Conservatives in an Age of Change: The Nixon and Ford Administrations

By James Reichley | Go to book overview

3
Richard Nixon

AT THE CORE of every modern presidency is the president himself. Henry Jones Ford's view that, "we deal with the oldest form of human governance: elected kingship" is perhaps extreme. 1 But few people would dispute Arthur Schlesinger's contention that Richard Nixon, when he entered the White House, was "on issues of war and peace the most absolute monarch (with the possible exception of Mao Tsetung of China) among the great powers of the world." 2 On domestic matters Nixon's authority, even within the executive branch, was more limited, though still very broad.

To what ends did Nixon bend this enormous power? What were his values, aspirations, and social goals? What vision, if any, did he hold for the United States?

This chapter traces the development of Nixon's general social and political attitudes. In later chapters I will take up the evolution of his beliefs and attitudes in foreign policy and other particular policy areas.


Formative Influences

Richard Milhous Nixon, born in 1913, grew up in two small southern California towns, Yorba Linda and Whittier, both close to Los Angeles, but not in those days true suburbs. His early years were far from easy. His father, Frank Nixon, seems not to have had the knack to succeed at business, or perhaps was simply unlucky, and the family endured severe economic hardship. Frank Nixon is said to have had

-41-

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