The American political tradition is preeminently practical. Ideas, sometimes of genuine philosophical grandeur, have certainly motivated the getting and exercise of power. American political rhetoric, whether delivered in speeches, written in pamphlets and treatises, or incorporated in state papers, has inspired countless millions, at home and abroad. But the heart of the day-to-day American political system involves less elevated yet essential tasks, including overawing or even betraying a political opponent, cajoling and compromising in order to win legislation (or, sometimes, to defeat legislation), or building a winning coalition out of disparate political constituencies. Ironically, two of the most profound, and profoundly American, documents in American history, the United States Constitution and the Federalist Papers, offered and defended, with great intellectual care, a national polity that insures the primacy of the practical, rejecting the flight toward abstraction and uncertainty in favor of a realization that men are not angels, and that governments must be designed with a pragmatic sense of the danger of human frailty as well as the promise of human achievement.
Richard Milhous Nixon, a man of numerous frailties, was in many ways an odd and even unique figure, but his career describes an im-