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.” (
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’.” ( )
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.”

13 thoughts on “Richard Nixon: A crooked legacy

  1. Be careful Tom, Hate is a powerful word. What he did to the office of “The President of The USA” is beyond belief. But you, more than most, should know that advisers and political intrigue play an important part in the path that he or she goes down. Does not the blame of his infidelity also rest with the people, the American people, who voted him in in the first place?
    Like some claim, perhaps his biggest downfall was he got caught. How many went before, and indeed after him. How many never got caught?
    Perhaps you should direct your anger at the institution rather than the individual.
    Yes he was a crook, but perhaps the institution is more crooked.
    I am intrigued as to why his funeral was illegal!
    To parallel him to Hitler or Mussolini is drawing a long bow. At least Nixon was forced out, not by a gun but by the power of the people.
    Hate no, but pure contempt,YES.
    May the Gods Bless America.

    • Slam, I only use the word “hate” when I mention Richard Nixon, and I don’t apologise for it. I agree with everything Hunter S. Thompson said in his obit of Nixon, and he explains why he thought the funeral was illegal. Please read his piece and you’ll see why I was gentle in comparison to Hunter S. I was careful to use the word “almost” in comparing Nixon to Hitler and Mussolini, but they were evil … and so was he. I agree with you that the Americans who voted for him were also to blame. I still can’t believe so many of them voted for him. Thank God he was caught. I shudder to think what else he could have done to the US if he had two full terms! Thanks for your comment, but I still maintain the rage! Cheers, Tom

  2. Good to see the rage still burns 39 years on… but sadly everything you say applies equally to the last Republican president…

    • True, Tim, but there is something extra specially evil about Nixon. Actually, the rage started burning in 1960 when he lost to JFK. My parents and most of the neighborhood (all Democrats, of course) hated him as well. I’m sure they never voted for him. And, as you know, I have never been a fan of George W! Thanks for your comment.

    • Steve, I think you are referring to my leaving the US, a place I do love with a passion. I didn’t walk away, just tried to get as far away from Vietnam and Richard Nixon as I could, and I never planned to stay in Australia. I just fell in love with the place and its people, in particular the woman I married nearly 40 years ago. And remember I am a dual citizen, so I’ve only left physically, not spiritually. Does that answer your question? Cheers, Tom

  3. It’s also interesting what Nixon did to American’s financial well being – largely forgotten by Americans of the current generation. The changes made to America’s banking and their previuosly required reserves (gold and cash ie removed them) now see’s America printing money as fast as it needs to spend it. Some say this action alone was opening the gate in the top paddock that ultimately set the conditions in play for the GFC and America getting into massive debt (it now struggles to service.) There’s always a Richard Nixon somewehere on the planet, he taught us
    we just need to pay more attention to who we vote for.
    We should be grateful I guess he didnt go on to manage fox news
    Break in at 4 – Pictures at 11 (:-) – Love your blog Tom

    • Thanks, Flemo. I hadn’t realised Nixon was responsible for the GFC, but you make a great case for it. And I agree wholeheartedly with your comment: “he taught us we just need to pay more attention to who we vote for.” Right on, Flemo. Cheers, Tom

  4. g’day, Tom,

    Nixon v Mel Brooks impersonator George W? Well, Nixon ended a war and George W started one (if not more) – W was a real war criminal, along with Cheney, Condee Rice and Rumsfeld. Nixon was certainly a sleazebag crim, but he certainly does not have the amount of blood of his own people on his hands that the money-grubbing dupe George W has.

    Two anecdotes I remember about Nixon. In the era when he was under the pump and his criminality was coming into the sunshine, he was walking up a path with some aides when his PR flack Ronald Ziegler seemed to baulk at an order from Nixon, whereupon the President in full public view (including TV cameras) turned and pushed Ziegler (twice by memory) back down the path from where they came, yelling and pointing. One hoped at the time he wasn’t demanding that black brief case with the red button in it.

    It was shortly after this, as the wheels were rapidly falling off and reporters were asking very pointed questions that Ziegler came out with the famous opening to a press conference “Ladies and Gentlemen, all previous statements are inoperative’. How Wayne Swan-ish!

    And early on, Nixon was giving a speech where he said ‘And I (pausing and pointing at the audience) say to you (pausing and pointing to himself) …..’ George W wouldn’t have got it.

    • Malcolm, Thanks for your comment, entertaining as usual. Nixon may not have as much blood on his hands as George W did, but his hands were certainly bloodied. And he did ruin the lives and spirits of millions of Americans. He was a slimy crook, and I can’t think of him in any other way. To say he was better than George W is faint praise indeed. But thanks for the memories of Ron Ziegler. He was in a non-class of his own! Cheers.

      • Thanks, Malcolm. Yes, though I have toned down the swear words over the years, except on the odd occasions — when I have to apologise to my fellow Swan supporters! Those were the days, my friend, I hope they never end! PS I still can’t leave a comment on your excellent blog due to that technical problem I mentioned to you. Please get Jo to fix it! Cheers.

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