When Sadness Comes

Nine books on Richard Nixon that I'd ordered from AbeBooks arrived in the mail yes- terday. I set a new standard for stupidity by accidently ordering something (Richard Reeves' President Nixon: Alone in the White House) I owned not once but twice already-- a copy on the shelf, and another one boxed away with some other duplicate books and movies. Weirder still, of the nine books, the Reeves turned out to be the only one that was damaged; as soon as I removed it from the box, pages started falling out. This may end up being lucky--if I can get a full refund, I'm off the hook. But if, as my initial contact with the seller would indicate, they're expecting me to spend five dollars ship- ping the book back in order to get a refund of six, obviously I won't follow through, in which case I'll have taken that standard of stupidity to a new level still. I'm not exactly sure when I started collecting books about, by, or related to Nixon. When he died in '94, I think I'd already started; I vaguely recall it occurring to me that I'd missed my chance to get a book signed. (And I still believe that Nixon was so in need of validation that a friendly letter and some return postage would have been enough to make that happen, at least in the days before eBay.) In any event, it was somewhere around that time that I consciously decided that, so long as it was reason- ably priced (under $10, let's say), I'd buy any and every Nixon book I came across. Whenever Nixon's name comes up in conversation with someone, and I mention the books, and relate my fascination with the man, I always feel the need to immediately explain myself. I'm always sensitive to the fact that the assumption will be that I'm someone who views Nixon as a heroic figure, as somebody who was done in by the media, the counterculture, intellectuals, the Kennedys, liberals, etc., etc. (basically, that my view of Nixon is no different than what Nixon's view of Nixon was). No--my fascina- tion, I go on to clarify, can instead be attributed to two things. First, there's the simple fact that Nixon was in office when I first paid any at- tention at all to politics--I sat in front of the TV as a 12-year-old and taped his resignation speech on a cassette recorder--and, even more than that, that he was abso- lutely central to a moment in time, the early and mid-70s, that continues to this day to be of such paramount importance to my own imagination. So much of the music and so many of the films that I love from that time were either explicitly about Nixon, or implicitly about him. He was there in Michael Corleone, in Travis Bickle, in "Ambulance Blues," in "Smiling Faces Sometimes," in Nashville, in Welfare--he was lurking every- where. And when the art wasn't so good, and a world was conjured up where he and the realities of the day were seemingly absent--The Brady Bunch, Love Story, K-Tel--that meant something too. More personally, I've long recognized that I share in some of Nixon's worst charac- ter flaws. I won't dwell on that too much here, other than to scan a little chart I once drew up for Martina and Kay's Big Secrets #2, a fanzine put out by Martina Eddy in the mid-90s, in which I contrasted myself with Nixon and LBJ: I was too hard on myself--I definitely don't view myself as a manipulative person to- day, and I'm not really sure why I thought I was at the time. As for the rest, well, much less so now than 15 years ago, but I can't say that it's not all some part of who I am. Taken together--Nixon as part of my personal timeline, and also as a mirror into a corner of my own less-than-admirable self--I do maintain an unusual bond with him. It helps that I'm about five years too young to share in the visceral hatred of Nixon that demarcates the half-generation ahead of me--if I'd been 17 in '74 instead of 12, I doubt that bond would exist. And it helps even more that I've got some emotional and geographical distance as a Canadian. If I'd lost a family member or a friend in Vietnam, I'm pretty sure the visceral hatred would be there. (As I mentioned some- where over in the Obama blogging, Palin has helped me to understand--to experience in the here and now--some of that Nixon-hatred.) Every January 9, on Nixon's birthday, I show my students that amazing slow zoom that concludes the first Frost interview--the shot that culminates with Nixon finally, after five agonizing minutes of stumbling and rambling and self-serving legalisms, coming as close to an apology as he likely ever came. (I first provide as much con- text as I reasonably can in a brief introduction, else I'm not sure the clip would mean anything.) Greil Marcus once compared the intensity of The Godfather's slow zoom into Michael as he formulates the murder of McCluskey and Sollazzo to a similar shot in Persona where Bibi Andersson recalls her sexual encounter on the beach. I'd add the closing shot in Long Day's Journey into Night ("That was in the winter of senior year...") as being close to their equal, and I'd say the Nixon zoom is even more mes- merizing than all three. My students almost always remain quiet and focussed for the duration of the shot; maybe they're connecting with something close to what I connect- ed with at their age. The books. You can argue against a few of these as being Nixon books--e.g., Centre Stage, a biography of Helen Gahagan Douglas, or Before the Storm, Rick Perlstein's account of Goldwater's ascension and run for the Presidency in '64--but I tend to in- clude anything where Nixon figures prominently in the events or life being chronicled. In Douglas's case, it's an easy call--whatever historical interest she retains today resides almost entirely in her losing Senate race against Nixon in 1950. Ditto the books by Dean, Haldeman, Erlichman, and others. Nixon's centrality to the lives of people like Chambers or Ellsberg is perhaps less obvious, but to me they belong. A Tissue of Lies: Nixon vs. Hiss – Morton Levitt & Michael Levitt Abuse