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Old 01-03-2019, 03:07 PM
 
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So I recently stumbled across a copy of Richard Nixon: The Life, by John A. Farrell at my local library. I heard an interview with the author maybe a year or so ago so it was on my radar, and I've been waiting for years for a Nixon bio of this caliber to be produced. These things tend to take some time after a Presidency. It takes decades for primary sources to emerge, and key witnesses are often reluctant to talk when they're still active in politics, for obvious reasons. It helps if the subject has long since died. Such is the case here. Nixon has been dead for nearly a quarter century, his wife preceding him. The principal political actors from early in Nixon's career are almost all long gone, as are many of them from his presidency. And sources have emerged. The White House tapes are now almost entirely public, and the Nixon library has released those documents that it tried for decades to keep private. The book makes exhaustive use of these sources, and others such as Pat Nixon's private thoughts from her personal correspondences with friends. Even an interview with brother Edward Nixon, regarding Richard's formative years and his dynamics with his family. I had no idea that any of Nixon's siblings still lived, and was surprised.

It's all in here. His semi-hardscrabble youth, the early deaths of two brothers. Nixon's talents playing poker in the Navy and his almost overhwelming shyness around women. The early political victories, the red-baiting, Checkers, the difficult relationship with Eisenhower. I knew about all of these things, but not in such depth. For example, I had no idea that Jerry Voorhis, the incumbent Congressman Nixon defeated by painting him as a red dupe, was in fact despised by the communists for the Voorhis Act and as a member of HUAC. Nor did I know that the Los Angeles Times was a conservative political kingmaker in the 1950s, and that Nixon's path to the Senate required wooing the Times in order to become their chosen candidate. He did so, he became such, and the Times duly shepherded his candidacy through both primary and general election. Nixon's position on the GOP ticket is fascinating, how Ike twice tried - in both 1952 and 1956 - to bump him off of it and Nixon outmaneuvered the candidate (and then President) to make it less politically costly just to stick with Nixon.

Most fascinating of all is the deep pathos:
*Nixon's rage at 'east cost elites', in part because he wanted to badly to be one pf them, and lost his chance when he had to turn down a partial scholarship to attend Harvard because his family could not afford to pay the balance or to lose him work at the family store.
*His loathing of the intelligentsia, despite the fact that he was one of the most intelligent and well-read Presidents of the 20th century.
*His unbridled hatred of the media (despite happily using them when convenient, as mentioned above regarding the Los Angeles Times).
*Above all, the paranoia.

Nixon's life plays out almost in two acts. First, everything through the 1960 election. Then the debacle of California in 1962 and the subsequent wilderness years serve as a sort of bridge leading to Act Two, the ascent to the White House, his presidency, and the scandal that consumed it.

There's the Chennault Affair, which the Nixon library was most keen to keep under wraps (along with detailed plans for what became known as the Southern Strategy), wherein in 1968 private citizen Nixon was covertly meeting with the South Vietnamese ambassador and using intermediaries to urge President Thieu to refuse to participate in peace talks, fearful that success for the Johnson administration along these lines might help the Humphrey campaign. LBJ knew what was going on but was unable to reveal this dubious and almost certainly criminal act, because doing so would have necessarily revealed that the knowledge was acquired through his own (dubious and unlawful) surveillance of Americans. There's Watergate, of course, with all its various details, including Nixon's increasing drinking as the scandal progressed. One thing I had known about was the Nixon was prone to make outrageous demands - he endlessly demanded that various crimes be committed, and most of his aids knew enough not to undertake them. But Nixon himself had cautioned his advisors that he frequently would demand things that were not to take seriously. You can see a strange duality of self-awareness yet angry lack of self-restraint therein. At the same time, often he was very clear in his demands for extralegal activities and held to them even after he'd reached the lucid 'cooled down' stage of temperament. There's the relatively liberal domestic policy, largely borne of the fact that Nixon was ideological in foreign affairs but much more pragmatic on the home front. He once told a supporter (this was around 1970), who was also an accomplished attorney, that her support for same-sex marriage cost her a potential judicial appointment from him. But he was far-seeing enough to understand that such a thing would probably come around one day - "maybe by the year 2000," he presciently mused in a moment caught on tape.

I found myself looking for some sort of redemption, wishing - though I knew it was not to be found - that at some point after 1974 Richard Nixon would acknowledge what he had done. But he never did. He blamed everyone - the Kennedys, Woodward and Bernstein, the Democrats - but Richard Nixon. He genuinely believed that as President he was above the law, and that in the pursuit of power all was fair (except, of course, when it was done by one of his opponents). He disliked all of his successors. Ford and Bush were dismissed as dumb, Carter as incompetent, Reagan resented for superseding Nixon as the national leader of conservatism, and he had the reactionary's loathing for Clinton. Only occasionally could he approach introspection. Once he observed (I'm paraphrasing from memory here): "If you're a nice guy you can make a mistake and they'll forgive you, but if you're a prick they'll stick the sword in and twist it". But he didn't acknowledge that he himself stabbed and twisted whether or not the other man (or woman) was nice or a prick. But for all his flirtations with understanding his own complicity in his demise, in the end Richard Nixon was always to himself the victim unjustly attacked.

