The President as Interpreter-In-Chief

By Mary E. Stuckey | Go to book overview

Nixon also identified with Lincoln in terms of his martyrdom. Lincoln had been maligned and criticized, martyred, and reincarnated as an American hero. Nixon may well have seen the same process operating in regard to his own political career. On departing for his last trip abroad, one month before his resignation, he said, "it will be a difficult trip from the physical standpoint . . . it will also be a difficult trip from the standpoint of the diplomacy involved. . . . But I can assure you that on this long, difficult, and very important journey, that when we sometimes may feel tired, that we will never be discouraged, and we will always be heartened by the memory of this luncheon that we are having today."60 The theme of martyrdom also appears in his final speeches as president: "I would have preferred to carry through to the finish, whatever the personal agony it would have involved, and my family unanimously urged me to do so. But the interests of the Nation must always come before any personal considerations."61

In his efforts to ensure good publicity and sound public relations for himself and his administration, and in the face of what he saw as overwhelming opposition in the media, Nixon took matters into his own hands. This meant that everything became not a question of "'Was it right?' but 'Will it sell?'" 62 The focus on public relations to the exclusion of specific policy had clear--and clearly negative--consequences. Harry Truman could say, "Make good policies, and good relations with the people will follow." Nixon seemed to believe that if he could "make" good relations with the American people, he would then be free to make good policy. This reverses the previous order of things, and does not make for sound democratic policy making. At its best, public relations- oriented policy can bring us expedient and poorly designed programs. At its worst, it exposes all political actors to what William B. Ewald, Jr., an Eisenhower biographer, came to believe of Richard Nixon: " Nixon doesn't give a damn about the truth."63


Conclusions

The overwhelming presence of television during these years had an impact on the public perception and private conduct of the office of the presidency. "What has really happened is that a device universally hailed as a boon to communication has; become a one-way street. It is a means by which a man can conduct a monologue in public and convince himself that he is conducting a dialogue with the public." 64 The problem with this is that it becomes increasingly possible for a president to convince

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