I finished Joan Hoff's Nixon Reconsidered. I have three items.
1. I liked something that Hoff said on pages 344-345:
parents of those born after 1974 either strongly opposed or supported
Nixon for reasons their children still do not quite understand: 'My
parents hate him,' one of my students responded on a questionnaire
asking why she was taking a class on Nixon, 'and I want to know why.'"
did I like this passage? I can't really say. I guess it's because it
warms my heart to see people wanting to learn more about the world
around them, due to something in their background that they don't quite
I was one of the people born after 1974. What did my
parents think about Richard Nixon? My impression is that they neither
hated him nor loved him. They believed that he was a shady politician,
but they didn't have high expectations about politicians, in general.
my parents didn't appear (at least to me) to have strong opinions about
Nixon, there were a couple of times when they expressed an opinion
about him. When I was in the sixth grade, I was reading The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The back cover quoted the New York Times
saying about the book: "Unprecedented....Mr. Nixon emerges as a tragic
figure weathering a catastrophic ordeal...and weathering it with
considerable courage and dignity." When I read that quote to my Mom,
she responded that she felt that way about Nixon during Watergate.
Dad one time told a story about a conversation that his father had with
someone about Nixon. A relative was really gun-ho about Nixon, saying
that Nixon would be a great President, and my Grandpa retorted, "Nixon
will be the last President, and, not only that, he will be the worst
President." My Dad in telling the story may have been implying that my
Grandpa was not too far off the mark: while Nixon did not turn out to be
our last President, Nixon's Presidency did end on a dismal note.
2. On pages 345-346, Hoff talks about how Nixon during the 1990's was deemed by many to be authentic:
insisted on speaking out on issues, especially foreign policy ones; he
looked like a real person, not a talking head, on television; he stood
for something rather than nothing or everything, as is now the trendy
postmodern fashion...Nixon's potential appeal by the early 1990s because
of his own 'real' look was lost on him; he once said to me that
'blow-dry hair is now as important as brains' when running for office.
It is truly a postmodern moment when Richard Nixon, who had to deal with
charges of inauthenticity all his public life, became more real and
authentic than the totally packaged variety of contemporary politician."
Richard Nixon's political career, there were many who did not regard
Nixon as particularly authentic. With all of the "new Nixons" coming
out, many wondered who the real Nixon was. According to Hoff, however,
Nixon during the 1990's was regarded by many as more authentic than most
of the politicians who were on the scene. I can attest to that, on
some level. I was watching a YouTube clip of David Frost's interview of
Nixon, in which Nixon was responding to Frost's questions about
Watergate. One of the commenters said that she liked Nixon because he
was comfortable with being who he was. Granted, this clip was of an
interview of Nixon from the late 1970's, not the 1990's. But I could
see the commenter's point. I don't know if Nixon was telling the truth
or not in the Frost interviews, but he did come across to me as
authentic, as a real person. I have the same impression whenever I
watch Nixon's Checkers Speech from 1952----and this is a speech that
detractors consider to be particularly inauthentic, with its staged den
and Nixon's sappy reference to the family dog. Many say that Nixon was
uncomfortable in his own skin, and they may be right. But there were a
number of times when Nixon came across as authentic, as if he were
conveying a message of "This is who I am, take it or leave it."
For this third item, I'll offer my general assessments of Hoff's book.
Overall, the book has a lot about policy, and I had to reread parts to
grasp what exactly Hoff was narrating. The book is important, but it is
very dry, in areas. At the same time, I enjoyed Hoff's anecdotes about
her interviews with Nixon. In terms of her argument that President
Nixon had significant and progressive accomplishments in domestic
policy, she may be right about that, but I wish that she addressed
certain liberal arguments against Nixon's domestic policy. For example,
a number of progressives were critical of Nixon's welfare reform plan
of giving cash benefits to the poor, maintaining that the funding would
not be adequate. Hoff should have addressed that charge by saying
whether or not the poor would have been able to live on the amount of
money that Nixon's plan would give them. Another point that I would
like to make is that I found Hoff to be rather elliptical, in places.
She seemed to agree that the Joint Chiefs of Staff was bugging the
National Security Council, for example, but I wanted her to go into more
detail about why it would do this.
Good book, though!