Richard Nixon on Government Reform

President of the U.S., 1968-1974


1970: 18-year-old vote in law & then Amendment

[I disagreed with] the decision of the Democratic Congress and President Nixon to impose the 18-year-old vote on the states. In extending the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Congress in 1970 added a rider declaring that 18-year-olds had the right to vote in federal elections. This was blatantly unconstitutional.

As a special assistant, this writer urged President Nixon to veto the bill. For presidents take an oath to defend the Constitution, and Nixon himself believed the 18-year-old vote could not be accomplished by statute. As Nixon wrote:

"As passed, the bill contained a 'rider' which I believe to be unconstitutional: a provision lowering the voting age to 18 in Federal, State and local elections. Although I strongly favor the 18-year-old vote, I believe--along with most of the Nation's leading constitutional scholars--that Congress has no power to enact it by simple stature, but rather it requires a constitutional amendment."

Source: Suicide of a Superpower, by Pat Buchanan, p.334 , Oct 18, 2011

1960s Enemies List: 20 journalists & public officials


This hyperbolic treatment of Fox News recalls nothing so much as former president Richard Nixon's enemies list--a collection of 20 journalists and public officials the administration saw as especially biased against them. In 2009, Obama's staff said the White House would treat Fox News "the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Obama and the White House, we don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations Those on Nixon's list found themselves audited by the IRS and harassed by the federal government. Some even were wiretapped by the FBI. The list included nationally syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, whose reputation for exposing corruption in both parties and at all levels of government was without parallel. It also listed Pulitzer Prize winners.

Source: Take Back America, by Dick Morris, p.121 , Apr 13, 2010

OpEd: Instituted ideology basis for judicial nominations

Prior to Nixon's administration, Supreme Court nominations were made based on suitable judicial temperament, experience, integrity, independence, and knowledge of the law, and there was a strong bias in favor of confirmation. Nixon skewed the process by substituting political ideology for judicial independence. For many of us, that change in nomination procedures meant a change in the level of confirmation scrutiny.

The first confrontation erupted in July 1969. Nixon's choice was a solid southern conservative: Clement Haynsworth. Several civil rights groups declared their intention to oppose him, charging that Haynsworth had contrived to undercut the mandates of Brown v. Board of Education when the law required him to expedite school desegregation. His confirmation was rejected.

The Senate's repudiation of the president's chosen candidate was a game changer. A president's nominees would no longer be rubber-stamped by a compliant Senate.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.316-317 , Sep 14, 2009

Campaigned on reining in the liberalism of the Supreme Court

The Warren Court, led by Earl Warren through 1969, had transformed American law; many of his Court's decisions quickly worked their way into the permanent substructure of American law. Richard Nixon won the presidency in part by promising to rein in the liberalism of the Court, but even though he had the good fortune to name four justices in three years, the law itself wound up little changed.

Under Warren Burger, whom Nixon named to succeed Earl Warren, the Court in some respects became more liberal than ever. It was under Burger that the court approved the use of school busing, expanded free speech well beyond Sullivan, forced Nixon himself to turn over the Watergate tapes, and even, for a time, ended all executions in the US. Roe v. Wade, the abortion rights decision that still defines judicial liberalism, passed by a 7-2 vote in 1973, with three of the four Nixon nominees in the majority.

Source: The Nine, by Jeffrey Toobin, Chapter One , Sep 9, 2008

"Practical liberalism" instead of government control

A local business group, the Committee of 100, hoped to unseat Democrat Voorhis, the 10-year incumbent seeking reelection. Nixon would run, he promised in a letter sent the next day, "an aggressive, vigorous campaign" on a platform of "practical liberalism."

Within the month, Nixon was back in Los Angeles, telling 8 wealthy leaders of the Committee of 100 what its members wanted very much to hear. "There were two ways of looking at American's economic future'" the young man in his navy officer's uniform said. "One, advocated by the New Deal, is government control in regulating our lives. The other calls for individual freedom and all that initiative can produce. I subscribe to the second view. I believe the returning veterans, and I have talked to many of them in the foxholes, will not be satisfied with a dole or a government handout."

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 34 , Jun 3, 1996

1952 headline: "Secret Nixon Fund" led to resignation call

Richard Nixon was asked by a journalist about a "fund" that a group of CA businessman had raised for him. An unconcerned vice-presidential nominee pounded away at the ticket's #1 selling point: "Who can clean up the mess in Washington?" he led the crowd. "Ike can!" Across the continent, the headlines of the archliberal New York Post screamed "Secret Nixon Fund" from its front page.

