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Nixon's the One
August 10, 2014 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Harry Shearer reenacts the moments preceding Nixon's resignation speech as captured by a running television camera. If it seems weird and stylized, the actual footage seems even weirder. The reenactment is part of a television series, Nixon's the One, created by comedian Shearer and Nixon scholar Stanley Kutler. Andrea DenHoed writes about the TV show and the strange scene before the speech in The New Yorker.
posted by Kattullus (49 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fiction will never do justice to that man's weirdness.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 5:54 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]


The most powerful man in the world, alone, in a room full of people.
posted by anifinder at 5:56 PM on August 10 [13 favorites]


Has there ever been a human less comfortable in their own skin than Richard Milhous Nixon?
posted by jim in austin at 6:07 PM on August 10 [7 favorites]


To be fair, I wouldn't be comfortable in his skin, either.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:16 PM on August 10 [8 favorites]


Not just a crook, but a weirdo.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:36 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


typical politician, he moves effortlessly from "Ollie might catch me picking my nose" to "May God's grace be with you in all the days ahead".
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:48 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


So strange that someone this uncomfortable and anti-charismatic could have had the success that he had in politics.
I've always found him fascinating, an extraordinarily complex figure who seemed compelled to exhibit the most atrocious behavior as a person and a politician.
Also, wildly self destructive, self pitying, and absolutely ruthless, even when compared to other politicians, which in no small part I guess explain at least part of his success.
I couldn't make it through either clip, way, way too discomfiting to watch.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 7:04 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Nixon's the One

Whenever I see those words, I'm reminded of the anecdote that a Democratic operative named, of all things, Dick Tuck apparently hired one or more very visibly pregnant African-American women to carry around banners or signs bearing that slogan in Miami Beach in 1968 during a (predominantly white) Nixon rally.
posted by figurant at 7:05 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


We all know about the connections between Nixon and Disney: He was presented by Fess Parker with the key to Disneyland (which was built near his birthplace) during an official visit as Vice-President in 1955, he presided over the dedication of the first Disneyland Monorail in 1959 (and "kidnapped" by Walt and Imagineer Bob Gurr in the process), he presented Lillian Disney with Walt's posthumous Congressional Medal, he was the first sitting President immortalized in Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents, and his infamous "I am not a crook" speech was delivered at WDW's Contemporary Resort Hotel.

But all this Nixon video awkwardness gotme to looking up the video of the Monorail dedication. Sure, everyone looks a bit stiff next to the gregarious Uncle Walt, but that has to be one of the most awkward official Disneyland videos ever. The ceremonial scissors didn't even work!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:05 PM on August 10 [6 favorites]


A classic moment in his March 6, 1974 Press Conference:
IMPEACHABLE OFFENSES

[10.] Q. Mr. President, your attorneys have taken what is seen as the narrow view on impeachment, saying that impeachment should be limited to very serious crimes committed in one's official capacity. My question is, would you consider the crimes returned in the indictments last week---those of perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy--to be impeachable crimes if they did apply to you?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have also quit beating my wife. [Laughter]
The man's awkwardness was legendary.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:07 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]


If you like this, you'll love Spin. (It's not just Nixon; they're all like that.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:08 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


HST's obit on Nixon is excellent reading.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:17 PM on August 10 [15 favorites]


This show looks so damn good.
posted by Nevin at 7:47 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have also quit beating my wife. [Laughter]

He's just saying it's a loaded question (the archetypal one being "Have you stopped beating your wife?")
posted by Bwithh at 7:48 PM on August 10 [9 favorites]


1968 campaign slogan: "Nixon's the one!"

1972 campaign slogan: "Nixon was the one in '68! He's an even bigger one in '72!"

= = = = -

Dick Tuck apparently hired . . . visibly pregnant African-American women . . .

It was | kind of | in the air at the time.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:48 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]


Good job by Harry Shearer.
posted by Renoroc at 7:51 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


an extraordinarily complex figure who seemed compelled to exhibit the most atrocious behavior as a person and a politician.

Note the reference to "Ollie" (thank you, quonsar, I couldn't make out the name) catching him picking his nose.

