I finally had the chance last week to watch CNN’s documentary on Richard Nixon. The program uses home-movie footage shot by H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s chief of staff and others.
During most of the Watergate years I was in Philadelphia and, at times, in Bethesda, Md.
I remember very well watching Nixon’s resignation in Philadelphia with a friend who was upset with the process. He was one of the few young guys I knew who were Republicans for Nixon.
I have always believed Nixon was one of our more intriguing presidents, principally because his demons were so visible. Most presidents and political leaders at any level are far better at hiding their scares.
I wrote in an earlier column I did my first in-depth research of Nixon while working on an Alger Hiss project. Hiss went to jail for perjury following allegations by Whittaker Chambers that he was a Communist. Nixon was a representative from California and a member of the House Committee on un-American Activities. He was the sole member of the committee who believed Hiss was lying and, like a dog with a bone, he would not let the case drop. It catapulted Nixon into the national spotlight, providing the first steps on his march to the White House.
The CNN documentary was interesting but, like almost all programs and works on Nixon, it leaves so many essential questions unanswered or unclear.
The obvious questions are: when he had the opportunity, why he didn’t destroy the tapes that eventually brought him down, and why did a person known for his political acumen allow himself to be defeated by his lack of political judgement?
The more vexing questions are what drove Nixon to be what he was. The answer to that puzzle is at the heart of what drives political leaders at all levels. This may seem far removed from our local races, but it isn’t. The driving force is still complex as is all human action.
I often wonder why local folks are willing to run for office considering the atmosphere of whack and attack in American politics – and it is nothing new.
Local elected leaders in general are more responsive to their constituents, and more closely connected.
At some level Nixon is in us as a people, which is why the puzzle pieces that made him are always fascinating – at least to me.
I recommend the CNN documentary. Well worth our time, in our time.