Political Life Bears Nixon's Indelible Mark Legacy Includes Watergate, Ties to China

Article excerpt

Bill Clinton's first major venture into politics was the effort to defeat Richard M. Nixon's re-election campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton's first job after law school was on the House Judiciary Committee staff working on Nixon's impeachment. Scores of the president's aides were first drawn to Washington as protesters of the war that Nixon prosecuted in Vietnam.

The nation, the world and the White House that President Clinton, his wife and the reigning Washington establishment inherited were immutably shaped by Nixon. The capital whose flags are flying at half staff Sunday morning bears the unmistakable mark of the president who left office in disgrace two decades ago.

Richard Milhous Nixon left a massive legacy when he died Friday evening. There were ties with Moscow and Beijing and a world safer from the dangers of nuclear holocaust. There were early salvos in the war to preserve the environment and initial steps on the road to rethinking welfare. There were sobering reminders of the importance of law in a democracy and even some surprising lessons about honor, dignity, renewal and redemption.

But Nixon's legacy goes beyond the scrapbook of controversies and achievement that span nearly a half-century of public life between the world of Alger Hiss and the world of Boris Yeltsin.

The more subtle, but more enduring, legacy of Nixon is apparent in almost every aspect of our politics.

President Clinton's remark that Nixon had left "his mark on his times as few national figures have done in our history" was no idle remark made from a sense of obligation and occasion.

Clinton entered the White House only by breaking a period of Republican domination of the South first envisioned, and first accomplished, by Nixon.

Once in office, Clinton targeted economic problems that have bedeviled six American presidents and that, in 1971, prompted Nixon to initiate wage-and-price controls. He undertook to overhaul the campaign-finance system whose dangers were brought to light in the Nixon years.

He sought to press through Congress major adjustments in a health care system that Nixon himself had sought to change. In Bosnia and in crises around the world, Clinton faces ghosts from the way Nixon conducted, and then extricated the nation from, the war in Southeast Asia.

And, in the Whitewater affair, Clinton found himself struggling against a Washington establishment and a press corps whose view of the rhythm, character and nature of scandals was formed and fixed by Watergate.

Though Nixon left the presidency two decades ago, his administration is the standard by which Washington and the White House are judged. …