Monday, July 16, 2007

Nixon in Purgatory

Someday, when my kids are past college, I hope they can read stuff about George W. Bush that's as insane as this stuff on his only competition for the title of Worst President Ever, Richard M. Nixon. A short, punchy gloss in Slate describes

a meandering 11-page memorandum (PDF) that Nixon sent in 1970 to his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, urging that White House staffers talk up what a warm human being "RN" was. (As was his habit, in the memo Nixon referred to himself repeatedly in the third person.) Nixon complained that "average voters" regarded RN as "an efficient, crafty, cold, machine." To help correct this common misconception, Nixon cited "warm items" (Page 3) such as "the calls that I make to people when they are sick, even though they no longer mean anything to anybody" (Page 4). "I called some mothers and wives of men that had been killed in Vietnam," he added, helpfully.

Because he was Nixon, he resented somewhat the social imperative that the president be courteous. "[W]e have gone far beyond any previous president … in breaking our backs to be nicey-nice to the Cabinet, staff and the Congress … around Christmastime," Nixon groused (Page 3). "I have treated them like dignified human beings and not like dirt under my feet" (Page 4), he continued. Connoisseurs will recognize this last as a choice illustration of Nixon's rhetorical tendency to render the thing he denies (that he treats subordinates "like dirt under my feat," that he is "a crook," that the press will "have Dick Nixon to kick around") much more vivid than the denial itself ("not," "won't").

Priceless. Nixon's "warm items" are Bush's "smart items," no?