Steps of an Exiled President

A Review of The Presidency of Richard Nixon
by Melvin Small

Author Biography

Melvin Small is currently a professor at Wayne State University. He received his Ph.D at the University of Michigan after receiving his B.A. from Dartmouth College. He has focused his research on writing on the postwar era, Vietnam War, antiwar movement and President Johnson and Nixon. Small is currently the department head at Wayne State University and the author of five books regarding the Nixon presidency and the Vietnam War.

Richard M. Nixon. When one hears the name, more often than not, biased thoughts of the former President come to mind. Beyond the disaster of Watergate, Nixon may be viewed as a “pragmatic opportunist whose achievements in foreign policy were less impressive than commonly believed, whose successes in the domestic field have been thus far underappreciated.”1 The author of The Presidency of Richard Nixon, Melvin Small, gives a thorough and balanced review of President Nixon’s character and accomplishments while giving praise to his successful domestic programs and condemning his celebrated foreign policies.

Small’s book on Nixon is successful in creating a nonbiased review on the former President’s life, domestic programs and foreign policies. Small begins his account of President Nixon’s life by giving information of the president’s birth. Despite harsh living conditions and financial troubles, Richard Nixon is depicted as an optimistic young boy who took a variety of jobs in order to help support his struggling family. In addition to the enormous task of helping to support the family, Nixon “was the valedictorian and president of his eighth-grade class, finished third in his high school class in 1930, was second in his college class in 1934, and was third in his law school class in 1937.”2 Eventually, Nixon joined the Wingert and Bewley law firm, with the help of his mother who had gone to college with Tom Bewley, in the summer of 1937. While attending college in Whittier, CA, Nixon met the love of his life and “told the incredulous Pat that he was going to marry her.”3 After pursuing Patricia Ryan persistently for more than two years, she accepted his proposal of marriage in March 1940. The couple then married on June 21, 1940 and honeymooned in Mexico. After his marriage, Nixon joined the Office of Price Administration then went on to become a lieutenant in the army. Although Nixon never saw combat, he adopted the nickname “Fighting Quaker” when he ran for Congress in 1946. The Alger Hiss Case helped raise Nixon to national prominence and helped him win by over 700,000 votes and become the second youngest Senator at age 37. After joining the Senate, Nixon went on to become Eisenhower’s running mate and the second youngest vice president. However, Nixon’s career was almost destroyed when news of a secret political fund leaked out. In order to stop his political career from falling apart, Nixon explained the fund on TV and convinced the public to side with him 350:1. Although Nixon was an admirable Vice President, Eisenhower recommended that Nixon not run again. However, Nixon set his sights on the Presidency when he chose Henry Lodge as his Vice Presidential running mate. Small reveals Nixon’s abuse of power early on when the FBI helped Nixon’s election by providing information on Kennedy’s family and foreign issues. Regardless of the FBI’s efforts, Kennedy won the presidency from Nixon who went on to write his well known book, Six Crises. After losing the election, Nixon moved to California and agreed to run for California Governorship. Unlike the close presidential election, Nixon lost miserably in the race for the Governorship of California. After his miserable defeat, President Kennedy questioned Nixon’s mental stability when Nixon proclaimed “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”4 Regardless of his previous statement, Nixon went on to become President after winning the electoral vote by 301:191:46. When Nixon came into office, many anti-war movements were beginning in both America and Europe. In accordance with his Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and Women’s Rights Act; Nixon attempted to create variety when choosing his White House staff. Also, to keep the White House fit to face new issues, Nixon consistently reorganized the White House and had over 33 cabinet heads in 5 years. While consistently facing new problems, Nixon attempted to end the Vietnam War quickly and reached peace on January 27, 1973.

