, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 605-615

Why only Nixon could go to China

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Abstract

Right-wing politicians sometimes can implement policies that left-wing politicians cannot, and vice versa. Contemporary wisdom has it that “only Nixon could have gone to China”. We develop a model to explain this phenomenon. A policy issue could depend on information, on which every one could potentially agree on policy, or on values, on which agreement is impossible. Politicians, who value both reelection and policy outcomes, realize the nature of the issue, whereas voters do not. Only a right-wing president can credibly signal the desirability of a left-wing course of action. The Nixon paradox can hold then if citizens vote retrospectively on the issue.