Friday, December 05, 2008

Coldest of Warriors

With Richard Nixon's White House tapes in the news this week, I was reminded of a piece I wrote about Tricky Dick in the Old Millenium that Richmond.com published. It still works for me. By the way, the time references are based on 1999, when it was written, rather than today.

My cheerful illustration of Nixon ran with the piece then, as well.

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The Coldest of Warriors (Aug. 10, 1999)

August is usually a slow month for news, so we are spoon fed anniversaries to contemplate, such as Hiroshima's 54th, Woodstock's 30th, and the 25th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation. It seems now we are being asked to reconsider Richard Nixon, again.

Fair enough, let's give the man his due. The entire culture shifted gears the day Nixon threw in the towel. The brilliant strategist, the awkward sleuth, the proud father, and the coldest of warriors had left the building.

August 9, 1974 was a day to hoist one for his enemies, many of whom must have enjoyed his twisting in the wind of Watergate's storm. It was the saddest of days for his staunch supporters, whose numbers were legion. Either way, Richard Nixon's departure from DeeCee left a void that no personality has since filled.

For the first time since his earliest commie-baiting days, in the late '40s, Dick Nixon didn't matter.

With Nixon gone, being anti-establishment promptly went out of style. With the war in Vietnam no longer a front burner issue, streaking replaced the anti-war rally as the most popular gesture of defiance on college campuses. Soon what remained of the causes and accouterments of the '60s was packed into cardboard boxes to be tossed out, or stored in the basement.

Watergate revelations killed off the Nixon administration's chance of instituting national health insurance. Many people have forgotten that his regime was easily more liberal on racial and environmental matters than any before it. His opening to China and efforts toward d├ętente with the Soviets are often cited as evidence of his ability in the realm of foreign affairs.

But at the bottom line, Nixon is remembered chiefly as the president who was driven from office.

Nixon's nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War. Due to his fear of hippies and left-wing campus movements, Nixon came between fathers and sons. To rally support for his prosecution of the Vietnam War, he demagogued and exploited the bitter division between World War II era parents and their Baby Boomer offspring in such a way that many families have never recovered.

Nixon's true legacy is that since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people no longer feel drawn into public service. Since Watergate, for twenty-five years now, the citizens who've gravitated toward politics for a career do not have the intellect or the sense of purpose of their predecessors. We can thank Tricky Dick for that.

Maybe Slick Willie is the best example of what I'm getting at. When you look at the lame roster of talent out there on the political horizon, he really may be the best we've got today. And that's due in great part to the thousands of 40 and 50 year olds who didn't go into politics because of the lingering stench of Nixon's "plumbers" and their dirty work.

So weep not for the sad, crazy Nixon of August, 1974. He did far more harm to America than whatever good he intended.

On top of that, he had 20 years to come clean and clear the air. But he didn't do it. In the two decades of his so-called "rehabilitation," before his death in 1994, Nixon just kept on being Nixon.

Some commentators have suggested that he changed over that period, even mellowed. Don't buy it. The rest of us changed a lot more than he did.

While I acknowledge his guile and I tip my hat to his gall, President Nixon was a man who choked on his own bile.

So spare me the soft-focus view of the Nixon years. I'm here to remind the reader that Richard Nixon is a lesson to us all -- he got what he deserved.


-- Words and art by by F.T. Rea

5 comments:

Paul H said...

Politics and politicians were and have been dirty long before and since tricky Dick. To blame the angst and anger of the last 35 years on one person is giving him way too much credit and us too little.

IMHO it's not the few actions of the "great", but the many actions of the great masses, a few examples of whom can usually be found by looking in the mirror (which is why I shave in the shower).

F.T. Rea said...

Paul H,

Nixon is a unique figure in American history. But I'm hardly blaming all the angst or anything else on one guy.

Don't get your point.

Paul H said...

It seemed like that's exactly what you were doing.

"he demagogued and exploited the bitter division between World War II era parents and their Baby Boomer offspring in such a way that many families have never recovered."

...

"Nixon's nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War."

...

"since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people no longer feel drawn into public service"



No doubt he was paranoid, but he was just one of many who shaped the era and he certainly wasn't responsible for the world he inherited.

I'm not sure I can boil Nixon's character and and legacy down. He had one of the boldest anti-poverty programs ever proposes. He was a virulant anti communist, yet he pursued a policy of missile reduction and detente. He didn't put 500,000 Americans into Vietnam, but by the time he left, most were out.

Without a doubt he's not the first President to spy on Americans or to vilify and lie about their political enemies.

Nixon didn't win in '72 by the greatest landslides in history because of dirty tricks, which was the tragedy of his career. He would have won anyway. I say all this being supervised by the George McGovern poster hovering on the wall behind me, which I earned before I could vote.

We all bear responsibilities for the bitter divisions that divide society. Nixon didn't come between myself and my parents and it seems like you, me and Barack Obama are among the thousands of people in their 40's or 50's who stayed involved in politics.

F.T. Rea said...

Paul,

Thank you for your comments. But you are reading what you want into this thing.

Defend Nixon if you like, but the sections of my post you cite don't back up what you're saying. And, I certainly don't see why you put yourself, Obama and me in the same sentence.

Paul H said...

I cede to the home team. Thanks for letting me make my case.

BTW, nice artwork.