Adams’ three act opera Nixon in China —commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Houston Opera, and the Kennedy Center in Washington— was premiered to great acclaim. Alice Goodman’s free-wheeling libretto took liberties with the characters’ psychologies, but the work rose above controversy and introduced the idea of RN’s life and career as subjects of rich dramatic significance and potential.
Nixon in China is now considered one of the major operas of the 20th Century; it is also one of the few modern operas that has actually found a popular audience and continues to be presented in opera houses around the world. The original Peter Sellars production will be revived in the 2010-2011 season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York; and the work’s Canadian debut will coincide with this summer’s Olympics in Vancouver. Another new production will be mounted in March 2010 — by the Long Beach Opera — just up the road from Yorba Linda.
Cover art for Nonesuch’s 1990 complete recording of Nixon in China. The 3-CD set became a surprise classical best-seller and is still in print. This summer it was joined by a new complete live recording conducted by Marin Alsop.
On 19 July 1990, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace was opened in Yorba Linda. President and Mrs. Bush and former Presidents Ford and Reagan and their First Ladies joined RN and PN and their family for the celebration.
The Nixon Library Opens — on 19 July 1990, RN and PN hosted several of their successors at the opening of the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda.
In 1992 RN hosted President George H. W. Bush at a conference on “America’s Role in the Emerging World” presented by the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Washington.
In January 1994, RN established the Nixon Center as a foreign policy think tank in Washington. In March 1995, President Clinton was the guest of honor at a Nixon Center dinner at the Mayflower Hotel. He spoke warmly and admiringly about President Nixon, who had died eleven months earlier.
Indeed, President Clinton’s heartfelt and thoughtful eulogy, delivered on 27 April 1994 in the presence of his four living predecessors and their First Ladies at President Nixon’s funeral at the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, was one of the major turning points on the road from August 9th:
27 April 1994: President Clinton eulogizes President Nixon during the funeral at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
President Nixon’s journey across the American landscapes mirrored that of his entire nation in this remarkable century. His life was bound up with the striving of our whole people, with our crises and our triumphs.
When he became President, he took on challenges here at home on matters from cancer research to environmental protection, putting the power of the Federal Government where Republicans and Democrats had neglected to put it in the past, and in foreign policy. He came to the Presidency at a time in our history when Americans were tempted to say we had had enough of the world. Instead, he knew we had to reach out to old friends and old enemies alike. He would not allow America to quit the world.
Remarkably, he wrote nine of his ten books after he left the Presidency, working his way back into the arena he so loved by writing and thinking and engaging us in his dialogue. For the past year, even in the final weeks of his life, he gave me his wise counsel, especially with regard to Russia. One thing in particular left a profound impression on me. Though this man was in his ninth decade, he had an incredibly sharp and vigorous and rigorous mind. As a public man, he always seemed to believe the greatest sin was remaining passive in the face of challenges, and he never stopped living by that creed. He gave of himself with intelligence and energy and devotion to duty, and his entire country owes him a debt of gratitude for that service.
Oh, yes, he knew great controversy amid defeat as well as victory. He made mistakes, and they, like his accomplishments, are a part of his life and record. But the enduring lesson of Richard Nixon is that he never gave up being part of the action and passion of his times. He said many times that unless a person has a goal, a new mountain to climb, his spirit will die. Well, based on our last phone conversation and the letter he wrote me just a month ago, I can say that his spirit was very much alive to the very end.
That is a great tribute to him, to his wonderful wife, Pat, to his children and to his grandchildren, whose love he so depended on and whose love he returned in full measure. Today is a day for his family, his friends, and his nation to remember President Nixon’s life in totality. To them, let us say: may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.
Every living former President and First Lady joined President and Mrs. Clinton at RN’s funeral in Yorba Linda. Other eulogists included Henry Kissinger, Bob Dole, Pete Wilson, and Billy Graham.
In the summer of 1995, Joan Hoff published Nixon Reconsidered. A history professor at Indiana University and Co-Editor of the Journal of Women’s Studies, Hoff attempted to put RN’s presidency in an “historical rather than histrionic perspective.” The book received widespread —and surprised— attention for its bold (and impressively researched) thesis that RN’s domestic contributions would be seen as even more important and enlightened than his widely admired foreign policy. Professor Hoff wrote that RN:
exceeded the accomplishments of the New Deal and the Great Society in the areas of civil rights, social welfare spending, domestic and international economic restructuring, urban parks, government reorganization, land-use initiatives, revenue sharing, draft reform, pension reform, and spending for the arts and humanities.
Other books had played a part in preparing for a reconsideration of RN. Stephen Ambrose’s three-volumes (1988-1992), and Jonathan Aitken’s 1993 biography supplemented RN. And Tom Wicker’s One Of Us appeared just a few months before Professor Hoff’s bombshell.
Throughout this period, RN himself was a prolific and best-selling author whose books were widely reviewed and discussed. They included The Real War (1980), Leaders (1982), Real Peace (1984), No More Vietnams (1987), Victory Without War (1988), In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal (1990), Seize the Moment (1992), and the posthumously published Beyond Peace (1994). He traveled widely and appeared strategically on op-ed pages.
After his 1978 memoirs RN, RN’s post-presidency best-selling books ranged from profiles of leaders he had known, to on-going analyses of American foreign policy, to personal essays.
