The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
Richard Milhous Nixon hated the limelight, perhaps for good reason. When it shined down upon him like a police cruiser spotlight on a rabid dog, what it showed was not something to make the American people proud. He would have been a more powerful and successful politician in the days of the smoke-filled room.
It’s not just that the advent of television did Nixon in. That may be the best thing television has ever done for the American people, and the story is the prime example and one of the few cases in which “the press” in this country actually did the job it is supposed to do with its special rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is one of the few times in our history when a newspaper actually played the watchdog role to the hilt. We have Katharine Meyer Graham and Ben Bradlee to thank for that, along with Woodward and Bernstein.
The story has already been told on how the limelight found Nixon, and what it did to him. Now on the 40th anniversary of his resignation as president on August 9, 1974, perhaps enough time has gone by that we can focus on the damage he did to the country and to democracy itself.
Richard Cohen takes Nixon apart in a Washington Post column under the headline: Richard Nixon’s lasting damage to the GOP. It is only fitting that the newspaper that did the most yeoman’s work to bring Nixon down would dominate the coverage of his legacy.
But my thinking is, who cares about how he harmed the Republican Party? He actually borrowed from the script of Alabama’s George Corley Wallace — who he feared – and helped the so-called GOP, short for Grand Old Party. (Don’t you love it when a journalist uses a politician’s funny middle name to help diminish them?).
What we should be shining the limelight on is how Nixon damaged us all.
If you take a look at the section on the Wikipedia page on Nixon’s legacy, what you will find is a typically shallow two-sided take on the subject. It is a good starting point for people doing basic Web research to learn about those days, but even the biographies try to be fair and balanced toward Nixon.
Hey, call me a liberal-socialist-commie conspiracy nut if you want, but I think in Oliver Stone’s film Nixon, Anthony Hopkins probably shows us a more accurate picture of the real Nixon than any two-sided biography or newspaper column ever could.
Of course predictably, two days before the film was released in theaters, the Richard Nixon Library and birthplace in Yorba Linda, California issued a statement on behalf of the Nixon family, calling parts of the film “reprehensible” and said that it was designed to “defame and degrade President and Mrs. Nixon’s memories in the mind of the American public.”
No, that’s not the purpose of films. The purpose of film is to dig into the research and come up with an accurate portrayal of someone’s life and times. It was Nixon himself who was in fact “reprehensible.” And as a discredited public figure he deserved to be defamed and degraded “in the mind of the American public.”
Even allowing some people to hold onto the view that Nixon had some good side would be a disservice to American democracy and the ideal of a free, objective press itself.
I was only 16-years-old when Nixon went on national television and declared he was not a crook, but of course we eventually found out he was the worst kind of crook there is: Someone the people intrust with the highest office in the land who uses that office not just like a bully pulpit, which is understandable. We know from the tapes that he used his office like some insecure, psychopathic Mob boss to undermine the democratic process at every turn.
One would like to think that in the age of the Internet, we can prevent crooks like Nixon from ever getting elected to high office in the first place. It took newspaper reporters way too long to get the word out on Nixon.
For all his talk about protecting the office of the president and the presidency itself, his actions did more to harm the presidency than anyone who has ever held the office.
He was a foul creature who should be remembered as such. End of story.
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.