At the best of times it is hazardous for the mental equilibrium of a rational person randomly to turn on the television set, and it is probably especially so in summer. Last week, in a cavalierly daredevil moment, I did so, and was almost reduced to the incommunicable state of Zechariah in the Temple as a result. First, I unluckily happened upon what purported to be a serious discussion of the supposed difference in public responses to men’s and women’s weeping. The party of vintage, quaveringly emotional feminism, twitching and squirming as they emitted the unimaginable frustrations of their benighted lot, apparently unmitigated by their license to inflict themselves on the silent armies of unsuspecting tele-spectators, complained that men who wept were deemed to be sensitive and that women who wept in public were deemed to be weak. Another grievous count was thus added to the long charge-sheet of male attitudinal atrocities.
Hillary Clinton supposedly wept after one of the early primaries in 2008 and was supposedly reviled as being weak and womanish; not to my recollection. She didn’t exactly weep; her voice broke slightly, and all the comment I heard was that she showed understandable and commendable human feelings and was right to be affected by the primary rollercoaster. John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, was featured as a male who, when he weeps in public (which is almost every time I have seen him speaking on television), is credited with sensitivity. If his tendency to cry and lose the ability to finish sentences was in contemplation of the shambles in the United States Capitol, no one would take issue with him. I could weep myself when I think that when I first took an interest in these matters, about 55 years ago, standing in the places of Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Obama were Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. I am afraid that Mr. Boehner’s vulnerability in this area has nothing to do with manliness or sensitivity; it is rather just that some men, like some women, cry easily. Observers may feel sorry for them or even be embarrassed sometimes for them, but I doubt if anyone thinks much of it, nor should they.
I was steadying down from this unutterably inane and sexist exploration of irrelevant human traits, when, of a sudden, there came down, like Japanese Zeroes over Pearl Harbor, CNN’s treatment of home movies of Nixon White House staffers. This was billed as Nixon as candidly viewed by his closest collaborators, revealing and new material. Like almost all keyhole peeps or recorded reflections of Richard Nixon, it was breathlessly flagged as a great leap forward in Nixonology. Given the subject and the source, I was naturally prepared to fear the worst; that we were all in, once again, for a dramatic breakthrough in discovering how the only person in the country’s history apart from Franklin D. Roosevelt to be nominated by a major party for national office five times (both won four times) grew horns and cloven feet that he disguised until they were exposed by the Washington Post. All the original film was completely innocuous and not in the slightest discreditable to Richard Nixon or to his entourage, who commented on aspects of the Nixon era.
But the clips of their amateur films were rarely related to their subsequent reflections, and were spliced together in a completely dishonest and unprofessional pastiche designed to reinforce the imposed conventional wisdom that Nixon was evil. The basic premise, of course, is never presented or analyzed. Instead, we have such soothsayers as Mike Wallace, a man who gave new warmth, depth, and color to the phrase “great liberal death wish,” which he personified, recounting that various Nixon aides went to prison, as if that proves anything. So have tens of millions of others in the U.S. (including me), but it doesn’t mean, in that turkey-shoot of a criminal-justice system, that anyone is guilty of anything, though many are. But these individuals were convicted of perjury or related offenses. The infected myth that has been slathered over the Nixon legacy is not that the Nixonians didn’t tell the truth to grand juries. It is, in the climactic allegation of this monstrous avalanche of defamatory falsehoods, the claim, attributed to Leon Jaworski, the overindulged successor to the rabid Kennedy lickspittle Archibald Cox as Watergate special prosecutor, that Nixon was trying to nazify American public life.