Richard Nixon Rebuts Frost/Nixon
June 4, 2009
Don’t for a second think I’m upset by this new Frost/Nixon movie. My enemies again tried to get Nixon and again they failed. Watch documentary films of my speeches and interviews and you’ll hear an unusually articulate politician. Actor Frank Langella portrayed me as a stiff-necked and tormented bumbler. If you know Nixon the leader, you understand my political adroitness. Either Langella is himself a bumbler or incapable of serious characterization. I therefore view his work and this film as comedy. In that respect, it wasn’t bad. I can occasionally laugh at my idiosyncrasies, even when exaggerated.
After watching this liberal romp, which culminated with a broken Dick Nixon almost groveling as he spouts mea culpa, I reviewed my real interviews with dashing David Frost, the young British television personality. I hope you don’t mind if I’m candid and say I looked pretty damn good for a guy sixty-four. And though I cannot describe myself as charming, in the style of a Jack Kennedy, I noted warmth and decency that millions of Americans appreciated during the quarter century they twice elected me to the House of Representatives, once the Senate, two times as Vice President, and, always a rare historical achievement, twice as President of the United States.
Half of Americans and many entertainers like David Frost and Dan Rather still want me to confess to some horrible crime at the Watergate office and apartment complex. I’m not going to do it, and please don’t attribute that to some newspeak denial on my part. Permit me, instead, to emphasize what happened: some operatives employed by CREEP – Committee to Reelect the President – and acting without my knowledge much less approval, broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Convention and were arrested while bugging and burglarizing the place.
I should have immediately denounced and distanced myself from them but am a loyal trooper so could not do that. In retrospect we know I was foolish. But I had no corrupt motive. I merely tried to contain things politically. The more I tried to contain, the deeper I sank into quicksand. Rather than throw me a rope, my enemies shoved a sword into my belly and twisted it with relish, and I suppose I would’ve done the same. I know goddamn well I would have.
Nevertheless, no matter what I would’ve said about a comparably vulnerable opponent, I did not commit an impeachable offense. In the House of Representatives I may have won or lost, but for six months the presidency would’ve been crippled. To spare the nation, I graciously impeached myself by resigning.
I do admit I was acting as lawyer for the defense of those arrested for breaking into Democratic headquarters, and by extension many others involved in noble but technically illegal acts to preserve my essential presidency. I suppose a reasonable person could call this a cover-up. But was it really a cover-up? Following the election I could’ve granted everyone clemency and it all would’ve gone away. But clemency would’ve been wrong.
After being chased by jackals for two years, I’m not ashamed to say I cried for the first time since Eisenhower died. I had let my comrades down. And I had let down the American people. Frost/Nixon got that factually correct but Langella was no Nixon in conveying the pain I felt after botching things and making countless bad judgments. I know my heart was in the right place. The man at the top must have a heart. But his head must always rule his heart.
Sometimes I’m fortunate Watergate still rivets so many. They’re more interested in a two-bit break-in than the fact my administration, and that of my predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, issued bomb and invade orders in Vietnam and Cambodia that killed two million Asians and fifty-seven thousand Americans. Of course, that was Johnson’s war. I inherited it.
Most of the time I’m sad Watergate obscures how I opened the diplomatic door to China, when only a staunch anti-communist could have done so, and improved Soviet-American relations, and became the first president in the Nuclear Age to reduce those weapons. And don’t forget I got rid of the draft and introduced some important environmental legislation. Those achievements would be more appreciated if at the top of my infamous Enemies List there hadn’t stood the name: Richard Milhous Nixon.
Sources: Watergate portion of David Frost interviewing Richard Nixon in 1977; Frost/Nixon, the movie; numerous articles, including mine listed below.