He's always seemed so Tourettean to me -- barely catching the physical tics so that he looked like a robot in the process of shorting out whenever he moved, compelled to vent a torrent of publicly repressed profanity and ethnic slurs whenever he thought he was in private, and brought down by one of the silliest and least necessary things any President ever did.
posted by jamjam at 7:57 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


That felt like a failing SNL sketch, in the fourth quarter of the show, when the cast just wants to get out and start hoovering up lines at Ackroyd's after-hours bar.
posted by thelonius at 8:06 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


It was | kind of | in the air at the time.

This delights me in ways I can't adequately describe.
posted by figurant at 8:10 PM on August 10


Has there ever been a human less comfortable in their own skin than Richard Milhous Nixon?


Well it was riddled with phlebitis.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:17 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]


So strange that someone this uncomfortable and anti-charismatic could have had the success that he had in politics.

People tell me my four or five Nixon-themed inspirational posters are strange, but I keep 'em up just the same.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:50 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


We all know about the connections between Nixon and Disney

I forgot one! His press secretary, Ron Ziegler, was a former Jungle Cruise skipper. (Goes a long way toward explaining any bad jokes.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:51 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Has there ever been a human less comfortable in their own skin than Richard Milhous Nixon?

His stiffness, forced jokey behavior with people he clearly couldn't understand, awkward humor and obsessive staging reminds me of Mitt Romney, actually.
posted by Theiform at 8:55 PM on August 10 [6 favorites]


At about the 2:30 mark of the Nixon original, the camera zooms in on him and the picture starts to scramble, as if repelled by a wave of pure evil emanating from him.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:56 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Well it was riddled with phlebitis.

This comment led me to Dr. Zebra's database of Presidential maladies
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:56 PM on August 10 [8 favorites]


Herodios: 1968 campaign slogan: "Nixon's the one!"

1972 campaign slogan: "Nixon was the one in '68! He's an even bigger one in '72!"


Oh it was even better than that: Nixon Now!
posted by hangashore at 9:18 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I clearly remember watching Nixon's speech on TV. It was horrific.

The Beatles broke up, then this. It seemed like everything had gone to shit.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:41 PM on August 10


Ol' Tricky Dick was the first president I was really old enough to pay critical attention to. Which, of course, had an enormous impact on the political being that I would become. For me, *trusting* the president (and by extension, the government) wasn't the baseline mode of operation. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Vietnam War and his presidency laid the groundwork for my outlook on politics and power.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:02 PM on August 10


Arooo.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:43 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]


Huh, reënactment has an umlaut?
posted by ddd at 11:23 PM on August 10


diaeresis
posted by benito.strauss at 11:44 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Gaah! Now the Metafilter thumbnail on my Chrome new tab page shows a screencap of smiling Tricky Dick leering at me from the inline video window -- ICK!

Thanks a lot, Meta^H^H^H^HGoogle!
posted by Fuzzypumper at 11:46 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


brought down by one of the silliest and least necessary things any President ever did.

Well only if you take Watergate as an isolated incident as opposed to what it was - a small part of a successful campaign to sabotage any credible Democratic candidate for president. It's true that by the time of the Watergate burglaries, McGovern, the candidate that Nixon wanted to run against, had the nomination more or less sewn up, so they should have quit while they were ahead.

Well it was riddled with phlebitis.

Am I the only one who now reads any quotes by Nixon in the Futurama Nixon voice? It's such a brilliant impression because it doesn't even try to be accurate. Aroo!
posted by kersplunk at 2:22 AM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Huh, reënactment has an umlaut?

Only in the New Yorker.

(Also, it's a diaeresis)
posted by underthehat at 4:41 AM on August 11


THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have also quit beating my wife. [Laughter]

He's just saying it's a loaded question (the archetypal one being "Have you stopped beating your wife?")


Uh, no shit.

Its insane for any politician to mention beating their wife in any circumstances, funny or not. The video is even worse. There really isn't any "laughter."
posted by Ironmouth at 4:46 AM on August 11


Grammar fact: The individual dots which it comprises are technically known as diaeresis pieces.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:47 AM on August 11 [11 favorites]


So strange that someone this uncomfortable and anti-charismatic could have had the success that he had in politics.

