Richard Nixon: A crooked legacy
Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Nixon. I did not celebrate.
However, I will celebrate on August 9, the day he resigned as president of the United States. It will be 39 years since one of the happiest days of my life. Every year I remember the date and where I was when he made his nationally (and internationally) televised resignation speech. It was August 8 in the US, but the morning of August 9 in Sydney.
I was working at The Australian newspaper and was happily subbing the Watergate copy from the Washington Post thrown to me every morning by the foreign editor, Sinclair Robieson, who told me to sub it, and let him know what it was worth. It was usually worth a foreign page lead at least. Out of the blue, I was called into the editorial conference by the editor-in-chief Jim Hall, who said he wanted me to watch something on television. There on the screen was the man I loved to hate: Richard Nixon, stepping down as president. I got as close to the TV set as I could, and when he said: “To those who have not felt able to give me your support …” I yelled out: “Yes,” much to the delight of the editors.
Needless to say, I celebrated – after finishing subbing all the Nixon copy that came into the office that day, of course – and wound up watching a frozen chicken I had won in a raffle the day before at the Invicta Hotel (a famous newspaper pub no longer with us) rolling down George Street. I thought it was still under my left arm. I was only hoping a down and out Sydney resident, who didn’t like Richard Nixon, was lucky enough to find it.
Okay, you ask, what brought on this Nixon rant? It was an article in the Inquirer section of The Weekend Australian last Saturday, Nixon: new respect for ‘the man of many masks,’ by Tom Switzer and Nicole Hemmer of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Before I continue, I have to say I am a fan of both the paper and the centre. Tom Switzer is the editor of The Spectator Australia, and like Nicole Hemmer, a research associate of the centre. Dr Hemmer received her PhD in history from Columbia University, and, at the centre, she’s revising and expanding her dissertation: Messengers of the Right: Media and the Modern Conservative Movement.
The premise of their piece is that Richard Nixon is gaining new respect, despite Watergate, using the words of President Clinton to justify their assertion: “At Nixon’s funeral in 1994, Bill Clinton advised ‘the day of judging president Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career (should) come to a close’. He was right. Beyond Watergate, Nixon’s life provides a bounty of lessons for Americans, especially for today’s troubled Republican Party.” (http://bit.ly/UBzNCQ)
The real story of Watergate, wrote the man who inspired this blog, Hunter S. Thompson, “reads like a textbook on human treachery. They were all scum, but only Nixon walked free and lived to clear his name. Or at least that’s what Bill Clinton says — and he is, after all, the President of the United States.
“Nixon liked to remind people of that. He believed it, and that was why he went down. He was not only a crook but a fool. Two years after he quit, he told a TV journalist that ‘if the president does it, it can’t be illegal’.” (http://bit.ly/WBjxkS )
The legacy of Richard Nixon should be Watergate because it proved what all of us suspected for decades: he was a crook. To say it shouldn’t is almost like saying we should remember Adolf Hitler because he was a great communicator, or Benito Mussolini because he ran a good public transport system (we could use him in Sydney!).
Yes, as the authors say, he opened the world to China, but so did Gough Whitlam; he helped warm the Cold War, but Ronald Reagan did better; and he even launched the first significant federal affirmative action program, the Philadelphia Plan. But it was Lyndon Johnson who got the Civil Rights Bill passed, and Bill Clinton who supported affirmative action, but was against quotas and reverse discrimination.
To suggest the right wing of the Republican Party, ie, the Tea Party, should take advice from Richard Nixon is a bit rich. What advice they should be taking is to learn the art of negotiation; how to compromise. Richard Nixon promised “peace with honour” in his speech on the Paris Peace Accord to end the Vietnam War in 1973, but had bombed Cambodia and scorned anti-war protesters during his five and half years in office. You call that compromise?
Richard Nixon spawned a generation of disillusioned Americans, turning them off politics, and sending many abroad to escape the war and Watergate. That is also his legacy.
Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist and author of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, had many encounters with Richard Nixon. And he hated him as much as I do. This was part of his Nixon obituary, as was the quote above, first published in Rolling Stone in June 1994, and reprinted in The Atlantic in July. Over to you, Hunter: “If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”
I had a copy of that quote on the wall in my office at Channel Nine. I recommend you read the entire article, titled: “He was a Crook.” http://bit.ly/WBjxkS