Thursday, March 07, 2013

National Enigma

Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made ManNixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man 
by Garry Wills

“We were so elated about winning the big game, and to have the President of the United States (Richard Nixon) come into your locker room ? if you're not impressed with that, hoss, you just can't be impressed.” - Darrell Royal

Wills convincingly argues for the view that Nixon was really a liberal in the modern political sense. His approach to Nixon, based on this premise, is both enlightening and intelligent. Richard Nixon was certainly a national enigma, our president of polarization--I personally saw that happen in my family. Considering the policies initiated by Nixon; for example, going off the gold standard, expanding major government programs like the EPA, and opening ties to Red China, the view of Nixon as a liberal is not unreasonable. Wills absolutely nailed Nixon's character, and not unsympathetically. He noted, for instance, that Nixon revered Woodrow Wilson, the only Democrat whose picture hung in Nixon's oval office. Although Nixon was "not a convincing moralist," Wills explained, he was nonetheless (like Wilson) a moralist by conviction: "He does not woo the Forgotten American cynically; he agrees with the silent majority."
The result is an unbiased portrait that has the virtue of avoiding some of the excesses of Nixon's many detractors. Combined with his always excellent prose this book is one of Wills' best and in my experience one of the best analyses of Richard Nixon.

Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills. Marriner Books, 2002 (1969)

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