What does Richard M. Nixon (RIP) mean to conservatives? Why do we freeze into a defensive clench when he is attacked? It certainly isn't because he was one of us. The 37th president of the United States was not a conservative.
A conservative would not have expanded the welfare state programs that had been created by his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson.
A conservative would have sought to reduce the scope of federal power, not increase it by creating whole new agencies with huge staffs, budgets and regulations like the Environmental Protection Agency.
A conservative would never have dreamed of imposing wage and price controls, thus violating a sacred tenet of conservatism - that central planning and control of an economy are always a disaster. (As soon as controls were lifted, inflation roared right back as prices assumed their correct places in the market economy.)
Nor would a conservative have taken the United States off the gold standard.
Most famously, and least conservatively, Nixon was the author of the policy of detente with the Soviet Union. (The opening to China was an unrelated policy - and sound strategy.)
The summits, handshakes and weapons treaties detente produced were huge hits with the press and public worldwide. But detente was actually a failure. If it was intended to produce a more pacific Soviet Union, it did the reverse. The toughs who ran the Soviet Union cynically exploited America's wish for "better relations."
One feature of the detente program was huge grain credits for the Soviet Union. We sold them American grain at a discount (sponsored by the taxpayers) and even gave them credits to pay for it.
We will never know whether our generosity postponed the day when the piper would have to be paid in Russia for the failure of Soviet agriculture to feed its people. But we do know this: The Soviets insisted that the grain be shipped in Soviet ships. And we further know that the Soviets sold our grain to countries like India for a tidy profit. They weren't bad capitalists, those communists.
But the centerpieces of detente were the arms treaties: SALT I, SALT II and the …