Richard Milhous Nixon‘s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 100 years old.
He is the most influential president of my generation. The Republican party today is the inevitable extension of his Southern Strategy in the late 1960s. That strategy worked for the GOP for almost 50 years, but it has led to a shrinking party of regional appeal.
The party has gone so far to the right, however, that Nixon would today be considered a flaming liberal.
There are lots of stories that humanize the only president ever to resign from office. Here are a couple:
According to the Nixon Library, he met Thelma Catherine Ryan at a rehearsal for a community play in which they were both acting. According to PBS’s American Experience, he pursued her for more than two years, “even driving her to Los Angeles on weekends when she had dates with other men, then waiting around to take her home again.”
Nixon served in the Navy during WWII and, despite his Quaker upbringing (which forbade gambling), played poker to combat the boredom while he was stationed in the South Pacific. Navy Officer James Stewart told PBS’s American Experience that Nixon won between $6,000 and $7,000 playing poker, money that he would use to fund his first major political campaign four years later.
One thing about Nixon that’s still hard to figure out is how he let the Watergate scandal happen. Remember, he was running against George McGovern, who ran a horrible campaign (complete anarchy at the 1972 Democratic convention and the unfortunate pick of Tom Eagleton, who had gone through “shock therapy” for depression, as his running mate.) There was no way Nixon could have lost in 1972. But he managed to have a deadly version of the Keystone Kops working for his campaign, and everything fell apart by 1974.
- Five Fascinating Facts About Richard Nixon on His 100th Birthday (usnews.com)
- 10 Things You May Not Know About Richard Nixon (history.com)
- Nixon at 100: A model for GOP? (cnn.com)
- 100 years of Nixon: Tan, rested and ready (maddowblog.msnbc.com)