The Magazine

Still the One

Nixon at 90.

Jan 20, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 18 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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"Good. I'm taking all the Easterners off of here. Got that? Every single one. And this name--what's--some Harvard name. Know him. Part of the Eastern Establishment. Rich guy, but he'll never lift a finger to help us. Well, the hell with him. Am I right?"

Nixon mentions names of California donors he would like placed on the Hirshhorn board.

"Just put 'em on the list," he says. "I mean, why not? Think they'll make the thing a disaster? They can't make it a disaster because it's a disaster already!"

"No, no, Mr. President," Mrs. Hanks scolds. "It will not be a disaster!"

"Oh, come on, Nancy," Nixon says quietly. "I've seen the plans."

Another silence.

"Well," he says at last, "I wash my hands of the damn thing. Just make sure I don't have to see it when I look out this window."

And there it is: an entire administration in miniature, the capitulation of the tough-talking Republican. The damn building got built, of course, and the Hirshhorn is indeed an atrocity, as Nixon knew it would be, rising up on the Mall without windows or warmth, poured from dun-colored concrete in the shape of a giant automotive air filter.

Why did they hate him so? "They" did get their building, after all, and so much else from him, too. A few hours in the tape room at Archives II, though, makes the answer plain: They hated him because he hated them. Deep as it was, the hatred wasn't about politics. It cut much closer to the vitals--into culture, disposition, class, I'm not sure what to call it. One of Nixon's legacies indeed is to demonstrate the puniness of politics, its relative insignificance in the larger scheme of what moves men to do what they do. His enemies knew he wasn't one of them, and though he may have tried to buy their trust with every kind of political concession, Nixon knew it too. He hated them for it and vice versa. And the hatred, both his and theirs, is what did him in at the end, as he also knew.

But who hated whom first--Nixon or the liberals? The answer to that chicken-and-egg question is probably untraceable at this late date, and out of order in any case, as we wish the old man's shade a happy birthday, despite everything.

Andrew Ferguson is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for Bloomberg News.