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?