Who was Nixon?

Matt Paulson, Guest Columnist

To the general public, “Nixon” is pretty much a curse word in the world of politics. All party lines have become accustomed to clucking their tongues at him, quick to satisfy that innate I’m-better-than-you need to achieve moral supremacy over someone or something. Simply put, the public is united. And it’s behind one simple premise: Richard Nixon was a bad, bad man.

But how do we truly know?

Ed Nixon looks eerily similar to his brother. When I met him at the Nixon Library Tuesday, the signature ears, nose and slouch reminded me of a caricature of our former president, who was actually pretty much a caricature of himself anyway. As Ed was introduced, he turned to the audience and threw up two peace signs, a gesture that has inspired endless satire of his brother for decades and has become the Richard Nixon calling card to a whole new generation.

A man who once stayed behind to talk to the waiters at the 30th anniversary dinner of his brother’s resignation, Ed took his time Tuesday at the Library, deliberately working his way through the crowd as he charmed the patrons and found his way to the La Verne faction.

ULV trivia buffs will tell you that Richard Nixon once debated against La Verne. But few know the story behind Richard’s football experience here. Ed does.

According to Ed, the ULV football team actually cracked one of Richard Nixon’s teeth. “But the way my brother would have described it, ‘They cleaned out my face.’

“He wasn’t big enough to play, but he sure did love it. He was a 150-pound tackle, anybody can knock his teeth out.”

Ed went on to tell us of his brother’s love for sports and about a time when he watched the first Super Bowl with Richard, when the former president chose the Packers to win.

“You can’t stop Lombardi,” Ed recalled his brother’s words. “He’s invincible.”

While Ed was telling us his brother’s stories, I came to a realization: What do we really know about this guy? I have been socially conditioned to believe that Richard Nixon embodied all that is evil in American politics. But based on what?

“A judgment has been made,” said Greg Cumming, director of archives programs at the Nixon Library. “But it’s a judgment based solely on a single event we don’t know a whole lot about. We have this really odd way of looking at Richard Nixon. Forty or fifty years from now, will Watergate be what we remember Richard Nixon for?”

Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will. I don’t know, and neither do you. That’s the point. We’ve judged him. We have snapped to the conclusion that he’s indisputably evil, and it’s based on one event that we know relatively little about. We have taken snippets of the whole story, made our conclusion based on that limited information and went on our merry way, content with the fact that we’ve formed an opinion.

We’ll soon have the access to go in and find out more about what really happened during Nixon’s presidency. Do we care anymore?

Does this generation want to find out? Given the chance to redefine history, will we take it? I heard a few light, inconsequential stories about Richard Nixon, and it was enough to rouse my curiosity. What else is out there?

Matt Paulson, a senior journalism major, is a former editor in chief of the Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@ulv.edu.

Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.

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