“Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming
We’re finally on our own…”
– Neil Young
As dreams go, it certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable I’ve ever had. It wasn’t Jimmy Buffett’s lyrical “tremulous” dream featuring Cheryl Tiegs. But it was memorable. It was memorable.
It’s been over a week now, and I still catch myself reliving it (Is that right? Do we actually live our dreams?), primarily, I guess because it was more like watching a news reel of one of this country’s most tumultuous periods in the second half of the 20th Century.
My dream I can’t quite shake was full of boogeymen galore: Watergate, Kent State, Vietnam, and that which they all had in common – Richard Nixon.
When Nixon died in 1994, I wrote: “Having for so long endured the slings and arrows of a fortune largely of his own forging, this most mysterious and controversial figure of perhaps all of modern American politics, has finally succumbed to that certain fatality of a failing flesh. This time, there will be no comeback. This time we really won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
And boy, was I wrong, though it would be a while before I knew it. After all, 37 years ago, Donald Trump had not yet begun his quest to out-Nixon Nixon. And to finish out the Shakespearean quote I chose for the headline of this, there will be little good to be interred with any of their bones.
But back to my dream and its series of dog-ears on an entire chapter of modern American history:
The McCarthy red scare hearings – the commie hating Nixon so smug in his piety and a beleaguered Alger Hiss.
The Checkers Speech – Nixon’s first political resurrection after being caught playing a little fast and loose with money that didn’t quite belong to him.
The Nixon/Kennedy debate – The first televised presidential debate in history and perhaps the only one truly decided in large part by that fact alone – the new medium’s effect on a national election which may have been wrought by the efforts of a makeup man. Nixon sweated, his eyes darted sinisterly, and he just looked to be more than a little too shifty by half. Conversely, those who listened to the debate on radio, told pollsters they believed Nixon won handily.
The Southern Strategy – Nixon’s embrace and utilization of the brainchild of Haley Barbour and Lee Atwater, the effectiveness of division, the ruthlessly forged form from amid the chaos of the Goldwater debacle of 1964 that proved the spine of the Republican body politic until its usurping by the Cult of Trumpism.
Headlines in the Washington Post – Then considered a somewhat endangered “local paper,” the work of two young, ambitious reporters backed up by a flamboyant but courageous editor turned Katherine Graham’s family pride into a national power whose influence continues today.
The Watergate Hearings – Howard Baker’s famous question (“What did the president know, and when did he know it?”) proved punctuation to the televised American surgery without anesthetic, in which a patient known as the Constitution somehow survived.
The pardon – One of the less heralded acts of American patriotism that cost Gerald Ford an election but allowed a still bleeding nation to clot and save itself from itself.
And in fairness, the vividness of those images and emotions served to obscure “the other Nixon,” in the minds of most. As many mistakes, as many seeds of paranoia as this would-be tyrant of a little man sewed close to home, his was an arguably unmatched brilliance when projected across the sea within foreign policy. China, Russia, detente, an unwavering vision in laying the foundation for what eventually served to collapse the Russian communist house of cards.
Richard M. Nixon was a man who treasured dearly but crafted poorly what would come to be his eventual place in history. He was loved and hated, revered and reviled and considered by some whose business it is to evaluate such as perhaps the most significant (for good and evil) figure of the end of 20th Century in this country.
But neither he nor what he wrought are the stuff of which dreams should be made of, and as such, I recommend against it mightily.
No, give me Mr. Buffett’s wishful thoughts of Cheryl Tiegs and should I wake up on a hillside next to a moonshine still and a bear, so much the better.
’Cause, I am 70 years old and I can’t see how being “God’s Own Drunk,” one more time is gonna hurt a thing.
After all, I voted for Nixon.