Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Event of the Day: Dissecting Tricky Dick

As polarizing presidents go, it’s hard to beat our current one. After he steps out of office, however, George W. Bush likely won’t have the staying power of Richard Nixon, who continues to capture the attention of both scholarly and popular culture.

The reason? Our perceptions of Nixon are really reflections of how we see America, argues author Daniel Frick, who will lecture on Nixon tonight at Belmont University.

“Almost all of these issues (with Nixon), particularly civil rights and Vietnam, are issues we really haven’t finished dealing with yet,” Frick said. “So if he becomes involved in these topics, he ends up becoming a way we contest not just who we were, but the current definition of the United States. What version of the story are we going to tell?”

Frick, author of the recent Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession, gives examples of Nixon’s pervasiveness in America, from his photo with Elvis (the most requested photo in the National Archives) to the attachment of “-gate” to any sort of scandal in honor of Watergate. He examines how Americans’ varied opinions of Nixon demonstrate a general ideological rift, and how dealing with Nixon’s portrayal will also help America decide how to see itself.

So what chance do either John McCain or Barack Obama have of gaining the kind of notoriety – whether they want it or not – and discussion that Nixon receives, 34 years after his resignation and nearly 15 years after his death?

“McCain has the Vietnam issues, but neither (Bush nor McCain) resonates quite as thoroughly as Nixon,” Frick said. “I think the people for Obama, some of the excitement of that campaign comes from a sense of, ‘Possibly, here’s a change in the story.’ There’s a resonance for him that has that potential; of course, he would have to win and be able to make good on those promises.”

Frick will speak at 7 p.m. in the Leu Art Gallery of the Branch Library.

(Photo credit: National Archives)

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