When Nixon was being inaugurated into the presidency, he proclaimed that “after a period of confrontation, we are entering an era of negotiations.”5 Nixon started pushing for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks when he saw that the Soviet Union was becoming a “normal” great power. Once talks with the Soviet Union were going well, Nixon attempted to pressure the Soviet Union into convincing North Vietnam to enter peace talks with the United States. Eventually, China replaced the United States as the biggest threat to the Soviet Union. In order to keep battles from occurring, Nixon warned Moscow that the United States would side with China if the Soviet Union were to attack. When Nixon got the Soviet Union to agree to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the United States had more tactical weapons and nuclear submarines than the Soviet Union. When the SALT talks began, Nixon hosted Brezhnev personally in the summer of 1973. Nixon and his supporters believed that peace with the Soviet Union and China would last and that the Vietnam War was coming to a halt. However, during the peaceful times in the US, Israel had won the Six Days War in 1967 and gained Golan Heights. The Nixon administration soon made a plan for peace in the Middle East. Nixon’s advisor, Kissinger, believed that the Middle East would come to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was weak and turn to the United States for help. Kissinger believed this would happen because the Soviet Union was unable to help the Middle East achieve what they wanted. In turn, the Soviet Union would join Syria and test the United States’ friendship with Israel and pressure the US to convince Israel to give a cease fire. Although much was going on with foreign affairs, Nixon was working to help solve domestic issues. Although little credit is given to Nixon for his domestic programs “it becomes clear that welfare-state programs and government regulatory bodies, against which Nixon railed during the 1968 campaign, actually flourished on his watch.”6 Despite the many domestic programs Nixon created, he only forwarded 12 percent of his programs to Congress. However, of those 12 percent, four anticrime bills were sent, of which RICO which was passed in 1970, was the most important. In affect with the anticrime bills, campus violence went down in schools in 1972, but increased again in 1973. In an attempt to help lower the crime rate, many programs were created to help with drug abuse. Because of these programs, Nixon appealed to many who were disturbed by the rise of Black Power. In addition to helping fight crime, Nixon introduced many welfare plans to help the many Americans that were dependent on welfare. In addition, Nixon was the first President to submit an energy program to Congress in 1971.

Behind the genius of foreign peace talks and domestic programs, Nixon was “fundamentally relatively shy and could not ‘really let my hair down with anyone’”7 Strangely, Nixon spent most of his time alone and boasted that breakfast and lunch would only take him five minutes to finish alone. Because of his shyness and aloofness, Nixon rarely talked with the lower staff in the White House. Strangely, Nixon stressed that he wanted his wife to have more publicity and less for himself in order to help open up the White House. Another aspect of Nixon was that he was largely supportive of the arts. Nixon boasted of the “high quality of music at the White House”8 Nixon also recognized the importance of Elvis Presley when he agreed to meet him on December 21, 1970. During the meeting, Presley even told the President that he could help push an antidrug message to the youth. Like many people, President Nixon was against drug usage, but didn’t mind the use of alcohol. As reported from his aides, Nixon was often drunk to excess.

During the preparation for reelection, Nixon had over $1,668,000 from the 1968 election. In addition to the large amount of money left over from the previous election, Nixon controlled over two million dollars in private funds. Once reelected in 1972, he formally asked for everyone’s resignation. However, this act was a “mistake because it created a morale problem.”9 The reason behind this sudden move was the desire to completely reorganize the government. By this reorganization, Nixon hoped to decrease the size in the government by taking away some of the budget. Soon after, the break in at Watergate occurred while Nixon was away on vacation. While Nixon was suffering from the Watergate scandal, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution which would require the President to report to Congress within 48 hours of committing US troops to combat and to get permission after 60 days, a bill which Nixon promptly vetoed. However, Nixon was about to be impeached. Being a step ahead of Congress, Nixon resigned from office and flew to San Clemente, CA, on August 9, 1974, in exile. Soon after, President Ford pardoned Nixon and stopped all trials on the former President. However, because of the Presidential pardon, President Ford’s ratings dropped from 71 percent to 49 percent.

