The Richard Nixon Experience
Disgraced? Ridiculed? Posterity sagging? You really need your own library.
By Jayson Go, 6 Aug 2009,

Driving down a freeway somewhere in Orange County with some of the family members I had come to visit, I saw a sign. "This many miles to Yorba Linda." "Yorba Linda," I said. "That's where the Nixon Library is." I didn't actually suggest seeing it, per se, just pointed out the fact in passing to be braggy about trivia.

"Is that someplace you'd like to go?" my cousin immediately asked.

"Uh, okay, sure," I replied. "I'm always interested in history. Nixon should be interesting."

Rehabilitating a Monster

The late Richard Nixon, who resigned from the U.S. presidency 35 years ago on Saturday, is a character in two movies I've seen this year. One is the alternate history superhero epic Watchmen, the other is the eponymous Frost/Nixon. Nixon, I would say, remains the most iconic, certainly the most lampooned of all former presidents. Slumped shoulders, fleshy jowls, narrow protruding nose, and uptight disposition -- when people talk about Nixon it's usually as the punch-line to a joke.

The Nixon I was introduced to growing up always was more caricature than human being, a surly Droopy Dog. I recall one Simpsons Halloween episode where he was included among history's greatest villains, beside Blackbeard and John Wilkes Booth, hand-picked by the devil himself to sit on the Jury of the Damned. "But I'm not dead yet," Nixon protested. "Hey listen, I did a favour for you," the Devil replied.

Yet Canadians of my generation know very little about the man. We are much too young to actually remember seeing him on television. We do not study American history in secondary school. We might catch a snippet about his policies, or his pets, on CNN. We rely on The Simpsons and films like Watchmen, and perhaps the occasional episode of Murphy Brown (if it's still in re-runs somewhere) to give us a cursory understanding of Watergate -- just enough to know it was criminal and that he resigned as a result -- and to supply us with a few buzz words and references: Deep Throat, enemies lists, "I am not a crook."

As well, we have our images of Nixon as a tragic figure, almost Shakespearean, perhaps a Richard III type to Lyndon Johnson's King Lear. This is "Unfortunate Nixon" in our line of collectable, posable Nixon action figures: the sweaty, rusty foil to John Kennedy's relaxed charm; the brilliant mind who was brought down by his own insecurities, hoisted on his own petard.

You won't find the scheming, shady, swarthy Nixon on the grounds of his Library and Birthplace. This is Richard Nixonland, after all, and in Nixonland all misfortunes are viewed as trials of spirit, which he, in the face of adversity, repeatedly overcomes in triumph.... Read Full Article

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