Richard M. Nixon Panel Addresses President’s Evolving Legacy

Richard M. Nixon Panel Addresses President’s Evolving Legacy

Edward Nixon
Edward Nixon T '52, brother of Richard Nixon and president of Nixon World Enterprises, a service company based in Washington State, speaks at the panel discussion. He continues to be heavily involved with both the Richard Nixon Foundation and the Nixon Presidential Library.

Twenty-eight years after Richard M. Nixon ’37 resigned as president, a panel of Nixon experts, including his younger brother Edward, gathered at Duke Law on Nov. 14 to discuss his legacy at the School and the changes he wrought on the nation and the world. With a room full of Duke Law alumni, students, faculty and guests looking on, panel members addressed some of the questions and criticisms left behind by the former president, who resigned in 1974 and died in 1994.

David Lange, a professor of law at Duke who started his Law School career during the Nixon era, moderated the discussion of Nixon’s life and legacy, including his presidency, resignation among discussions of impeachment, and subsequent writings and public service. The panelists took a decidedly kind view of Nixon, who remains one of the nations most controversial presidents.

Edward Nixon, who graduated from Duke University in 1952, shared his views on his brother’s early years at Duke as well as the presidency and Richard Nixon’s later years. The legacy of Richard Nixon, he said, is not entwined with questions of his portrait or presidential library, neither of which is housed at Duke. It resides in the minds of the people around the world, many of whom consider Nixon a far greater president than do Americans.

“The impression we get around the world is something different than we have here,” he said. “But the Americans are starting to come around.” Edward Nixon also said his brother’s intellect and writings, even after his resignation, should not be underestimated. “What I appreciate most are the books that he wrote…” he said. “There is a lot of wisdom in them.”

Nixon Panel
From left, Edward Nixon T '52, brother of Richard Nixon; Raymond Price Jr., Nixon speech writer; 2L Randy Cook, organizer of the event; Philip Lacovara, counsel to the Watergate special prosecutor; Ole Holsti, Duke University professor of political science. Not pictured is event moderator David Lange, professor of law, Duke University.

Raymond Price Jr., former special consultant to the president and head of his research and writing staff, spoke of the close ties he had with the former president, both during and after the presidency. Price characterized President Nixon as “a man of large vision who knew the world, whose actions were calculated and consequential in the arena in which he fought…Millions of people who have only known the defeats will live more safely because of his victories.” One of the biggest victories, said Price, echoed by other panelists, was the improvement of U.S. relations with China, a potential superpower.

Ole Holsti, the George V. Allen professor of political science at Duke University, spoke of the many foreign policy achievements of President Nixon. Professor Holsti pointed out argued that the environment in which Nixon started his presidency – including the conflict in Vietnam and an unfriendly Congress at home – was among the worst in history. Yet Nixon’s achievements during his six years in office were superior, Holsti said. Although Nixon might have failed in some arenas, he made great strides elsewhere, such as China.

Philip Lacovara, who was counsel to the Watergate prosecutor and argued the Nixon tapes case before the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke of the many legal milestones Nixon set. Lacovara, who also was an assistant Solicitor General in the Nixon administration, said the legal legacies of President Nixon often are overlooked. For good or for ill, Nixon was the only U.S. president to be a named party in four Supreme Court cases, he presided over the passage of the War Powers Resolution and the Independent Counsel Act – each with continuing relevance – and he was part of early discussions on campaign finance reform.

Edward Nixon said one of the greatest lessons he took from his brother was learned from Richard Nixon’s final book, Beyond Peace. “Never presume anything until you hear what others have to say, learn why they are what they are,” he summarized. “You may not like what they say, but don’t decide it beforehand.”

Students at Nixon lecture
2L Gray Chynoweth asks panelists about Richard Nixon's feelings about his experience with Duke Law School.

Raymond Price summed up the lessons he drew from Nixon by recounting a final trip Nixon took to Asia as an octogenarian. On that trip the former president met with numerous heads of state and their predecessors in China, Japan and elsewhere. The visits underscored Nixon’s ongoing efforts to understand the world, and the respect he received abroad for his own knowledge and perspective. “He wanted to pick everyone’s brain,” Price said. “Others wanted to pick his because they knew they could learn from him. He was always like this in post-presidency years, always trying to be useful to others.”

Edward Nixon, who repeatedly spoke of his brother’s reverence toward the presidency, despite impressions to the contrary based on the Watergate affair, told students at the end of the discussion what advice Richard Nixon would have given to subsequent presidents. “Whatever you do,” he said, “preserve the office.”

The panel was organized by 2L Randall Cook, who said the event was intended to ensure that “President Nixon’s legacy remains vital to the institution we want Duke Law to be, to the nation which we serve, and the future of the world we will engage.” Sponsors included the Program in Public Law, Duke Law Republicans, Duke Law Democrats, the Federalist Society, the American Constitution Society, Lawyers as Leaders, the International Law Society, the Office of External Relations and the Office of Student Affairs.

To view the event, see Webcasts.