Nixon at 100: The Layer Cake

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ALFRED EISENSTAEDT / TIME & LIFE PICTURES / Getty Images

Richard Nixon at home in N.Y.

This being the week of Richard Nixon’s centennial, Swampland will pause briefly each day to take note of the 37th president’s special appeal and powers. To kick things off, we offer up part of one bloodless diagnosis from William Safire, the longtime Nixon aide who had a good grasp on the man from Yorba Linda.

It’s taken from Before the Fall, Safire’s 1975 look at the pre-Watergate Nixon and how he operated.

Take a metaphoric leap: think of Nixon as a layer cake.

The icing, the public face or crust, is conservative, stern, dignified, proper — rather formal for a public man in our time, appealing to the elderly and the orderly, a sharp contrast to the two vividly personal Presidents who preceded him. He is aware and philosophic about, the other side of this coin, the other way this icing appears —as, literally, icing, cold and sugary, pious and stiffly obsequious, arrogant and aloof.

The first layer of Nixon underneath that icing is a progressive politician, willing and even eager to surprise with liberal ideas…surprisingly graceful in moments requiring diplomatic understanding or personal warmth, occasionally impulsive… often sentimental — in this layer, a veritable Mr. Nice Guy.

Underneath that is an unnecessarily pugnacious man who had to scrape for everything he has in life and don’t you forget it: self made, self-pitying but not self-centered….

7 comments
fhmadvocat
fhmadvocat

I find it ironic, especially when it was Nixon who first used the "Southern Strategy" to win the south for the Republican party.  He ran as a law-and-order type of guy.  However, he implemented a number of such liberal policies, he makes Obama look like Milton Friedman.  He was anti-semetic, paranoid and used the FBI to spy on his "domestic enemies".  He is a complex of a president (i.e. crazy) as we have had in the last 60 years and as much of a contradiction as Thomas Jefferson (who claimed to have hated slavery, but kept slaves his entire life.).

ParthaNeogy
ParthaNeogy

Do we need to be afflicted with this every day?  I noticed that used copies of Safire's book are selling for 1 cent.  History seems to have given its considered verdict.

sacredh
sacredh

s always been one of my favorite presidents. He did have a little bit of a paranoid crazy streak in him, but Hw was forward thinking in many areas.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@fhmadvocat "He ran as a law-and-order type of guy"

Which made his well deserved humiliating exit so appropriate. 

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@sacredh Besides, he was no more of a son-of-a-bitch than Johnson and, certainly, no more corrupt than Reagan. And probably smarter than both. Who ever thought we'd be nostalgic for Nixon? I blame George W. Bush.

sacredh
sacredh

Nixon scared me but I had respect for him too. Morality is subjective and I think the whole Watergate thing was ego driven. He wanted to be the first president to win every state. Watergate was unnecessary. He was going to win in a landslide anyway. It's not like he shot his mother.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@sacredh Trading arms to Iran for hostages and to fund right-wing death squads in Central America makes Watergate look like a walk in the park.