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Clio's Temple

Nixon, Revisited

How quickly we forget. Richard Nixon, whose 100th birthday anniversary is today, once seemed to be a figure that we couldn't forget, no matter how hard we tried. Even now, few people - including those who've studied his career up close - can have any sense that they really knew him.

He was a walking paradox: a poor boy who never seemed comfortable with either rich or poor; a demagogic Red-baiter who started our relations with China back toward "normalcy"; a man with highly tuned political instincts who let himself be brought low by a two-bit piece of political trickery.

Followers of history need a sense of irony. Even fessing up to responsibility for Watergate, no one could have beaten Nixon in 1972. Yet the man was so insecure he could never believe he had reached a solid enough footing with the American people to face them and admit he had lied. Politicians seem to run to such behavior. If we're honest, we admit that we ourselves might do the same in similar circumstances.

Only a Sophocles or Aeschylus could fully appreciate Richard Nixon. He seems to be a man made for a central role in a Greek tragedy. Or perhaps we should leave him with a commendation from Keats: "I am Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

2 Comments to Nixon, Revisited:

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