Dawn in America: The Unsung Presidency of Richard Nixon
With the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California re-opening in October 2016 after a $15 million renovation that began more than 10 years ago, interest in the 37th president’s political career is exploding. Resigning the presidency in 1974 because of the Watergate scandal, Nixon authored his memoir and several books about international diplomacy.
Though respected as an analyst by his Oval Office successors, Nixon never recovered in the public eye—at least not fully—from the ignominy of Watergate, which began with five Republican operatives breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. It was the first layer in a canyon of conspiracy, payoffs, and illegal wiretapping leading to Nixon’s impeachment hearings and resignation. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the burglary story, uncovered the conspiracy, and became models of investigative journalism.
Watergate was a knockout punch to the nation’s psyche, already pummeled for the previous decade by riots in urban areas, a presidential assassination, and a war that killed nearly 60,000 American soldiers and maimed thousands of others, both physically and emotionally. Future scandals, presidential and otherwise, often have the suffix “–gate” attached to their names because of Watergate’s import as a symbol of scandal.
While the spotlight has shone on the detonation, explosion, and fallout of Watergate for the past 40 years, Nixon’s presidential successes remain in the shadows. Until now.
Using novelistic detail, Dawn in America: The Unsung Presidency of Richard Nixon fills a void in presidential scholarship by revealing the rationale, drama, and genesis of Nixon’s groundbreaking achievements in seven areas:
- S.-Russia diplomacy: Signing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, engaging in Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, defusing a second Cuban Missile Crisis, and aiding Israel in the Yom Kippur War against Russian allies in the Arab world
- Discrimination: Signing Title IX to prevent gender discrimination in higher education, establishing the right of Native Americans to govern themselves according to tribal law, and desegregating southern schools
- Environment: Creating the Environmental Protection Agency and signing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Mammal Marine Protection Act.
- S.-China diplomacy: Beginning diplomatic relations with China during the first U.S. presidential visit
- Space: Authorizing the creation of the Space Shuttle
- Military: Ending the military draft, signing the Paris Peace Accords to end the Vietnam War, and hosting 1,300 Prisoners of War in the largest ever White House reception
- Medicine: Signing the National Cancer Act, which made cancer a national priority, began a new era of cancer research with $100 million in funding, and ignited a severe decline in cancer deaths
Dawn in America is not, in any way, a conservative whitewash. Rather, it is a contrarian view of a flawed man, a beleaguered nation, and a diminished presidency that never got its due as a paramount of progress. The book’s title is influenced by the “Morning in America” slogan of President Ronald Reagan, who became the Republican Party standard bearer in the 1980s.
Politics fueled Richard Milhous Nixon, trekking him from the childhood house that his father built for their poor Quaker family in Orange County, California to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a Horatio Alger rise prefacing a Shakespearean fall.
The second of five brothers, Nixon grew up with a streak of perseverance in the face of tragedy; one brother died at the age of 16, another at 24. After graduating from Duke Law School on a full scholarship, Nixon practiced law before enlisting in the United States Navy during World War II. In the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command, Lieutenant Nixon’s duties involved logistics to support pilots.
After the war, he received a promotion to Lieutenant Commander before being relieved of active duty in early 1946. Beginning his political career with a successful run for the 12th congressional district in northern California that same year, Nixon made his mark as a Republican icon during the Red Scare when politicians feared Communist infiltration everywhere between the Capitol Dome and the Hollywood Sign. Spearheading the prosecution—some say persecution—of Alger Hiss, whom he considered to be a Russian spy, made him a darling of conservatives.
A successful Senate election in 1950 set the foundation for being the vice presidential running mate of former General Dwight Eisenhower, who led the Allies to defeat the Nazis in World War II’s European Theater; the Eisenhower-Nixon Republican ticket won the White House in 1952 and 1956.
Nixon’s “Checkers Speech” was, perhaps, the defining moment of the 1952 presidential campaign—the vice presidential candidate confronted allegations of misdeeds concerning campaign finances by claiming the only personal gift received was Checkers, the family dog. In 1960, Nixon ran for president against John F. Kennedy. It was the first presidential election to have televised debates; Nixon refused makeup, appeared tired, and suffered defeat—at the debates and at the polls—to the youthful, charismatic, and rested Kennedy.
A heartbreaking moment followed in 1962, when he claimed, upon losing the California gubernatorial race, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.” Before appearing as a guest on The Mike Douglas Show in the mid-1960s, Nixon had a “come to Jesus” moment when producer Roger Ailes—future political and media scion—convinced him that television governed political campaigns. Under Ailes’s tutelage, Nixon won two presidential elections.
Nixon’s attitudes were old-fashioned to his supporters and medieval to his detractors—he called Jews “aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious,” kept an “Enemies List” filled with opponents from media and politics, and, on the day after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, endorsed abortion only if it involved an interracial couple or a rape. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Nixon appears to be a kinder, gentler Donald Trump. While the Kardashianization of the political climate has flooded the national conversation with sensationalism, Dawn in America will be an oasis, attracting attention from media starving for substantive debate.
Archives of President Nixon, his advisers, and his opponents will animate political battles, victories, and disappointments of the Nixon administration. Contemporaneous news accounts and Nixon’s body of authorship will also be used as source material, in addition to interviews with White House staffers, Republican contemporaries, Democratic opponents, White House reporters during the Nixon administration, and Nixon family members revealing the humanity of the only president to resign.
Dawn in America will appeal to political buffs, historians, students, the World War II generation, Baby Boomers, and just about anyone who watches cable news, reads the Drudge Report, listens to talk radio, or watches the Sunday morning political shows.