It's an excellent and compelling read, one I highly recommended.
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Old 01-03-2019, 03:20 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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I read the book a few months ago and agree that it is an excellent, well balanced biography. We get the warts and the triumphs.

I lived through the Watergate era and I suppose there is a massive difference in how one perceives Nixon if you were not around then and your knowledge of the man is entirely from books. Those in that latter group seem to wonder why there are so many who truly detest Nixon and believe that the Watergate episode wasn't serious enough to warrant his removal from office.

I think that what really made Nixon's detractors so angry was the frequency and manifest insincerity of his lies. Nixon was a bad liar, his body language betrayed him, his tone of voice betrayed him, the sweat on his brow betrayed him. It was just so damn frustrating to sit in front of your TV and know with an absolute certainty that he was lying. It was insulting in its obvious transparency. He made you mad at him personally, not just politically.
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Old 01-03-2019, 05:51 PM
 
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Richard Nixon was an amazing mixture of good and bad qualities. I have difficulty thinking of a historical figure who had two such violently different sides.

The good side included an astonishing intellect that allowed him to understand politics better than almost anyone around him. It included a willingness to bend and compromise to achieve larger goals. It included an ability to abandon ideology and use methods that the democrats would have used. He used government imposed wage and price controls to subdue inflation. He sponsored two government regulatory agencies to deal with problems that existed. I speak of the EPA and OSHA. He was a master of foreign policy issues and he realized that by making overtures to China he could: Make a more peaceful world; cause consternation among the leaders of the USSR; and help achieve some semblance of a peace deal in Vietnam. He went from barely winning election with 43% of the vote in 1968 to defeating his opponent in a landslide with over 61% of the vote in 1972.

Unfortunately, the bad side probably outweighed all of this. He was an excessively paranoid person. He believed that if he gave an interview on t.v. that someone would deliberately shut the sound off on him to make him look bad. He was very antisemitic and the White House tapes are full of nasty comments about Jews and other groups he disliked. His lack of tethering to any ideology made him a rather amoral man. He knew the Watergate burglars and their families were being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in "hush money" so they would not tell the truth to the federal grand jury. He openly conspired on tape in the White House about bribery and obstruction of justice to deliberately impede the Watergate investigation. He authorized the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsburg's psychiatrist. Other presidents wiretapped people and used the IRS against their opponents. Nixon took it to a new level where it was being done to hundreds of people. He compiled an enemies list. These were people Nixon fully intended to use the offices of government to punish when he had the opportunity.

In the end, I have many regrets about Nixon. I think if he had been a somewhat different person he could have been one of our greatest presidents. The reality is though we have yet to survive him. Other politicians and presidents probably got some ideas for misbehavior from him. We may see these played out in the future.
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Old 01-03-2019, 06:31 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Originally Posted by markg91359 View Post
The reality is though we have yet to survive him. Other politicians and presidents probably got some ideas for misbehavior from him. We may see these played out in the future.
His longest lasting legacy has been his generating a distrust of the government in general and the executive in particular. Contrast the media collectively protecting President Kennedy from public exposure of his sexual affairs, to today's Gotcha journalism where scandal is the most treasured commodity and it is no holds barred in digging it up. Nixon managed to take the dignity of the office and leave it in the gutter when he was run out of town. It is the respect for the office which has never fully recovered.

In the '60's and '70's it was the left wing which was questioning the legitimacy of the government and attracting the attention of the FBI as a consequence. Nixon's legacy was to make a whole bunch of right wingers equally suspicious. In the '80's and '90's the FBI spent its time pursuing right wing militias.

Of all the contrasts he presented to us, perhaps the most absorbing is that this man, who was shy, uncomfortable and awkward in social situations, who clearly did not like most people, opted for the most public career an American can pursue.
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Old 01-04-2019, 10:47 AM
 
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distrust in the government came during the Vietnam War and the liberal elites in colleges teaching our kids that goes on 'till this day. I like Nixon, he came from poverty and made it to the U.S. Presidency when he was never accepted in the elite club.


Nixon's "crimes" were no different than other Presidents but the press went after him hard and with hatred. Unlike Bill Clinton, he left the WH and put country first and didn't want to fight impeachment and put himself above country.....he did it also in the 1960 Presidential Election when he didn't contest the election results because of fraud and he had a strong case but he put country first.
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Old 01-04-2019, 11:27 AM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Originally Posted by Hellion1999 View Post
Unlike Bill Clinton, he left the WH and put country first and didn't want to fight impeachment and put himself above country
President Nixon departed because he knew he could not win an impeachment trial in the Senate. He made his decision when Barry Goldwater came to the White House shortly after the smoking gun tape had been released, and informed Nixon that even his most die hard supporters in the Senate were now abandoning his defense.

