(7 february 2009)
richard nixon was not jfk.
this is the fundamental truth with which richard nixon wrestled.
that he was a nobody. a kid with a bad childhood and an inferiority complex the size of south america. a poor quaker with no pulitzer and no father with enough money to buy him one. a paranoid peon who was robbed of the presidency by perspiration. a sad, lonely man who climbed to the top only to screw up all he had finally won.
he seems never to have been young. look back at the pictures. he was always worn down. the five o’clock shadow at 10 a.m. the gullies beneath the eyes. the trenches around the mouth. the man looked 60 when he was barely 35.
look at the kennedy debate- they are contemporaries. it was kennedy who lived every day at death’s door and yet you can practically hear the death rattle in nixon’s bitter arthritic bones.
he was a man who never fit in. anywhere. ever.
he belonged in an age where the ascension to power was more brutal. where it demanded bloodshed and deceit. he could’ve played hardball with henry viii. he would’ve poisoned the king’s bastards.
but nixon was a thoroughly medieval man trapped in modern times.
a man living in the age of television who looked utterly horrid on tv.
it’s a testament to the american dream that richard nixon could become president. it’s a testament to the tragedy that was richard nixon that he blew it every single time.
perhaps my heart was softened by the blurb in time describing how he and jackie passed notes back and forth from their deathbeds. or the funeral, where all the living presidents looked embarrassed and sheepishly bored, shaken by the vivid reminder that one can rise from nothing and, all on one’s own, plummet right back down.
there was something wrong in that. in their embarrassment and shame. some lack of the respect that, admittedly, wasn’t due, but had been agonizingly, debasingly earned.
the man who had suffered a thousand political deaths was gone. this seemed somehow monumental.
and yet, nixon is not monumental. his only real contribution to our nation’s history being that all subsequent unethical hijinx are automatically suffixed with “-gate.”
he was tragically small.
he was not jfk.
nixon was nothing.