Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession

Article excerpt

Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession Daniel Frick. Lawrence. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008.

Does the country really need yet another book about its obsession with the only president to have resigned the office, Richard M. Nixon? Daniel Frick believes it does, and has immersed himself in all things Nixon.

Frick, who teaches the English language at Franklin and Marshall College and directs its Writing Center, presents an exhaustive analysis of the cinema, cartoons, drama, jokes, novels, verse, and other cultural artifacts that emerged from the life and career of this most fascinating president, who was at once so attractive and so repellant. As a result of the groundwork that Nixon's administration constructed, and the influence that Nixon had upon his party and those it elected as his successors, Frick is correct. To understand the recent past, one must also understand the Nixon years, and the Nixon effect upon subsequent Republican presidents and their administrations. Certainly Nixon changed America and the world.

Central to Nixon's character was class consciousness and the bitterness of a victim. As Frick notes, "churning underneath the surface" of one of Nixon's political biographies, "the seemingly complacent optimism of Six Crises", there was "a festering, resentful anger that prefigures the mentality that created the Watergate scandal" (45). It was Nixon who prepared the way for the "win at any cost" strategy so evident in so many of the subsequent political races.

It is illustrative to compare two powerful and successive presidents, who each came from modest backgrounds. Lyndon Johnson developed a burning resentment, as did Nixon, but it was a resentment against poverty and discrimination and against outcasts and the powerless. For all his faults, he concentrated his energies on eliminating poverty, and creating The Great Society. Nixon, too, developed a burning resentment, but the result was quite different. Nixon's determination was to "screw his enemies," or those who had scorned (or even worse, defeated) him.

Ironically, the boy who made his way from nothing to the top - as Nixon presented himself - came to identify with the wealthy and powerful, yet he echoed the George Wallace refrain that conservatives have used so effectively ever since; the refrain that their opponents are "elitists." It was not power or wealth that Nixon saw as elitist, but rather style, as was so notable in the debonair John F. Kennedy, who defeated him. His party's concern grew through the years to include those who are educated, who value science and reason, who might be "liberal," and thus by (their) definition "look down upon" the average voter (while conservatives chortle quietly in private). …

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