Monday, December 01, 2008

American Experience: Richard Nixon

I just finished the three hour PBS biography of Richard Nixon. I felt this did justice to this complex figure of American presidential history. Nixon, in some moments, is great, while in others, he is contemptible. Nixon’s problems all started in his head as he was very paranoid and simply had to win, no matter what the cost. He was a hard campaigner because he wanted to ensure victory.

I found the information on Nixon’s political background to be fascinating as well. Nixon started out on the House Un-American Activities Committee and was part of the Alger Hiss case. He then served as Eisenhower’s Vice President. I think this position often gets overlooked since he lost the 1960 election to Kennedy and disappeared off the radar for a few years before reemerging in 1968 to win the presidency.

Looking at Nixon’s international politics, he really managed to do a lot of and was a good politician. He was willing to work with Communist China, even though he had fought communism with a vengeance in his early career. Why then did he end up in such disgrace? The key always seemed to be himself. He taped all his White House conversation because of his paranoia and that would later be used against him. In addition, he won the 1972 election by a wide margin – he didn’t need to be poking into the Democratic National Headquarters, but again, he couldn’t seem to stay out of it. He also got into the cover up in a major way and probably made the problem worse. For a man with his accomplishments, he seemed very insecure.

There are a number of fun pieces to explore on PBS’s website, including a “Vote on the Issues” where you pick what you would have agreed with and see which candidate you would have chosen (I would have picked McGovern according to this little poll). As usual there is also a teacher’s guide. This is definitely a worthwhile piece to watch.

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