Arts + Culture

The Presidents as Travelers

by Ted Widmer

Richard M. Nixon

Where The Eagle Landed: China, Russia, Venezuela, Vietnam

Home and abroad: As Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice president, Richard M. Nixon enthusiastically represented the United States abroad, earning plaudits for his highly publicized "kitchen debate" in Moscow with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and for his calm when jeered at and spat upon by students in Venezuela. But Nixon may have taken travel too seriously during the 1960 presidential campaign, when he promised to go to all 50 states, a grueling effort that cost him more in effort than he received in votes. Still, after finally winning the presidency in 1968, Nixon became every bit the globe-trotter John F. Kennedy had been. In his first years as president, he visited 15 nations, including Vietnam. But the summit of his achievement remains the unforgettable trip he took to China in 1972 (pictured), changing forever the history of both nations. Not all of Nixon's speeches were memorable: At the Great Wall, he remarked, "I think you would have to conclude that this is a great wall." But he practiced the art of chopsticks, gave toast after toast to the Chinese leaders, and irrevocably entered the pantheon of history with this voyage. Long after Nixon resigned in disgrace, his China adventure lives on as perhaps the most important trip overseas ever taken by a U.S. president.

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