Nixon at 100: The Layer Cake

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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….