But, that's always been the freaky thing about so many modern Republicans to me. The instant I saw George W, I read him as a shifty doofus. The instant I saw Sarah Palin, I read her as a dumb, sneering, arrogant creep. The instant I saw Romney, I read him as a pod person; not necessarily evil, but... very strange and creepy. These were not informed decisions on my part. It was literally within seconds that I formed these impressions of them, and then it was bizarre to watch so much of America adore these people for a while until they slowly, slowly, slowly started to see what I'd seen in like 30 seconds.

I'm not saying this stuff to congratulate myself as some insightful person. It's honestly baffling to me, like if these people came out with hideous deformities and everybody kept talking about how wonderfully attractive they were. To me, Nixon seems slightly less awkward than somebody like W. Nixon never read as a fucking idiot, but Bush always did.

At this point I've learned not to dismiss any politician too soon, and if I absolutely despise somebody on sight that's terrifying. It means they'll probably go far.

Maybe it's because he was before my time, but I've always had a strange sort of pity for Nixon. He always struck me as a guy who knew he was a shit, deep down. His self-loathing was so obvious but it didn't stop him from doing awful things, and that makes him a really compelling villain. Nixon had layers.

It's funny that Shearer played Nixon's awkward small-talk sadder than Nixon is in the actual tape, and sadder than Shearer describes him in the New Yorker piece. In the actual footage Nixon does seem bizarrely chipper, as smiley as I've ever seen him. But in the Shearer version, you really get the sense of the desperation beneath all of those lame little jokes.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:57 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


The Beatles broke up, then this.

That happened at Walt Disney World, too, in a way - Lennon signed the paperwork while staying at the Polynesian Village Resort.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:03 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


reënactment has an umlaut?

diaeresis


This comment led me to Dr. Zebra's database of Presidential maladies.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:04 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Nixon seems slightly less awkward than somebody like W. Nixon never read as a fucking idiot, but Bush always did.


Awkward doesn't mean stupid. I'm sure we've all known plenty of very smart people who were very uncomfortable dealing with others and so came across as weird or robotic.

I don't think W had the akwardness problem at all; one of his strengths was seeming like a "regular guy you could have a beer with" which Nixon never could.

They seem to be opposites: Nixon was a lot of things but he wasn't stupid and overcame his weirdness with his craftiness and ambition, wile W deflected a lot of criticism of his intelligence with his "folksy" persona.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:10 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Nixon was more than awkward, though. He was thoroughly repressed and stressed, but full of passions. A raging Quaker. He was a complex character, for sure. He appears to have been both totally egocentric and self-loathing. I'm fascinated, but I don't want to go back there again. My earliest political memories are of my mother hating Nixon--her father had been involved in Whittier, CA politics in the late 40s and 50s. She stalked around the house during the Watergate hearings, muttering "I knew it, I knew it."
posted by feste at 7:12 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


For what it's worth, I believe the "Ollie" being addressed is Nixon's staff photographer, Oliver Atkins. It appears he took the iconic Nixon-Elvis photograph as well.

So, having seen the real footage before, I found Shearer's recreation somewhat stilted and very much rushed (usually I like Shearer's work) -- as if perhaps HS were impatient and just couldn't wait to deliver all of Nixon's weird quips. Or maybe it's just the time-dilation strangeness of overall 1970s pace versus current-day pacing -- how everything now seems so much faster and more compressed (as has been noted in multiple MeFi threads about older TV series and films over the years).

But I think one of the notable characteristics of Nixon's pre-speech banter is that he's sitting there like he has all the time in the world, with long awkward pauses that he insanely seems to be relishing. That feels lost in Shearer's rendition, sadly.
posted by aught at 7:45 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]




But I think one of the notable characteristics of Nixon's pre-speech banter is that he's sitting there like he has all the time in the world, with long awkward pauses that he insanely seems to be relishing. That feels lost in Shearer's rendition, sadly.

