I’ve long had a penchant for writing about certain past presidents. Thanks to They Might Be Giants, as well as a certain high school Government skit that proved highly successful with my classmates, I will always have an affinity for James K. Polk. However, it is the duo of Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon, perhaps the most and least successful of the Republican presidents, that I find myself writing about the most.
Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. He guided the country through its most destructive war. He was extraordinarily tall, he wore hats, and he had a fantastic beard. He was a good public speaker and debater. He came from Illinois, “Land of Lincoln” (coincidence? I think not.) I’ve seen his house in Springfield, the offices where he practiced law, the State Legislature where he got his start politically, and his final resting place. What do I like so much about Lincoln? He was a humble man. He dealt with depression, and many of the pictures of him betray a deep melancholy. He was, in short, the absolute opposite of certain “stay the course” presidents of more recent memory. I get the feeling that he would never have made it in today’s information-gorged society. Had his every utterance been recorded, had his every motive been questioned by others, I doubt he would have been able to keep the focus on what mattered to him most: serving the country that elected him. Lincoln was a flawed, interesting character.
Richard Nixon hated the Jews. Let’s be honest here. They have tapes of him saying as much. He was a paranoid man, somehow always the underdog in his own mind even after being elected twice to the highest position in government. Sure, he went to China. Sure, he signed the Clean Air Act of 1970. But a little war halfway around the world that was the undoing of his Democrat predecessor would also drag him through one of the most troubled presidencies in history. That and a criminal investigation. As for his personality, Nixon just gave off an air of being a bad man. You’d think he could have relaxed a little; it might have helped his public image. He seemed to be constantly fighting. I heard a good phrase recently: “I’m not kicking against anything, I’m just kicking in midair.” That, to me, seems to sum up Richard Nixon.
Both Lincoln and Nixon had their personal troubles, but it was how they dealt with them that makes them different. That, and their policies. Kind of strange that they share the same party, isn’t it?