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