of Power – Stanley I. Kutler All the President’s Men – Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward An American Life: One Man's Road to Watergate – Jeb Stuart Magruder An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 – Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson & Bruce Page An Evening with Richard Nixon – Gore Vidal Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation – Ken Gormley Before the Storm – Rick Perlstein Being Nixon: A Man Divided – Evan Thomas Beyond Peace – Richard Nixon Blind Ambition – John Dean Breach of Faith – Theodore H. White Center Stage – Ingrid Winther Scobie Crazy Rhythm – Leonard Garment Daniel Ellsberg – Papers on the War Exile – Robert Sam Anson Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 – Hunter S. Thompson Feiffer on Nixon – Jules Feiffer From: the President – Bruce Oudes (editor) Hubris and the Presidency – Richard Curtis I Gave Them a Sword: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interviews – David Frost (hardcover & paperback) Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage – Jeffrey Frank In Search of Deep Throat – Leonard Garment Johnson, Nixon, and the Doves – Melvin Small Kennedy & Nixon – Christopher Matthews Kissinger – Marvin Kalb & Bernard Kalb Kissinger – Walter Isaacson 1999 – Richard Nixon 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon – David Pietrusza Nixon Agonistes – Garry Wills Nixon: A Life – Jonathan Aitken Nixon and Kissinger – Robert Dallek Nixon at the Movies – Mark Feeney Nixon in China – Margaret MacMillan (hardcover & paperback) Nixon in Winter – Monica Crowley Nixon off the Record – Monica Crowley Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990 – Stephen E. Ambrose Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913-1962 – Stephen E. Ambrose Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 1962-1972 – Stephen E. Ambrose Nixon's Darkest Secrets – Don Fulsom Nixon's Enemies – Kenneth Franklin Kurz Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image – David Greenberg Nixonland – Rick Perlstein No More Vietnams – Richard Nixon (hardcover & paperback) Observing the Nixon Years – Jonathan Schell One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon – Tim Weiner One of Us – Tom Wicker Pardon Me, Mr. President – Ranan R. Lurie Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture – Mark Feldstein Power and the Presidency – Robert A. Wilson (editor) President Nixon: Alone in the White House – Richard Reeves President Nixon’s 24 Hours in Warsaw – Stanislaw Glabinski Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership with Reflections on Johnson and Nixon – Richard E. Neustadt Recollections of a Life – Alger Hiss Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full – Conrad Black Richard Milhous Nixon – Roger Morris Richard Nixon and His America – Herbert S. Parmet Richard Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film – Eric Hamburg (editor) Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask – Gary Allen Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character – Fawn M. Brodie RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon – Richard Nixon Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers – Daniel Ellsberg Seize the Moment – Richard Nixon Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate – Bob Woodward Silent Coup – Len Colodny & Robert Gettlin Six Crises – Richard Nixon Stonewall – Richard Ben Veniste & George Frampton, Jr. The Agony of the G.O.P. 1964 – Robert D. Novak The American President – William E. Leuchtenburg The Arrogance of Power – Anthony Summers The Contender – Irwin F. Gellman The Conviction of Richard Nixon – James Reston, Jr. The Day the Presses Stopped – David Rudenstine The End of a Presidency – New York Times staff The Ends of Power – H.R. Haldeman The Final Days – Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama – Len Colodny & Tom Shachtman The Greatest Comeback – Patrick J. Buchanan The Haldeman Diaries – H.R. Haldeman The Impeachment of Richard Nixon – Leonard Lurie The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan – Rick Perlstein The King and Us – Paul Conrad The Last of the President's Men – Bob Woodward The Lonely Lady of San Clemente – Lester David The Making of the President 1960 – Theodore H. White (hardcover & paperback) The Making of the President 1968 – Theodore H. White The Making of the President 1972 – Theodore H. White The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende’s Chile – Jonathan Haslam The Nixon Defense – John Dean The Nixons: First Families – Cass R. Sandak The Palace Guard – Dan Rather & Gary Paul Gates The Pentagon Papers The Public Burning – Robert Coover The President and the Apprentice – Irwin F. Gellman The Presidents Club – Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy The Price of Power – Seymour M. Hersh The Real Nixon – Bela Kornitzer The Real War – Richard Nixon The Right and the Power – Leon Jaworski The Secret Man – Bob Woodward The Selling of the President 1968 – Joe McGinniss The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon – Jerry Voorhis The Unholy Hymnal – Albert E. Kahn (editor) The White House Transcripts The White House Years: Triumph and Tragedy – Ollie Atkins U.S. v. Richard M. Nixon – Frank Mankiewicz Very Strange Bedfellows – Jules Witcover Watergate – Fred Emery Watergate – Lewis Chester, Cal McCrystal, Stephen Aris & William Shawcross Whittaker Chambers – Sam Tanenhaus Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg – Tom Wells With Nixon – Raymond Price Without Honor – Jerry Zeifman Witness to Power – John Ehrlichman Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate – Alicia C. Shepard (Obviously this is all just a very calculated scheme to get anyone who knows me to get out there and start searching for books that aren't on the list. How very Nixon of me-- maybe I'd better rethink the manipulative part.)

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