Nixon’s Ghost


Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States.

In today’s National Post, I look at how Richard Nixon’s politics of cultural resentment continue to influence the Republican party. The essay also doubles as a review of Rick Perlstein’s excellent book Nixonland.

An excerpt:

Republican politicians like John McCain and Sarah Palin love talking about the great heroes of their party, men like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan who supposedly laid the foundations for the conservative movement. When asked to compare himself to a movie character, McCain naturally referred to George “The Gipper” Gipp from Reagan’s best-loved film Knute Rockne, All American. Yet there is one immensely important figure in the history of the party that Republicans are loath to mention, a president who did far more than Reagan to make the GOP what it is today: Richard Nixon.  

Ever since Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace in 1974, Republicans have been tight-lipped about his role in shaping the party’s ideology. This silence, while understandable, is also evidence of ingratitude. For his party, Richard Nixon remains an embarrassment that can’t be escaped. Like a well-to-do family whose founding father was a gangster, Republicans know in their hearts that they owe everything to Nixon but they dare not speak his name.  

7 thoughts on “Nixon’s Ghost

  1. Have you read P.J. O’Rourke’s piece, “We Blew It”, in “The Weekly Standard”? Although I haven’t read the Pearlstein book, I’ve read about it, and O’Rourke’s thoughts on the recent election sound like they echo what Pearlstein has to say.

  2. The thing that I loved about Nixonland was how gripping it was. I could barely put it down. And moving, too – I teared up when he got to the Newark riots, or the assassination of RFK.

  3. The O’Rourke essay is interesting, and a salutary attempt at self-criticism. Some of what he says is congruant with Perlstein, although it should be kept in mind that Nixonland is a very long, detailed book which, as Nick says, remains gripping and moving. So I’d say O’Rourke is the souffle to Perlstein’s main coure.

  4. For all his bluster, O’Rourke seems pretty stuck in the Nixon mindset too. I mean, “hemp-wearing, kelp-eating, mandala-tatted, fool-coifed liberal with socks in sandals?” That’s pretty much straight out of the ’72 Democratic convention…

  5. The funny thing is – and O’Rourke is self-aware to know this – is if you look at the group photo for the National Lampoon’s High School Yearbook, O’Rourke was in fact, however briefly, a “hemp-wearing, kelp-eating, mandala-tatted, fool-coifed liberal with socks in sandals”.

  6. Richard Milhous Nixon was a genius. He is one of the two or three greatest political figures of the last half of the 20th century. Now that Obommunist and his lackeys are in the process of destroying the Democratic party the Republicans are on their way back. You are behind the curve. History is finally about to through socialism on the ash heap where it belongs.

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