Saturday, February 25, 2012

History Notes: I AM NOT A CROOK!

This isn't to say he didn't get what he deserved, this is just an extended brainwave.
I think about Nixon sometimes and how things could have been different, and who he really, really was, considering we'll never really, really know. And so:

Richard Millhouse Nixon.
What a guy. What a bifurcation he creates.
He was such an enigma I don't think even his wife fully understood him!
Just his name brings up images of his ski-jump nose, secretive and dark eyes, and dual peace signs wagging from his fat fingers.

But this guy is as complex as they come. And I think we forget to relate to him, sympathize with him.

Most historical figures (especially the American ones we look up to) are identified mainly by their admirable traits. Take Helen Keller for example. She was a motivated, inspirational handicap that did marvelous things with her life....and she happened to be a vocal (ha. Ok I'm sorry that was inappropriate) radical socialist. She was a pacifist, suffragist, and pro-birth control for women (all of these were pretty rare in her time). But people ignore the latter! Even Obama in his children's book Of Thee I Sing included Keller as an inspirational American and neglected to mention any of her more questionable interests. Typical.
I digress...  Most figures are defined by their "nice" traits, or a balance of their "good" and "bad" (remember these are subjective). An example of the second is Jack Kennedy. People that don't like him admit he did a few good things, and then mention his extramarital affairs, family wealth, et cetera, and those that tend to favor him balance the negative gossip with things like "but he created the Peace Corps! Look how the Cuban Missile Crisis ended! He wanted to pull out of Vietnam!!"

But, going back to Nixon, here is a guy that is identified by his negative traits, his faults. Now that is a terrible way to be remembered, especially as an American president.

And he was such a cute baby!
This guy was raised as a hard-working Quaker, and he never really lost that ethic.
Just look at the Alger Hiss case--everyone was sick of it and wanted to give up, and Nixon was the one that kept busting ass until there was a breakthrough (who can claim in their political career that they discovered crucial documents inside of a hollowed out pumpkin for Pete's sake?!
Yes, he was ruthless: in his early campaigns to get into Congress, and later the Senate, both times he accused his opponent of being a communist (his 2nd opponent, Helen Douglas, is actually responsible to nicknaming him "Tricky Dick"), playing on current American fears rather than playing fair and addressing the real issues. And it worked! Sly dog.
But it didn't work against Kennedy and I don't think he ever got over being defeated by someone younger than him, someone he viewed as an overprivileged brat without any solid political experience, and it was this anxiety that contributed to Watergate.  The guy was actually quite nervous and afraid of being made a fool of. He just wanted to be loved by the people, which is quite sad if you look at where he ended up.  Poor Dick (he hated being called that by the way).

He was the first (via his Checkers speech) to declare to the public his personal finances, and this was revolutionary and even a little shocking at the time. The fact that he did it on TV (he loved this new medium of communication) made it even more so. And using the family dog as a vehicle for humor and public sympathy? Genius, and oh so FDR.

We'll just bomb on the border. Oh, and over here, and just in this general area...
I believe that he would have stayed out of politics if it weren't for the assassination of JFK, someone who intimidated Nixon, someone he thought he couldn't beat. It's pretty simple to rise above a corpse, so he made his valiant return in '68, after LBJ bowed out. Then Bobby got killed, making the whole thing a lot easier for him. Everyone trusted that he really did have a "secret plan" to get us out of Nam, even though he never revealed any specifics. But then...surprise! He bombs Cambodia! And everything changes.

He was doing pretty well--considering he started his political career as a vehement anti-Communist, he built bridges in China and Russia as president. But who wants to hear about that?! Lets talk about what an idiot loser he was that "Vietnamized" the war and made it a hell of a lot worse. Oh, and that whole Watergate fiasco.
Lets forget the incredible story about him taking a walk at 4 in the morning to the Lincoln Memorial just days after the Kent State shootings, where he came across a bunch of protesters that, essentially, hated his guts and would have shanked him if they didn't believe in peace and love and stuff. He didn't wave them off, call his bodyguards, run away. He talked to them. Stutteringly and haltingly, no doubt. But the protesters were grateful and understood that he was trying to make a connection with them. Presidents don't typically do this shit, at least not with a few cameras around to document how benevolent they are. Hmmm.....
I have also neglected to mention his courtship with Pat; he told her the first time he met her that he was going to marry her. And she, considering him a freak with a temporary crush, gave him the brush off. But for 2 years he drove her to her dates with other dudes, and hung out with her, and never gave up. 2 years!!! Damn! What does that mean? Is it a stalker thing? Or downright romantic? It means something, and speaks to his unwillingness to give up, but still throws me off a bit. I told you he was a mysterious one.

And paranoid. He spied on everyone and, ironically (and tragically for him), maintained a taping system
I think it was this mania that made him rabidly afraid of losing, to the point of keeping tabs on enemies that resulted in the creation of the White House Plumbers, and eventually Watergate.

"I Can see clearly now...that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate..."

No shit Nixon.
Also, in retrospect, you should have hired guys that know how to tape a lock on a door properly

So they got busted and the trail leading up to Nixon was illuminated by the diligent investigation of 2 badass Washington Post reporters (read or watch All the President's Men).
Nixon was desperate for a scapegoat, acting in public like an enforcer that supported progress in "finding the truth" and condemning any attempts at cover-ups.
But then, the tapes... Nixon didn't want to turn them over, which made everyone suspicious, naturally. He offered summaries of what was said on the tapes, but not the actual tapes.
He invoked Executive Privilege. He ranted and wailed and scrambled for a solution, a desperate man.
 Nixon's tapes were subpoenaed in 1974. But there were 18 1/2 minutes missing from the tapes, most likely a conversation between Nixon and Haldeman directly regarding Watergate which was conveniently recorded over. Modern attempts to recover the recording hasn't worked (the National Archives last tried in 2003).

He even went to the Supreme Court.  But to no avail. He was recommended for impeachment. That was it for him, and he walked away. He resigned, stepping into his helicopter flopping around those peace signs and giving an almost-believable boyish grin.
And then off he went, to hide away in California, staying in basic seclusion even after the new President, Gerald Ford, publicly pardoned him. He was ashamed.
He did the television interviews with David Frost (you simply must watch Frost/Nixon) in 1977 to uplift his public support and justify his actions, but it made him look more guilty than anything.
And then he died, a farsighted, idiosyncratic man, with a legacy that has unfortunately come to be summed up in one word: Watergate.
I know we're all going to continue to make fun of him, but after you do, show a little sympathy. Remember the good. Remember his personal struggles. Give him an ounce of respect. And also use your brain and keep in mind that it is truly ignorant and unhealthy to distinguish our previous leaders in just a word or two (i.e., Bush and "nuke-ular," Clinton and "Lewinsky").  We elected these people and I know none of us would want this job. We all have secrets, and presidents have got even more of em, plus a daily load of stress that could kill a damn horse. Respect homies, respect.

And so I conclude this rant (which is terribly longer than I ever expected) by saying, in the style of our dearly departed Dumbledore:

If the time should come when you have to make a choice between

 what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a man

 who was hopeful, ambitious, and conflicted, because he strayed

across the path of power. Remember Richard Nixon.

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