How Richard Nixon became 'the most environmentalist US president ever': journalist

How Richard Nixon became 'the most environmentalist US president ever': journalist

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, President Richard Nixon was considered an arch-conservative and had more than his share of detractors on the left. Nixon, dogged by the Watergate scandal and fearing the possibility of an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, resigned in August 1974. And his liberal and progressive critics found it ironic that someone who had campaigned aggressively on a law-and-order platform turned out to be so corrupt.

Yet if Nixon, who died in 1994, were still alive and running for office in 2023, many of his positions would be deal-breakers with the far-right MAGA movement. Nixon favored universal health care via the private sector, and his environmental policies would trigger MAGA Republicans who view fossil fuels and gas stoves as symbols of culture-war masculinity.

Journalist Liza Featherstone looks back on Nixon's environmental record in an article published by The New Republic on April 21. For all his right-wing views, Featherstone stresses, Nixon turned out to be "the most environmentalist U.S. president ever."

READ MORE: 'The small things become big': Chuck Todd recalls Richard Nixon's warning to future presidents

"Richard Nixon and his Madison Avenue handlers invented the modern political culture war," Featherstone explains. "Running for office in 1968, Nixon drew on his grudges against the East Coast elites and the liberal media, finding that such resentment resonated with many Americans. He exploited racism and fueled white fears about crime and chaos — a playbook that defines Republican politics to this day. As president, he exploited mainstream America's suspicion of hippies, calling drug legalization crusader Timothy Leary 'the most dangerous man in America'….. But although, these days, climate policy has joined Drag Queen Story Hour as a hot trigger for right-wing obsession, Nixon didn't give environmentalism the culture-war treatment."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started under Nixon's presidency, as did Earth Day. Featherstone notes that Nixon signed into law the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

"Perhaps even more jarring to our modern political expectations, Nixon's support for Earth Day and for the planet was not iconoclastic among Republicans," Featherstone notes. "While the original congressional resolution to create Earth Day came from New Jersey Democrat Gaylord Nelson, the resolution was co-sponsored by California Republican Pete McCloskey…. (Nixon) presided over the biggest expansion of federal environmental protections ever."

But in 2023, the journalist laments, anti-environmentalism is very much a part of MAGA identity politics.

READ MORE: 'Weak and desperate': Ron DeSantis’ 'ruthless drive to silence critics' recalls Richard Nixon

"It's been mostly in this century that the fossil fuel industry, a longtime supporter of Republicans, has promoted climate as a culture-war issue, with conservative politicians eager to play along," Featherstone observes. "The current effort to stigmatize all environmentally conscious investing as 'woke,' for example, comes from fossil fuel–supported organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation as well as from right-wing leaders eager for attention."

READ MORE: Watch: Tucker Carlson botches presidential history while defending Richard Nixon

Read The New Republic's full article at this link.

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