I agree. I rewatched the original footage before watching the Shearer enactment, and it didn't have the same feel at all. Shearer portrayed too much desperation. Nixon is definitely awkward and uncomfortable in the original video, but he presents a familiarity with wielding power that is lost in the remake. Nixon is actually pretty good at putting on a guise of confidence. Yet, before his resignation speech, he's so defeated that you can see little cracks in the veneer, in his failed jokes and his commands to the photographer as a final exertion of presidential authority. Still, he hasn't entirely lost his political character, and that's why the video is so interesting. The Shearer video makes him seem entirely like a fish-out-of-water. You can practically see his hands shaking. There's nothing of a professional politician in this portrayal.

The biggest difference between the videos is that, in the reenactment, we get to see other people in the room giving one another side-eye at Nixon's failed jokes and ramblings. It feels like everyone in the room was laughing at this man in over his head. I didn't get that sense from the original.
posted by painquale at 9:09 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


She stalked around the house during the Watergate hearings, muttering "I knew it, I knew it."

He he, my Mother was still stay-at-home during the Watergate hearings, so I remember her watching/listening to them during the day while she went about her housework. To keep track of all the characters she wrote up lists of people with short descriptions, and stuck them on the kitchen cabinets to consult while she was cooking. Moms, apparently, didn't like Nixon.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:20 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


we get to see other people in the room giving one another side-eye at Nixon's failed jokes and ramblings.

Obviously we can never know without the reverse angle video that didn't get taken, but I would be willing to bet money no blatant eye rolling or sarcastic looks were being traded in the real life scene. Even disgraced, Nixon still intimidated his staffers, I bet.

Semi-relatedly, we sometimes watch The McLaughlin Group on PBS, and are about to start a drinking game involving Pat Buchanan's wistful references to Nixon.
posted by aught at 10:58 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I got a memail from The Confessor, pointing out that feste's Mom and my Mom were probably not the only ladies tracking Dick's downfall, because Doonesbury made a cartoon about the phenomenon.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:03 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


The point I wanted to express -- but perhaps failed; I think I might be operating under a severe sleep deficit -- is that the common housewife (or barfly) who watched the scandal unfold in real time was apparently obliged to keep notes and assemble dossiers if they wanted to truly understand its complexities.

Doonesbury is one of the few topics I have any real fluency in, which is why I refer to it quite often in my own comments. I recognize, however, that doing so might begin to annoy other MeFi members, particularly when my mention is in itself or is made in furtherance of a derail from the wider post topic... which is why (having already linked the strip in-thread) I sent that link directly to benito, rather than post it myself as a comment.

Anyway, if you want to read more about Doonesbury's take on the scandal, I'd suggest simply starting on May 21, 19731 and reading on from there to Sep. 2, 1974, when Nixon's resignation (which had occurred almost a month earlier) was first reflected in the strip. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that the strip's storyline between those two dates2 is the story of Watergate, as witnessed by a keen3 political observer.

And it's good. There's a reason (strip creator) Garry Trudeau won his 1975 Pulitzer, and it wasn't for his art.

I wish I could devote a bit more time to proofreading and sourcing this, but I've got a dinner reservation to get to.

---
  1. At least one earlier strip touched upon the burglary itself, but the May 21 strip was the first published after the cover-up scandal spread to include the White House, resulting in the forced resignations of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean.
  2. And for some time afterwards, as the attendant criminal cases were heard. My favorite Watergate-related strip, in fact, is this one, published three months after Nixon's resignation.
  3. Keen, but not omniscient. Trudeau's portrayal of Nixon in the strip published Jun. 17, 1973, two months after White House involvement in the cover-up was revealed, suggests he believed Nixon's claim that he was the victim of overzealous aides, who operated without his knowledge. In truth, as the "smoking gun" tape that forced his resignation finally revealed, Nixon participated in at least one facet of the cover-up less than a week after the burglary.
posted by The Confessor at 1:45 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


(I was going to suggest to The Confessor that Doonesbury's coverage of Watergate might be worthy of an FPP — there are so many adults now who didn't live through it. Looks like I got it, in comment form.)
posted by benito.strauss at 2:45 PM on August 11


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