Thursday, March 5, 2009

I Am Not a Crook

But he was of course, wasn't he?

A few weeks ago I was completely immersed in the politics of 40 years ago. I saw Frost/Nixon in the theaters, watched Nixon at home, and read Nixonland every free minute. 2008 was an election year, and politics is still very much on everyone's mind. John Adams won multiple Emmys, and our new President has four books on the audiobook bestseller list.

I was an indifferent history student in school. I never met a textbook that didn't put me to sleep, full of dry paragraphs and small pictures of middle-aged white men who looked like their teeth hurt. I couldn't connect the dates and events in my mind in any linear way. It wasn't until I started reading historical fiction that I began to understand history as people: making difficult choices, acting as their conscience or their fears drove them.

But some people are too big for fiction. Nixon is a character only real life could create. Smart but never charming, deeply faithful in marriage but terribly profane in speech. He felt victimized even as he betrayed others, lied constantly while professing honesty. He abused power in many, many ways, and yet he remains one of the most interesting presidents we've had. Perhaps you've heard the saying, "Only Nixon could go to China." Only a politician so obviously and fiercely anti-Communist could make the overture to Mao without being perceived as soft on Communism.

When I walk the shelves in U. S. History, the major events of the last 200 years leap out at you. Here are the wars, the "conflicts", the great acts of legislation and social upheaval. I was a little surprised this afternoon to see how many books there are on the Iraq war. Thanks to Watergate and Alger Hiss and the Nixon/Kennedy debates and Vietnam, there are dozens of books on our 37th president. You can even watch the original Frost/Nixon interviews if you've a mind to.

I reassure myself that though I may not watch the news, I am still political - because I visit the 970s (U. S. History), go to the movies, and read lots of new historical fiction.

How do you get your daily dose of politics?

1 comment:

Jo B, said...

You raise an interesting question about people's choice of sources for political or historical material. The director/screenwriter Oliver Stone who did the movie Nixon is widely criticized for his interpretation of history in that film. (Don't ask about his "JFK". People were going to throw him in jail for treason.) Yet, I venture to guess more people saw that movie than ever read a book about Nixon and I suppose as the decades fly by, it will be the movie that endures. That would sadden Nixon, of course, who supposedly believed till his dying day that history would redeem him.

P.S. Recently Alan Greenspan was asked who were the presidents who best understood complicated finance, and he offered two names: Bill Clinton and.... Richard Nixon. He said that Nixon was very smart.

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