You need not take my word for this, take it straight from Nixon's resignation address.
Quote:
I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me.

In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.

But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged.
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/spc/cha...on_speech.html
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Old 01-04-2019, 11:59 AM
 
9,677 posts, read 3,265,118 times
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Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post
President Nixon departed because he knew he could not win an impeachment trial in the Senate. He made his decision when Barry Goldwater came to the White House shortly after the smoking gun tape had been released, and informed Nixon that even his most die-hard supporters in the Senate were now abandoning his defense.

You need not take my word for this, take it straight from Nixon's resignation address.

and impeachment trial would have taken the whole year and if Nixon wanted to fight it as Bill Clinton did, he could have but he wasn't that kind of person. Nixon's "crimes" were not any worse than other Presidents from Reagan and HW Bush on the Iran Contra and illegal wars in which HW Bush pardoned all of his cronies to kill the special prosecutor investigation and prevent them from talking and making deals with the Special Prosecutor, I can go on and on here from the NSA spying program and the Patriot Act that are huge crimes in comparison to the Watergate 3rd rate burglary cover up that all that Nixon did was to protect his people.
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Old 01-04-2019, 12:05 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hellion1999 View Post
and impeachment trial would have taken the whole year and if Nixon wanted to fight it as Bill Clinton did, he could have but he wasn't that kind of person. Nixon's "crimes" were not any worse than other Presidents from Reagan and HW Bush on the Iran Contra and illegal wars in which HW Bush pardoned all of his cronies to kill the special prosecutor investigation and prevent them from talking and making deals with the Special Prosecutor, I can go on and on here from the NSA spying program and the Patriot Act that are huge crimes in comparison to the Watergate 3rd rate burglary cover up that all that Nixon did was to protect his people.
President Clinton fought his impeachment because he believed that he could prevail, and he was correct. President Nixon would have fought his impeachment if he had thought he had any chance of winning. He found out that he didn't and that forced his resignation. Let us not try and put frosting on a turd. There was nothing noble or self sacrificing about it, he quit before he could be run out of town on a rail.
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Old 01-04-2019, 12:15 PM
 
9,677 posts, read 3,265,118 times
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Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post
President Clinton fought his impeachment because he believed that he could prevail, and he was correct. President Nixon would have fought his impeachment if he had thought he had any chance of winning. He found out that he didn't and that forced his resignation. Let us not try and put frosting on a turd. There was nothing noble or self sacrificing about it, he quit before he could be run out of town on a rail.



Nixon wasn't power hungry like the Clintons.....he could have contested LEGALLY the 1960 Presidential election when JFK narrowly won by 0.17% of the votes and plenty of evidence of voter fraud in several states and Nixon refused because it would have divided the nation and call in question our "democratic" process. Al Gore and the Democrats would have contested the election.


one more time, Nixon's "crimes" weren't any worse than other Presidents. Nixon got nailed for it while other Presidents didn't.
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Old 01-04-2019, 05:08 PM
 
4,323 posts, read 1,780,758 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post
I read the book a few months ago and agree that it is an excellent, well balanced biography. We get the warts and the triumphs.

I lived through the Watergate era and I suppose there is a massive difference in how one perceives Nixon if you were not around then and your knowledge of the man is entirely from books. Those in that latter group seem to wonder why there are so many who truly detest Nixon and believe that the Watergate episode wasn't serious enough to warrant his removal from office.

I think that what really made Nixon's detractors so angry was the frequency and manifest insincerity of his lies. Nixon was a bad liar, his body language betrayed him, his tone of voice betrayed him, the sweat on his brow betrayed him. It was just so damn frustrating to sit in front of your TV and know with an absolute certainty that he was lying. It was insulting in its obvious transparency. He made you mad at him personally, not just politically.

I think a lot also depends on where you are on the political fence. Personally, I do not care for Nixon, but his foreign policy accomplishments were significant. Meanwhile, his economics were a fiasco.



However, the same people who will rail against Nixon have a curious blind spot when it comes to his immediate predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. Probably the most corrupt, duplicitous president we had in the 20th Century. Not only did he cynically escalate the Vietnam War without actually telling the American people, but he also set some ill-considered public policies into motion, most notably his War On Poverty. 50 years after it began, the Poverty Rate in this country remains pretty much unchanged.

Robert Caro has, over the past thirty years, been steadily demolishing LBJ's reputation with his multi-volume, impeccably-researched biography. Caro, hardly a conservative shill (In fact, pretty much the opposite), just has written a pretty damning work.
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