Perspectives on Richard Nixon
Back in 1984 at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, Teddy White, Theodore White, the author of the series The Making of the President, grabbed hold of me after one of the sessions, dragged me in to lunch, sat down, and half way through his martini--there were a few of us then who still drank those things--Teddy looked at me and said, "Do you realize, Hugh, that I have spent the greatest portion of my adult life writing about Richard Nixon and I still don't understand him?" It had never occurred to me before.
Teddy was the man of the broad brush, the long view, and we sat there throughout that afternoon and talked some more about it, and it's true. In our generation--I'm 60, Teddy was a few years older--but in that generation we, people in journalism, had spent more time chronicling Richard Nixon than perhaps any other single figure. I can remember when I first started back in 1958. As a young reporter, I climbed on the Convair that they furnished the vice president with, and for six weeks we bumped around this country, trying to elect a Republican Congress. And Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon, and when he could get them, the kids, were up front, screened off by a curtain in that little airplane. A gaggle of reporters were behind, and we went through dozens of states all the way to Alaska. Richard Nixon was the only man on the campaign trail because other Republicans realized it was hopeless. Night after night in those dreadful dinners eating that terrible food, giving bad speeches, meeting people he didn't want to meet. Weeks he spent at it, and lost everything in the end.
Here I am, thirty years later, standing before you, and we are talking about the Nixon Presidency; he is still part of our lives. I don't begin to have the answers. I am still as mystified as anyone as to how this man, so flawed in so many ways, so private, so crabbed, so rigid in many ways, yet so bright, brilliant, and determined, could have woven himself into the fabric of this nation in the manner in which he did. But it is true. We have watched our generation with