Watergate and Afterward: The Legacy of Richard M. Nixon

By Leon Friedman; William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

Part II
Reexamining Nixon

Herbert S. Parmet remarked at the Conference that Richard Nixon was the "dominant political figure of the postwar period." Yet even those who spent their professional careers studying him--his biographers--were baffled by Nixon, the man, his motivations, goals, hopes, and fears. Roger Morris emphasized the roots from which he sprang, Southern California and the factionalism of the Republican party in the postwar years, all of which left important imprints on Nixon. Stephen E. Ambrose focuses on Nixon's relations with and contrast to Dwight Eisenhower, who was his mentor and idol, and for whom he did so much nasty political work. And Herbert S. Parmet saw Nixon as the embodiment of the postwar conservative reaction to the social welfare politics of the prior decades.

Part of the difficulty in understanding and writing about Nixon has been due to the lack of research materials from his presidency. James J. Hastings, the deputy director of the Nixon Presidential Materials Project of the National Archives, describes the legal status of the Nixon presidential materials and the special legal restrictions governing their access and release. Joan Hoff-Wilson explains how these legal restrictions on access and the ability of Nixon's representative to challenge the release of broad categories of papers has made it very difficult to research important segments of his administration.

A final assessment of the Nixon legacy is examined in papers by Barry D. Riccio and Sherri Cavan, who focus on the difficulties of trying to place him in either the liberal or conservative mold. H. R. Haldeman and Robert H. Finch, who worked with him over a number of years, point out the many contradictions in the man. Finally, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., evaluates Nixon in the "long trajectory of American history."

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