Social Safety Net: So, was Nixon a “leftie”?

Was Richard Nixon really a liberal?

If you look at what he did to bolster the social safety net, you might conclude that our 37th president was one. An article by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times yesterday makes the case that, in today’s political environment, Nixon’s actions in office—the bills he signed, the legislation he championed, and the new agencies he founded—would seem like liberal ideas and would never be supported by the Republicans now in Congress. It shows, says Porter, how far the GOP has moved to the right.

How did Nixon bolster the social safety net? For starters, he didn’t try to dismantle the Great Society programs. He signed into law new measures that raised the Social Security benefits for 30 million Americans and increased new benefits for 3.4 million aged, blind, and disabled Americans. “With these increases, Social Security benefits will have risen by 68.5 percent since this Administration took office nearly 5 years ago,” Nixon said in a statement issued at the signing. He also signed into law bigger Social Security benefits for widows and widowers, and enabled older Americans who were still working to earn more money without having their benefits cut.

Nixon created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and even supported a version of healthcare reform that would provide insurance for the poor and make sure all employees were covered. The list goes on, filled with actions that would seem like liberal ideas in today’s climate.

Perhaps the biggest change since Nixon’s day is that members of both parties back then generally agreed the government had a vital role to play in protecting and promoting the welfare and safety of its citizens, especially those who can’t provide for themselves. That consensus has now vanished, at least in Washington, D.C. and state capitals.

Do you agree that Nixon would be labeled a liberal today?

Why have things changed so dramatically?

Should we dismantle or preserve the Great Society programs?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

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