Home > Critical Thinking, Musings, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism > Why is Richard Nixon Still the Most Reviled American President?

Why is Richard Nixon Still the Most Reviled American President?

Of all the people who have ever held any elected office in the USA, few have been able to elicit anything approaching the levels or intensity of hate, contempt and caricature reserved for its 37th President, aka Richard Milhous Nixon. The portrayal of Nixon in popular culture is overwhelmingly negative.

Richard M. Nixon Boards the White House Helicopter August 9, 1974.

He is almost always the object of mockery, contempt and hate- whether it is in animated shows such as the Simpsons or Futurama to films such as Watchmen. Let us also not forget about the american practice of using the suffix “-gate” for all political and public relation scandals subsequent to Watergate. Did I mention that you can still buy a Richard Nixon mask.

So, why is Richard Nixon still the most reviled american president?

If you look at the objective facts, he was not a particularly vile, incompetent, corrupt or sexually promiscuous president. He did not own slaves like Thomas Jefferson, was not involved in ethnic cleansing (in the USA) like Andrew Jackson. He like also unlike the many corrupt, incompetent and generally forgettable men who occupied the presidential office between Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nixon was not sexually promiscuous like John F. Kennedy. In hindsight Nixon looks remarkably liberal and moderate when compared to subsequent presidents and presidential candidates.

Nixon bolstered Social Security benefits. He introduced a minimum tax on the wealthy and championed a guaranteed minimum income for the poor. He even proposed health reform that would require employers to buy health insurance for all their employees and subsidize those who couldn’t afford it.

He was quite pragmatic about international relations, inspite of his own rabid anti-communism. Most of his ideological positions were to the left of Bill Clinton in the 1990s and Barack Obama in the 2000s. Today Nixon would have been labelled as an anti-business, bleeding heart liberal by the Democratic party, let alone ‘his’ Republican party who would have blasted them as ‘elitist’, ‘liberal’, ‘un-american’ and ‘treacherous’.

So why is his image and legacy still so damaged and tarnished? Why is Nixon still the politician people love to hate, even though he died over 15 years ago? Why don’t people hate on empty puppets like Ronald Reagan or Bush the 43rd? Why don’t they hate on semi-shysters like Bill Clinton and Bush the 41st? Why don’t they call out servile empty suits like Barack Obama?

Here are my thoughts on that subject..

1] Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were the last relatable human beings to occupy the american presidential office. Subsequent presidents, starting with Reagan, have been mostly about image, public relations and posturing- to the point that almost nobody knows what the person inside that suit (if there is one) is really like. Modern politicians are far more similar to the character of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho..

There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.

It is far easier to hate a real person than an obvious and ever-changing simulacra of a human being. Can you imagine somebody like Clinton, Bush or Obama saying the things in their minds out aloud like Nixon? A successful modern politician will not dare express opinions contrary to the official party line to even their spouse or close friends.

2] Nixon was petty, insecure and gave off a ‘creepy’ vibe in public appearances. The guy made up a list of his political ‘enemies’ when he was president. He obsessed over pot-smoking hippies, popular musicians and artists who work or audience was not to his taste. He acted as if anybody who thought differently was also planning to humiliate, sabotage or overthrow him. Nixon also gave the vibe of a used car salesman.

It is this part of his personality, more than any other, that never ceases to amuse and entertain people. His well-known attitudes towards popular culture also made, and still make, him the favorite whipping boy of those who create it. Nixon fits the archetype of the creepy, untrustworthy, petty, insecure, paranoid person to a T. The guy lacked charm, confidence and self-esteem to an extent that is incompatible with elected office.

3] Nixon was the president when the modern ‘american dream’ first started to sour. Though the visible decline of USA started in the early 1980s, things first started to go downhill in the early- to mid- 1970s. A combination of factors- from the end of the public optimism in the late 1960s, the quagmire in Vietnam, stagflation in the USA, the start of american de-industrialization and peaking of the american middle class occurred during the Nixon presidency. Rightly or wrongly, he is seen as the guy at the helm when the ‘american dream’ started to die.

Furthermore, many other famous scandals involving the CIA, FBI, police and prison officials came to light at around the early- to mid- 1970s. Once again, Nixon was seen as being complicit in the commission of these egregious overreaches of authority. He came to symbolize all that was wrong about the old way of doing things. It certainly did not help that his personality, views and actions largely validated these connections.

The popular and reviled image of Nixon is therefore less about the individual himself and more about what he became associated with and came to symbolize.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. February 6, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Now Watergate doesn’t bother me, does your conscience bother you????

  2. February 7, 2013 at 6:53 am

    nixon is and was hated and reviled because of his involvement in the HUAC anti communist activities and the alger hiss affair. if you don’t understand the extent of communist influence over the discourse at that time and the extent of their grudge holding still today, you can’t understand nixon. also, as long as the baby boomers keep their iron grip on the culture he will loom larger in the american psyche than his silly coverup of what again? some petty break in at a campaign office? warrants

  3. Webe
    February 7, 2013 at 7:03 am

    It was who Carter marked the end of an era, more than Nixon. Although Carter is also not rememberd fondly, he was not as reviled as Nixon, though both have been unfarily lampooned. I think Nixon was reviled also as the last “father” figure from traditional America than needed to be overthrown by the new generation that broke with all tradition.

