Historian and political scientist James MacGregor Burns observed of Nixon, "How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?" Nixon's biographers disagree on how he will be perceived by history. According to Ambrose, "Nixon wanted to be judged by what he accomplished. What he will be remembered for is the nightmare he put the country through in his second term and for his resignation." Irwin Gellman, who chronicled Nixon's congressional career, suggests that "he was remarkable among his congressional peers, a success story in a troubled era, one who steered a sensible anti-Communist course against the excess of McCarthy". Aitken feels that "Nixon, both as a man and as a statesman, has been excessively maligned for his faults and inadequately recognised for his virtues. Yet even in a spirit of historical revisionism, no simple verdict is possible."
Nixon's Southern Strategy is credited by some historians as causing the South to become a Republican stronghold, though others deem economic factors more important to the change. Throughout his career, he was instrumental in moving his party away from the control of isolationists, and as a congressman was a persuasive advocate of containing Soviet communism. According to his biographer, Herbert Parmet, "Nixon's role was to steer the Republican party along a middle course, somewhere between the competitive impulses of the Rockefellers, the Goldwaters, and the Reagans."
Nixon is given credit for his stance on domestic affairs, which resulted in the passage and enforcement of environmental and regulatory legislation. Historian Paul Charles Milazzo in his 2011 paper on Nixon and the environment, points to Nixon's creation of the EPA and his enforcement of legislation such as the 1973 Endangered Species Act, stating that "though unsought and unacknowledged, Richard Nixon's environmental legacy is secure."
Nixon saw his policies regarding Vietnam, China, and the Soviets as key to his place in history. George McGovern, Nixon's onetime opponent, commented in 1983, "President Nixon probably had a more practical approach to the two superpowers, China and the Soviet Union, than any other president since World War II ... With the exception of his inexcusable continuation of the war in Vietnam, Nixon really will get high marks in history." Political scientist Jussi M. Hanhimäki disagrees, saying Nixon's diplomacy was merely a continuation of the Cold War policy of containment, using diplomatic rather than military means.
Historian Keith W. Olson has written that Nixon left a negative legacy: fundamental mistrust of government with its roots in Vietnam and Watergate. During the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, both sides tried to use Nixon and Watergate to their advantage: Republicans suggested that Clinton's misconduct had been comparable to Nixon's, while Democrats contended that Nixon's actions had been far more serious than those of the incumbent. Another legacy, for a time, was a decrease in the power of the presidency as Congress passed restrictive legislation in the wake of Watergate. Olson suggests that grants of power to George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks restored the president's power.
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