Both Reagan and Nixon prided themselves on being conservatives. But in actual fact, Nixon's domestic agenda proved remarkably less conservative than Reagan's. For instance, Nixon signed into a law a large expansion of Medicare, something that was strongly opposed by many on the right of the Republican Party, who believed...
Both Reagan and Nixon prided themselves on being conservatives. But in actual fact, Nixon's domestic agenda proved remarkably less conservative than Reagan's. For instance, Nixon signed into a law a large expansion of Medicare, something that was strongly opposed by many on the right of the Republican Party, who believed that it represented an unwelcome extension of the federal government's powers. He also proposed healthcare reform, which nevertheless died in committee through lack of Congressional support.
Nixon also signed into law—albeit reluctantly—the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which targeted higher earners. Reagan, on the other hand, embarked upon a substantial program of tax cuts, which disproportionately benefitted the wealthiest Americans. Despite his reputation as an arch-conservative, Nixon was more of a pragmatist than Reagan, who tended to be more committed to radical measures designed to turn back the tide of five decades of liberalism.
The two presidents were much closer in terms of foreign policy. Both sought detente with the Communist world, seeing it as the best way of reducing the kind of tensions that had brought the world to the brink of nuclear armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nixon's main foreign policy breakthrough was his restoration of diplomatic relations with Communist China. Reagan successfully negotiated dramatic reductions in nuclear weapons with General Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union.
While simultaneously speaking of peace, however, both presidents remained ideologically committed to winning the Cold War. They sought to do this through extensive funding and political support for right-wing governments and insurgents hostile to the spread of radical or left-wing movements. Under Nixon, the CIA engineered the overthrow of a democratically elected socialist government in Chile and its replacement with a military dictatorship. During the Reagan Administration, significant resources were devoted to helping right-wing guerrilla organizations, such as the Contras in Nicaragua, overthrow left-wing regimes.
In the approach of both administrations, we can see a prime illustration of Theodore Roosevelt's famous maxim that, in relation to foreign policy, one should speak softly but carry a big stick. In other words, although both Nixon and Reagan made genuine efforts to try and reduce Cold War tensions, they were no less committed to the destruction of Communist ideology, wherever it reared its head.