Bill Whalen: The Many What-if's of Richard Nixon

Bill Whalen follows California and national politics at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and was chief speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson.

A century ago on Jan. 9, Richard Nixon was born in a Southern California agricultural subdivision dubbed Yorba Linda, in a 900-square-foot mail-order house assembled by his father.

The centennial of America's 37th president won't be met with much fanfare beyond this weekend's wreath-laying at that home and a Nixon Foundation dinner Wednesday in Washington. Although the Nixon Library has other centennial-related events planned for 2013, there's little of the hoopla that accompanied the 100th birthday of California's other president, Ronald Reagan, two years ago.

Like another former Republican president, Nixon is a victim of unfortunate political timing. Herbert Hoover's centennial, in 1974, came just two days after Nixon resigned from the presidency. Nixon's centennial comes two months after a bad election for Republicans, and his party is not exactly in a celebratory mood. By contrast, the ever-lucky Reagan's centennial came on the heels of the Republican landslide of 2010.

Still, Nixon's milestone is worth noting, beginning with his contributions to the political lexicon...

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