Thursday, September 15, 2011


Governance and politics are vastly complicated and therefore fascinating.  We know that images are all-important, but are nevertheless fascinated when the masks come off.  Today's LA Times includes "Jackie Kennedy, warts and all ... Interviews from 1964 give us a less than flattering but fuller portrayal of the iconic first lady."

I have never understood how the Richard Nixon image (package) worked for as long as it did. Some of the mystery is clarified by David Halberstam in his masterful The Fifties.  I have only limited recall of those days, but Halberstam reminds readers of the weight of fears of Communism in American life and politics, the influence of Joe McCarthy, the Republican effort to regain power, their interest in Eisenhower, their preception that a Nixon could do some things that an Eisenhower could not, etc.  Interestingly, Eisenhower could never really understand Nixon and there is lots of evidence that he disdained his VP.  Ike tried to dump him from the ticket in 1952 an again in 1956 -- each time stinging the old Nixon paranoia re his outsider status.

Halberstam devotes half of the Nixon chapter to wife Pat (Ryan) Nixon, her past and her role in the image-making behind the Nixon successes.  Richard Nixon was every bit as weird as his odd look.  (Sam Rayburn is quoted on his assessment that Nixon's was the most hateful face he had ever seen in the House of Reps.)  But Halberstam evokes the emergence of the Nixons and the Ryans from poverty and (outsider status) -- and the eventual successful Dick-and-Pat image.  The Nixons evidently pioneered the use of the adoring wife prop in their politicking.  Her posture in the TV and other campaign appearances (including the "Checkers" speech) was their innovation.

It is all much more complex than I can describe here.  The good news is that we manage to survive these characters.  May it last.