In 2006 playwright Peter Morgan turned the unlikely material of the David Frost interviews into a compelling and highly successful play. Frost/Nixon, directed by Michael Grandage, and with Frank Langella as the former President, filled houses and won awards in London and New York. A road company starring Stacy Keach as RN toured across America.
In 2008 it was made into a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Oscar-nominated film directed by Ron Howard, with Frank Langella reprising his West End and Broadway role. The Morgan-Grandage-Howard-Langella version introduced a new generation of worldwide play and moviegoers to the notion of a smart, witty, complex, and compelling Richard Nixon.
It’s possible that President Obama’s thinking about his thirty-seventh predecessor has been influenced by the most recent milestone passed between ’74 and today — which came last August from a little-suspected source. In his column in the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein wrote about Edward Kennedy, who had died three days before: “Asked about his greatest regret as a legislator, Ted Kennedy would usually cite his refusal to cut a deal with Richard Nixon on health care.”
Writing in Newsweek , J. Lester Feder expounded on this idea:
It must pain those fond of Senator Ted Kennedy that his death comes just when the current health-reform effort is threatened by the same kind of attacks that tanked previous efforts. In fact, the Obama health-reform package Kennedy supported in his last days is similar to one Kennedy helped defeat when proposed by President Richard Nixon. If anything, the Obama plan is more conservative. Nixon would have mandated that all employers offer coverage to their employees, while creating a subsidized government insurance program for all Americans that employer coverage did not reach. It would take a miracle to pass such a plan today—a public insurance plan and an employer mandate are two provisions of the proposals now in Congress that are most in doubt.
RN had no illusions about the time it would take for history to be ready and able to assess him realistically and objectively. In RN, he described the scene as he left the Oval Office after delivering his resignation speech on the night of 8 August 1974:
Kissinger was waiting for me in the corridor. He said, “Mr. President, after most of your major speeches in this office we have walked together back to your house. I would be honored to walk with you again tonight.”
As we walked past the dark Rose Garden, Kissinger’s voice was low and sad. He said that he thought that historically this would rank as one of the great speeches and that history would judge me one of the great Presidents. I turned to him and said, “that depends, Henry, on who writes the history.” At the door of the Residence I thanked him and we parted.
RN was aware that the process of historical rehabilitation is usually measured more in centuries than decades. Privately, he thought that fifty years (the passage of two generations and their passions) would be the minimum amount of time required. (The most recent example, David McCulloch’s Truman, had appeared twenty years after HST died and four decades after he left office with a 22% approval rating and mired by scandals.)
Now, thanks to President Obama’s Oslo imprimatur, the timetable for reconsideration has been considerably moved forward. It may even be that in 2010 —twenty years after RN’s Library opened and sixteen years after his death— it might be well begun; and, that by his 100th birthday in 2013, it might even be well under way.
A Once and Future Slogan: a bumper strip from the 1972 campaign.
President Obama mentioned RN in his Nobel acceptance speech. Michael Goodwin of the New York Post perceptively notes what the president left out:
“In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, [Richard] Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies,” Obama said. And later: “Ronald Reagan‘s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe.”
The examples are glib, but intriguing if Obama intends to practice what he preaches. Nixon and Reagan were able to engage the communist powers after first earning reputations as fierce anti-communists. Because they were committed Cold Warriors, they could make lasting peace.
…It is surely a hopeful sign Obama had the courage to cite Nixon and Reagan in Oslo and recognize their historic achievements. It would be infinitely better if he would follow their example and win the peace in our time through strength.
One legacy of the Nixon Administration that has never ceased to enjoy widespread popularity in America is the tradition of “panda diplomacy,” in which the People’s Republic of China sends giant pandas to the National Zoo, to the delight of visitors of all ages.
This saga began some weeks after President Nixon’s visit to the PRC in 1972, when Chinese leader Mao Zedong sent two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to the National Zoo. They were the Zoo’s most popular attractions by far until they died in the 1990s, the two oldest pandas to survive in captivity. During their decades in Washington, efforts were made to breed them, but all the offspring died after a few days.
In 2000, the PRC sent two pandas to replace them. Unlike Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, which were gifts to the United States, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are on loan to this country. For five years, the two new animals enjoyed an effective monopoly on American panda-mania.
That changed in 2005, when the black-and-white couple welcomed a son. According to Chinese tradition pandas are not given names until they are 100 days old, so it was not until then that the youngster was christened Tai Shan. But a zoo worker’s remark that the animal, at birth, weighed about as much as an average stick of butter resulted in the nickname by which the panda is far better known.
For the four years since his birth, “Butterstick” has effortlessly projected a charisma unequaled by any other Washington resident, including the current President, and each year on his birthday, thousands descend on the zoo to celebrate, lining up to wait for hours before opening time.
But all good things must, sometime, come to an end, and Tai Shan is no exception. From his birth he belonged to the PRC, under the terms of the agreement which brought his parents to the Zoo, and that nation had the right to ask for his return. This month, the Chinese government asked for his return, and so “Butterstick” must leave the zoo before long, probably at the end of next month. But he’ll be long, long remembered by a city, and a nation, for whom he provided countless hours of fascination and joy. And as he leaves, he has the distinction of being part of a great tradition founded by the two leaders who shook hands in Beijing twenty-seven years ago.