John Aloysius Farrell: Richard Nixon ... A Very American President

John Aloysius Farrell is the author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned and Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century. He is currently writing a book on Richard Nixon.

On this, the 100th birthday of Richard Nixon, the slogan from his first campaign for Congress is the salient fact: "One of us." His dreams were ours -- and so, in the end, were his sins.

The life of no president says more about this country. Nixon's accomplishments sing of the finest American attributes -- daring, audacity, resilience and grit. His fall is an incantation of the nation's flaws, of meanness, prejudice, avarice and corruption.

We live in a world that Nixon made. His February 1972 opening to China -- that planet-stunning handshake with Mao -- set the earth's peoples on a new and liberating course. It was the first great crack in the Iron Curtain; a bell tolling for the Soviet Union and the Cold War, an indispensible step toward an integrated world economy that would lift billions from want and grant them, as he so hoped, a measure of peace.

"What a vision must exist then now in Nixon," marveled Norman Mailer that summer in Miami and the Siege of Chicago. "What a dream to save the land."

Nine months after his return from China, Nixon won re-election by the largest margin of any president since George Washington, carrying every state but Massachusetts.

Then, debacle...

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