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.
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.