    I have always said that Reagan marks a period where Americans have decided to delude themselves and refuse to face reality. Every appeal to traditional/conservative values since then has been fake and hollow, purely for ulterior ends. Carter was the last person to think about an energy policy, and to think about foreign policy in terms of traditional American ideals. Since then it’s been naked projection of power with some rhetorical BS that nobody truly believes thrown in. Reagan also marks the demise of the labour movement, the upsurge of Wall-Mart and concentration of journalism in the MSM, and most importantly, the start of blooming financial deficits, deregulation & bubbles: the victory of form over substance.

    The real symbol of post-American society was the liberation of Grenada from socialism, with beer commercials on the MSM touting “America is back” after a few Marines walked across the beach and used American dimes and the pay phone to call the Pentagon.

  4. Jason
    February 10, 2013 at 8:00 am

    The main factors are baby boomers and television sets. Women are a secondary factor.

    Forty years ago, the United States was a much less secular place than it is now. People believed in their own goodness, the goodness of their country, and in the goodness of their leadership. Nauseating goody-goody stuff was everywhere, even television programming. With Nixon, the public thanks to technology, finally got a chance to see how Machiavellian our system really operates. Baby-boomers, not willing to give up the mirage, would rather blame Nixon than give up on the system upon which they were raised to identify, so they demonize Nixon and keep hope to restore a lost goody-goody world. Wiser generations have known there is no such thing, but as long as oldsters want Hollywood, they will continue to get it — Reagan (literally an actor), Clinton, Obama, etc.

    Secondly, since women can vote, politics is not about ideas, but about making yourself look alpha and making the opponent look beta. On paper, Obama won his first debate against Mitt Romney (I say this as a right-winger), but it is said he lost, mainly because he wasn’t doing enough of the douchey body-language stuff female viewers love. It isn’t an accident the more alpha, more charismatic candidate has won *every* election in the post WWII era.

    The days where a boring, nerdy Calvin Coolidge reads a simple fact-based argument to the public aren’t coming back; everyone wants lies, gimmiedats from Santa Claus, tax cuts, balanced budgets, without thinking at all about consistency. After all, systematized thought is ideology, and since ideology leads to extremism, better to go with our feelings and blame reality when things go off track.

  5. February 10, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    As was already, mentioned, Nixon’s involvement in the HUAC hearings no doubt gets him lumped in with the likes of McCarthy, not a great start.
    He began his career as a participant in a series of inquiries that eventually devolved into a senseless witch hunt.
    Trouble is, we’re pretty sure Alger Hiss really was a spy.

    Nixon is often portrayed as being a fanatical red-hater through his entire career, but he was pretty consistently level headed in dealing with communist countries.

    Vietnam is of course a big source of Nixon’s notoriety, if only because protests reached a peak during that time period.
    It was a big mess that Nixon pretty quickly saw was a lost cause.
    Where LBJ repeatedly relied on troop increases as a quick fix as things kept getting worse, Nixon quickly started doing troop withdrawals instead.

    Instead of slogging around indefinitely without a strategic objective in harsh terrain populated by hostile peasants, Nixon insisted on focusing on a strategy.

    His decision to expand the war into Laos and Cambodia made him seem a supervillain at the time, but he was actually trying to shut down the Ho Chi Minh trail and actually get more done with less.troops.

    This combined with his similarly unpopular bombing of Hanoi and mining of Haiphong harbor weren’t even attempts to “win” the war at this point. Nixon was trying to get out and applying pressure every way he knew how to make the North Vietnamese come to the bargaining table.
    His work was cut out for him because the North Vietnamese knew very well that Nixon would have to give in to public pressure sooner or later….all they had to do was sit and wait while he was working with deadlines.
    Nixon finally managed to pierce the nonchalance of the North Vietnamese leaders by engaging in open talks with the USSR. This pressure combined with his other tactics, finally made an exit from the quagmire possible.

    You can only feel so sorry for a guy whose goons get caught in the act, but Nixon has definitely been defamed to an unfair degree by the Boomers.

    His main sin perhaps is he had a realpolitik sort of philosophy that was at odds with American exceptionalism and Wilsonianism. However, Wilsonian policy was disastrous when implemented by Wilson and certainly was for Dubya as well.

    Overall, Nixon was a pretty solid president who inherited a nightmare situation upon assuming office.

  6. March 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Don’t forget his rather blatant relationships with mafia figures such Santo Trafficante, Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello and Co. As well as that he was, in a word corrupt (not that he is a minority in U.S politics on that score). Nixon basically bumbled activities that many American presidents were applauded for – “Fixing it”. His relationship with Mob figures as well as such appalling breaches of the American people’s rights and trust such as the COINTEL scandal coming to light didn’t help him either.

    In short Nixon was in power when the American Dream died an ugly, humiliating public death, and history says “Dick, sorry, but you touched it last”

  1. March 31, 2014 at 8:43 am

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