R.I.P., R.M.N

Article excerpt

On April 23 I was awakened early in the morning by a call from BBC radio. Richard Milhous Nixon had met his terminal crisis peacefully in the night. Sternly the program's host told me that both former Prime Minister Edward Heath and Henry (never to be former, alas) Kissinger had referred to the thirty-seventh President as a "towering figure." I said to the host that the first would have had a fellow feeling for another leader driven from office, while Kissinger's only claim to our attention was his years in service as Nixon's foreign policy valet. Otherwise, Henry would now be just another retired schoolteacher, busy at work on Son of Metternich.

So John Kennedy and Richard Nixon (Congress, class of 1946) are now both gone--paladin and goblin, each put back in the theatrical box of discarded puppets and, to a future eye (or puppetmaster), interchangeable. Why not a new drama starring Jack Goblin and Dick Puladin? In their political actions they were more alike than not if one takes the longest view and regards the national history of their day as simply a classic laboratory example of entropy doing its merry chilly thing. In any case, as I wrote in 1983, "We are Nixon; he is us."

Much is now being made, among the tears for a man whom only a handful of Americans of a certain age remember, of Nixon's foreign policy triumphs. He went to Moscow and then detente. He went to Beijing and then saw the Great Wall. Other Presidents could have done what he did, but none dared because of--Nixon. As pictures of Johnson and Mao come on the screen, one hears that solemn baritone: "I am not saying that President Johnson is a card-carrying Communist. …