Tuesday, January 17, 2012


One thing I don't like to say in polite company is that I have a long-standing Richard Nixon addiction. This isn't to say I like him, mind you, but the combination of insecurity, criminal inclination, indecision, aggressiveness, political acumen, intelligence and many other seemingly contradictory characteristics are fascinating. Back in 1994 I sucked down Fred Emery's book on Watergate, and watched the excellent documentary that was linked to it.

I hadn't had much time for it in recent years--remission, you might call it--but on a recent trip I rented Frost/Nixon, which I had not seen before, and subsequently I bought the book of the same name that David Frost wrote about his interviews. More than anything, it is illustrative of how Nixon convinced himself that he was always in the right, and could do anything he wanted as a result. That culminated in the famous quote, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal." Criminality simply melts away in his mind.

There is a chapter dedicated to a transcript of the interview that focused on Chile. It underlines the fact that a) his knowledge of Chilean politics was sketchy; b) he didn't think knowledge of Chilean politics was particularly important; and c) all that mattered was that there was a government friendly to the U.S. Frost accurately pushed back, but Nixon just didn't care, and mostly wanted to emphasize that LBJ had acted against Allende too.

I enjoyed the movie, but it does divert from the book for dramatic purposes. In particular, the Jack Brennan of the movie, played as an authoritarian figure by Kevin Bacon, does not match the Brennan described in Frost's book. Nixon did ask Frost if he had "fornicated" recently, but the movie shows it as a way Nixon tried to throw Frost off, whereas Frost's own recollection was that Nixon clumsily wanted to be one of the boys, and had no idea how to do so. At the very least, if you liked the movie I would suggest taking a look at the book.

Reading more about Nixon these days is also a reminder that, bizarrely, he would likely be considered too liberal in many areas to win Republican primaries.


Randy Paul 12:59 PM  

My favorite Nixon stories are as follows:

1.) When he was POTUS he made a trip to Florida and a motorcycle cop in the motorcade got into an accident. Nixon got out of the car while they were waiting for an ambulance and the cop apologized for delaying the motorcade and Nixon responded by asking “Do you enjoy your work?”

2.) One time when he was no longer POTUS, a man as in Newport, RI on business on a pay phone with his wife, saw Nixon and called him over to say hello to his wife, Janet. Nixon said “Hi Janet, this is Dick Nixon. Who’s this strange woman your husband’s with?” he then handed the phone back to the man with a grin and a wink.

3.) When Nixon was an undergrad at Whittier College, every year for the Homecoming Game, they would have a bonfire. A key component of the bonfire was the burning of an outhouse. Getting a two-holer outhouse was mandatory and a three-holer, even better. When Nixon was pressed with this task he got a five-holer; clearly a sign of an overachiever.

4.) Pat initially wouldn’t go out with him. He even drove her to her dates with other men just to be with her.

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