FROM Murray Kempton's assessment of Richard Nixon, which...


May 17, 1994

FROM Murray Kempton's assessment of Richard Nixon, which appeared recently in the New York Review of Books:

"No politician can look to change any country but his own. And that Nixon profoundly did.

"Television commenced to press its now unbounded command over our politics in the 1952 presidential campaign. Variety kept an eye on this experimental stage of revolution and found just two examples of the technique that deserves professional attention. They were both Nixon broadcasts, one immortalizing his cocker spaniel, the other excavating the Hiss case.

"He had divined almost at a glance the tricks that work in moving pictures; and for his first try he had evoked the soul-baring pretexts of the afternoon serials and for his second the bleakness of film noir. Variety had introduced his showman colleagues to the intuitively gifted producer-director who had on short order woven the warp of fact with the woof of falsehood that fabricates the campaign documentary.

"He would never thereafter be better than awkward as a performer and never worse than consummate as manager of the stage. . .

"One of the several unanswerable questions about Nixon is why, on his way through honors and emoluments, he persisted in thinking himself cheated by life. A similar if more rationally founded sense of cheat was creeping over great numbers of those ordinary Americans who had been the Democratic Party's bedrock; and Nixon caught their eroding tide . . . Only protracted self-laceration with imaginary grievances could have produced the prophet who led thousands of reality-aggrieved Democrats from the wilderness of disillusionment with their hereditary party . . .

"He fell but his writ runs still. When he came of age there were two parties; and now there is only him. He created the politics where all that is not the milk and muscle of Nixonry is only wind. My lifetime has known four revolutions, Roosevelt's which is forgotten, Martin Luther King's, which is lost, Reagan's, which has evanesced, and Richard Nixon's, which, if not finally, is enduringly triumphant."

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