Nixon: the Circle Complete

April 26, 1994

Not since Herbert Hoover has a president used his post-White House years to better advantage than did Richard Nixon. Both of these men came from humble Quaker beginnings, climbed the nation's political heights, were swept from office in an avalanche of vilification and then, through grit and the blessings of long life, managed to begin a process of rehabilitation that inevitably would be left to history.

As Mr. Nixon's body is flown home for burial tomorrow in his hometown of Yorba Linda, Calif., we are reminded that Mr. Hoover, too, chose to be laid to rest in his birthplace at West Branch, Iowa. He was the first president from west of the Mississippi; Mr. Nixon the first west of the Rockies to the Pacific.

Defeated in 1932 as the scorned namesake of "Hoovervilles" that rTC sprang up for the hungry and the homeless, Mr. Hoover was blamed for the Great Depression as bitterly as Mr. Nixon would be blamed for Watergate. The first had 32 years to fight for his reputation, chiefly by heading two commissions on government reorganization and efficiency; the second had 20 years to pursue the same cause, chiefly by writing ten books on world affairs and delivering brilliant lectures, without aid of notes or lecterns, on the same subject.

Just as Mr. Hoover's death brought a torrent of praise from many quarters (some once hostile), so Mr. Nixon in death is drawing accolades from world and national leaders. The Beijing government has called him a man "of strategic foresight and political courage." President Boris Yeltsin has described him as "one of the first major world politicians who have understood Russia and have understood what it was fighting for." George McGovern, his defeated foe in the 1972 election, spoke of a "cordial relationship" and said Mr. Nixon had gone "a great way toward restoring himself as a respected figure." President Clinton, who takes his lumps in a last, posthumous Nixon book, paid warm tribute to his predecessor's "wise counsel."

These are tributes to resilient human beings, to be sure; they also are tributes to the forgiving side of human nature. As Mr. Nixon goes home, shunning the Washington that was the scene of so much heartache, Mayor Barbara Kiley of Yorba Linda has said it well: "Now the circle is complete."

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