Melvin Small depicts Nixon as a realistic opportunist who was underappreciated for his domestic improvements and over celebrated for his foreign negotiations. Small does an excellent job in backing up his thesis by praising Nixon’s domestic programs while criticizing the foreign policies. However, a weakness of this work is that it “is weak in analysis and evaluation”10. Rather it gives a descriptive recount of events that occurred during the Nixon presidency. However, for the time period, there is an attempt made for no bias. Small did an excellent job in keeping the review very balanced and impartial. Because of this, the book gives an excellent account of the events that occurred. However, because of its unbiased view, it contains no analysis and evaluation.

Michael A. Genovese reviewed the work by Melvin Small and made several conclusions. The first note he makes is that the book is well-to-do because it is updated with new archival material. However, Genovese notes that Small sped over the darker side of the Nixon administration. Because of this, one would be unable to fully understand Nixon and his presidency. Lastly, Genovese states that the work is “good for reviewing policy, less so on process. Managerial concerns get little attention, and the dynamics of personal interactions and their impact on policy are underdeveloped.”11 The review ends with the conclusion that “Small presents a balanced, cold, descriptive analysis of the Nixon presidency.”12

Bruce Kuklick starts off with saying there are “only thirty pages on Nixon before 1969 and only fifteen pages on him after 1974.”13 Kuklick analyzes Smalls work by stating Small was eager to “issue report cards on our political leaders.”14 Small’s approach to Nixon was to group all topics thematically and to quote comments that were off the record, recalled from aides or recorded by the tapes. Kuklick ends with the note that Small amplified showing how politics changed Nixon from being a human to a “suspicious and mean spirited president.”15

Small does an excellent job on giving an account of the events with extreme detail but lacks in analysis. Because of this, the work fails to interest the reader. After the first few pages, very little is mentioned of Richard Nixon’s childhood life and does not give an introduction to the biography of the President. Secondly, Small rushes to state the foreign policies were over celebrated while the domestic programs did not get the praise they needed. However, Small does an excellent job in relating “Nixon’s personal views on race and how these views shaped U.S. policy toward Sub-Saharan Africa.”16

Nixon has left many impressions on American history since the Watergate scandal and his presidency. Although many are split upon whether Nixon’s presidency was a success or failure, it is impossible to think of his “years in the White House without considering his character and the scandals that led to his resignation."17 However, Nixon has positively affected American political history by leaving many successful domestic and foreign policy programs.

From the beginning of Nixon’s presidency to his resignation, Nixon has left both a positive and negative impression in American political history. In Nixon’s self evaluation “Nixon always began with foreign policy.”18 Although Nixon did end the Vietnam War, and create the détente with the Soviet Union which eventually led to the solution for the cold war, the process in how Nixon and Kissinger operated left a negative impact on American political practices today. Richard Nixon. One of the most controversial presidents to ever be elected. From being the creator of many domestic programs, the weaver of peace in foreign affairs to a mean spirited president, Richard Nixon is one of the hardest presidents to understand because of his “controversial personality and character.”19

review by David S. Kim

  1. Genovese, Michael. “Presidential Studies Quarterly: The Presidency of Richard Nixon.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 07 March 2000: page 1
  2. Small, Melvin. The Presidency of Richard Nixon. Lawrence Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1999. page 4
  3. Small, Melvin 6
  4. Small, Melvin 22
  5. Small, Melvin 97
  6. Small, Melvin 153
  7. Small, Melvin 215
  8. Small, Melvin 219
  9. Small, Melvin 269
  10. Genovese, Michael 2
  11. Genovese, Michael 2
  12. Genovese, Michael 2
  13. Genovese, Michael 2
  14. Kuklick, Bruce Philadelphia Pennsylvania page 1
  15. Kuklick, Bruce 2
  16. Kuklick, Bruce 2
  17. Genovese, Michael 1
  18. Small, Melvin 309
  19. Small, Melvin 309
  20. Small, Melvin 1

© 2006 Irvine High School

Optimized for viewing in Mozilla Firefox, 1024x768