The Watergate scandal alone would have been enough to indelibly tarnish Nixon's legacy, but his administration also suffered the taint of corruption from the activities of his vice president, Spiro Agnew, who turned out to have been on the take since his days as Baltimore County Executive. in October of 1973, less than a year prior to Nixon's departure, Agnew pled nolo contendere (no contest) to a charge of federal income tax evasion and resigned his office.
Even as scandal brought down his second-in-command and other scandals threatened to prematurely end his presidency, Nixon never let up in his efforts to further American interests abroad. After making good on his promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from Vietnam, he met repeatedly with then-Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev, their last meeting taking place while former White House counsel and unabashed weasel John Dean was spinning tales as fast as he could to the Watergate Committee in a desperate attempt to save his own skin. Negotiations between the two leaders (known as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, or SALT) led to the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972.
Per Nixon's directive, the U.S. provided vital support to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He visited Cairo in June of 1974 and agreed to provide Egypt with nuclear technology. Not long after that, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment related to the Watergate cover-up. Before the House of Representatives could vote to impeach him, Nixon released transcripts of tape recordings that implicated him in the cover-up and announced his resignation.
Even after leaving office, he remained an authoritative voice on international affairs. President Clinton even reportedly sought his advice, and the New York Times (which seemed to never have a kind word for Nixon when he was alive) acknowledged, "The former President was always strongest writing about foreign policy." He continued to visit foreign countries and meet with world leaders, and he wrote prolifically. (His memoir RN was okay, but if you really want to get a handle on the man's world view and/or mental processes, then Six Crises and The Real War are both worth a read, and I've read good things about Beyond Peace.)
I can remember learning of his death in 1994. I was in first grade; as I left school, I stood under the flagpole gazing at Old Glory. It's my earliest memory of seeing a flag flown at half-mast.
As vice president, Nixon honed his already keen foreign policy credentials, touring dozens of countries and chairing National Security Council meetings in the president's absence. On a trip to Moscow in 1959, he challenged Khrushchev during their infamous "kitchen debate," bluntly telling the Communist leader, "You don't know everything."
Nixon held the distinction of losing the closest presidential election in U.S. history and winning a presidential election by the biggest landslide in U.S. history. His successful 1968 campaign, waged eight years after a devastatingly close loss to JFK and six years after losing his bid for governor of California, remains one of the great political comebacks of all time. He's the only person to be twice elected vice president and twice elected president of the United States.
His policy mistakes aside, Nixon was a brilliant and hardworking man who made some bad choices. Nothing he is known to have done, however, is/was bad enough to justify ignoring all of his good deeds in damnatio memoriae. Count me as a fan who believes his accomplishments were far greater than his transgressions.
To some, Nixon will always be a villain, but he was certainly a hell of a lot better president than the one we have now.