I finished Joan Hoff’s Nixon Reconsidered. I have three items.
1. I liked something that Hoff said on pages 344-345:
“…the parents of those born after 1974 either strongly opposed or supported Nixon for reasons their children still do not quite understand: ‘My parents hate him,’ one of my students responded on a questionnaire asking why she was taking a class on Nixon, ‘and I want to know why.'”
Why did I like this passage? I can’t really say. I guess it’s because it warms my heart to see people wanting to learn more about the world around them, due to something in their background that they don’t quite understand.
I was one of the people born after 1974. What did my parents think about Richard Nixon? My impression is that they neither hated him nor loved him. They believed that he was a shady politician, but they didn’t have high expectations about politicians, in general.
Although my parents didn’t appear (at least to me) to have strong opinions about Nixon, there were a couple of times when they expressed an opinion about him. When I was in the sixth grade, I was reading The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The back cover quoted the New York Times saying about the book: “Unprecedented….Mr. Nixon emerges as a tragic figure weathering a catastrophic ordeal…and weathering it with considerable courage and dignity.” When I read that quote to my Mom, she responded that she felt that way about Nixon during Watergate.
My Dad one time told a story about a conversation that his father had with someone about Nixon. A relative was really gun-ho about Nixon, saying that Nixon would be a great President, and my Grandpa retorted, “Nixon will be the last President, and, not only that, he will be the worst President.” My Dad in telling the story may have been implying that my Grandpa was not too far off the mark: while Nixon did not turn out to be our last President, Nixon’s Presidency did end on a dismal note.
2. On pages 345-346, Hoff talks about how Nixon during the 1990’s was deemed by many to be authentic:
“He insisted on speaking out on issues, especially foreign policy ones; he looked like a real person, not a talking head, on television; he stood for something rather than nothing or everything, as is now the trendy postmodern fashion…Nixon’s potential appeal by the early 1990s because of his own ‘real’ look was lost on him; he once said to me that ‘blow-dry hair is now as important as brains’ when running for office. It is truly a postmodern moment when Richard Nixon, who had to deal with charges of inauthenticity all his public life, became more real and authentic than the totally packaged variety of contemporary politician.”
Throughout Richard Nixon’s political career, there were many who did not regard Nixon as particularly authentic. With all of the “new Nixons” coming out, many wondered who the real Nixon was. According to Hoff, however, Nixon during the 1990’s was regarded by many as more authentic than most of the politicians who were on the scene. I can attest to that, on some level. I was watching a YouTube clip of David Frost’s interview of Nixon, in which Nixon was responding to Frost’s questions about Watergate. One of the commenters said that she liked Nixon because he was comfortable with being who he was. Granted, this clip was of an interview of Nixon from the late 1970’s, not the 1990’s. But I could see the commenter’s point. I don’t know if Nixon was telling the truth or not in the Frost interviews, but he did come across to me as authentic, as a real person. I have the same impression whenever I watch Nixon’s Checkers Speech from 1952—-and this is a speech that detractors consider to be particularly inauthentic, with its staged den and Nixon’s sappy reference to the family dog. Many say that Nixon was uncomfortable in his own skin, and they may be right. But there were a number of times when Nixon came across as authentic, as if he were conveying a message of “This is who I am, take it or leave it.”
3. For this third item, I’ll offer my general assessments of Hoff’s book. Overall, the book has a lot about policy, and I had to reread parts to grasp what exactly Hoff was narrating. The book is important, but it is very dry, in areas. At the same time, I enjoyed Hoff’s anecdotes about her interviews with Nixon. In terms of her argument that President Nixon had significant and progressive accomplishments in domestic policy, she may be right about that, but I wish that she addressed certain liberal arguments against Nixon’s domestic policy. For example, a number of progressives were critical of Nixon’s welfare reform plan of giving cash benefits to the poor, maintaining that the funding would not be adequate. Hoff should have addressed that charge by saying whether or not the poor would have been able to live on the amount of money that Nixon’s plan would give them. Another point that I would like to make is that I found Hoff to be rather elliptical, in places. She seemed to agree that the Joint Chiefs of Staff was bugging the National Security Council, for example, but I wanted her to go into more detail about why it would do this.
Good book, though!