Richard Nixon was being taken to public account for the patronage of CA businessman like those who had set him up politically in late 1945. Suddenly, he found himself facing the first scandal of his career, one that could cost Dwight Eisenhower the presidency. Not even a Nixon-ordered audit showing that none of the contributed money had gone to his private use could appease Eisenhower.

As the rumors of the "fund" spread, the outlook for Nixon grew dark. The New York Herald Tribune, an exuberant backer of Eisenhower, called for Nixon to resign his nomination.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 81-82 , Jun 3, 1996

Term-limiting president, to 6 years or 8, is a bad idea

As the day approaches when a President can no longer do something to or for someone, his power will begin to erode. That is one reason why 2nd terms of Presidents are not as productive as 1st terms. That is why limiting a President to one 6-year term, a reform that is a current favorite with political scientists, is not a good idea.

As a congressman in 1947, I voted for the 22nd Amendment limiting Presidents to 2 terms. Pres. Eisenhower, who under no circumstances would have sought a 3rd term, thought the amendment was a mistake. Since leaving office, President Reagan, who probably could have been reelected to a 3rd term, has campaigned for its repeal. I was wrong, and they were right.

The problems facing the country at home and abroad are so great today that we cannot afford weak congressional government. We need strong Presidential leadership. Arbitrarily limiting the President's tenure, either by imposing a 6-year term or retaining the 22nd Amendment, reduces the President's power enormously.

Source: In The Arena, by Richard Nixon, p.240-241 , Apr 1, 1991

Great statesmen should retire when just past their prime

A person who is getting older in the public eye must think not only about what old age means for him but also how it makes him appear to everyone else. They should follow the example of Ted Williams, who retired when he was still good but past his prime and who hit a home run his last time at bat. Great statesmen who stay on the stage longer than they should can perhaps be forgiven for it, since they are the kind who must keep power to stay alive.
Source: In The Arena, by Richard Nixon, p.426 , Apr 1, 1991

OpEd: Nixon treated Watergate as public relations problem

At one point [on the Watergate tapes], Nixon turns to his men and asks, "How do you handle that PR wise?" A not unusual question for a President to ask in this age of images & public relations campaigns.

Watergate, too, it now seems clear from reading the 1,254 pages of Nixon transcripts, was regarded by the President and his most trusted advisers as essentially a PR problem. Traumatic and troubling, yes, but basically a problem to be handled by seizing the initiative, by minimizing the public impact, by bold and vigorous counterattacks. The Nixon men had a phrase for it: getting out in front. If successful, they would put the President "on top" and out of reach.

As the drama slowly unfolds inside the White House, the Nixon men continually debate their PR and political strategies. They weigh the consequences of each possible move, rehearse their public statements, and constantly changing "scenarios," draft imaginary news accounts to determine the public reaction, check and counter-check.

Source: The Presidential Transcripts, by H. Johnson, p. xxxi-xxxiii , May 1, 1974

Nations change, they adapt, or they slowly die

As we approach our 200th anniversary in 1976, we remember that this Nation launched itself as a loose confederation of separate States, without a workable central government. At that time, the mark of its leaders' vision was that they quickly saw the need to balance the separate powers of the States with a government of central powers.

For almost 2 centuries since, the Nation grew and the Nation prospered. But one thing history tells us is that no great movement goes in the same direction forever. Nations change, they adapt, or they slowly die.

The time has come for a new partnership between the Federal Government and the States and localities--a partnership in which we entrust the States and localities with a larger share of the Nation's responsibilities, and in which we share our Federal revenues with them so that they can meet those responsibilities.

To achieve this goal, I propose to the Congress tonight that we enact a plan of revenue sharing historic in scope and bold in concept.

Source: Pres. Nixon's 1971 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 22, 1971

Reduce from 12 Cabinet Departments to 8

I propose that we reduce the present 12 Cabinet Departments to eight. I propose that the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, and Justice remain, but that all the other departments be consolidated into four:
  1. Human Resources: dealing with the concerns of people--as individuals, as members of a family--focused on human needs.
  2. Community Development: dealing with rural communities and urban communities--and with all that it takes to make a community function as a community.
  3. Natural Resources: concerned with our physical environment, with the preservation and balanced use of those great natural resources.
  4. Economic Development: concerned with our prosperity--with our jobs, our businesses, and those many activities that keep our economy running.
Under this plan, rather than dividing up departments by narrow subjects, we would organize them around the great purposes of government. The time has come to match our structure to our purposes---to meet the new needs of a new era.
Source: Pres. Nixon's 1971 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 22, 1971

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Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
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Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022