82nd anniversary of his birth, I really miss having...


January 09, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ON THE 82nd anniversary of his birth, I really miss having my favorite president, Richard Nixon, to kick around anymore.

Favorite? Sure. Checking The Sun's electronic library, I find that in recent years in my column I have mentioned Nixon more often than any other president.

Many (but not all) of those columns were critical. He made it so easy. For one thing, he stirred up his critics deliberately. Once in a campaign when a hostile crowd of rowdies was jeering and -- in the view of some Secret Service agents -- threatening him, he ordered his car stopped so he could emerge and give his trademark double V-for-victory gesture. "They hate it when I do that," he explained.

That should have been on his tombstone. It epitomized his style in dealing with all his "enemies," as he famously put it -- especially those in the press. He discomfited so-called liberal media elites by both his policies and his lifestyle.

Even in death his sort of corny excess provokes his critics. He is still around for us to kick. "The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace" puts out a mail-order catalog, just like L.L. Bean and Victoria's Secret. You can get coffee mugs, "White House" and "Camp David" baseball caps, china, including the "RN Dessert Plate and Cup & Saucer Set," a birdhouse that is a "cozy recreation of the Nixon boyhood home" and much, much more, which you discuss with a personal shopper, "Debi, our own Nixonette" at 714-993-5075.

President Nixon's worst birthday was his 61st. At a party at his California home, Nixon decided to give his dog, King Timahoe (a birthday present himself), a bite of the cake. Nixon stumbled against the cake, covering his hand and clothes with icing. He solved the problem by sitting and letting King lick him clean.

That was just a nuisance. There was more. Also on Jan. 9, 1974, John Connally, the Democrat-turned-Republican Texas pol Nixon most admired, called to wish him a happy birthday -- and to tell him the talk in Washington among some Republicans was that Nixon had to resign the presidency. Watergate was building to a climax.

Seven months later Nixon would resign. Had he not, he almost certainly would have suffered the fate Andrew Johnson escaped. (Described here Dec. 29.) He would have been impeached by the House and found guilty by the Senate, and thus ousted from office.

Here's a real irony. Some liberals now hold Watergate against Nixon not only for its own high-crimes awfulness, but also because it prevented Nixon from achieving health and welfare reforms, and instead of moderate Nixonian Republicanism, the country turned to Reaganism, for eight (or 10 or 12) years.

Well, love him or hate him, you could not avoid Nixon in the latter half of this century. He was a major figure for over 40 years. People too young to vote when he first made headlines across the nation were drawing full Social Security before he left the political arena.

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