Friday, January 17, 2014

Kennedy & Nixon 12

On page 345 of Kennedy & Nixon, Chris Matthews states the following:

“At his death, Nixon made the cover of Time for the fifty-sixth time, a record…Yet within the month, the Nixon funeral dirge was overtaken by the classic, spritely tones of Mozart.  When his rival’s widow succumbed to her illness just weeks later, there was a stirring in the national air, a momentary glimpse back to the magic of Camelot.”

More than once in this book, Matthews uses the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri as a metaphor for that between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.  The legend is that Mozart had inborn talent, whereas Salieri was a composer who worked hard yet never attained the level of artistry that was so effortless for Mozart.  Similarly, Kennedy was naturally charming and charismatic, whereas Nixon was one who worked hard at politics yet could not attain the adoration and glamor that belonged to John F. Kennedy.

Matthews says in the passage that I just quoted that Jackie Kennedy’s death upstaged that of Richard Nixon, as Jackie’s death reminded Americans of Camelot.  The thing is, though, I remember Richard Nixon’s death, whereas  I do not remember Jackie Kennedy’s.  More than once, when I have seen something about Jackie Kennedy on television, I have had to consult wikipedia to see when exactly she died, for I rarely remember.  But I do recall when Nixon died.

Why is that?  Perhaps it’s because, even back in 1994, when I was still in high school, I was drawn to the notion that a person who did something wrong still had some good within him and the capacity to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the public.  That was not a time when I was all that deep, and I did not really think about what made people and characters tick.  I was just interested in promoting my ideology, doing well in school, my resentments, and religion.  I saw things in black and white terms.  But maybe Nixon’s death stood out to me because there was a part of me, even then, that acknowledged and appreciated the complexity of human beings.

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