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He's baa-aack!

And he's bad! He's bad, he's bad, you know it!But whom would you rather watch Nixon, or the entire slate of 1988 presidential candidates? Nixon of course. By more than a nose.

Richard Nixon seems to buzz American television every four years. In 1980, he did a major chat with Barbara Walters. Then in 1984, CBS News bought a bundle of cozy interviews by a former Nixon aide.

For some reason, these reappearances always occur in springtime when the hollyhocks are hocking and the buttercups are cupping and the katydids are doing. Nixon blooms eternal.

This time Nixon has resurfaced for a series of interviews to plug his new book "1999: Victory Without War." The gala premiere of this glorified book tour was a special one-hour edition of NBC's venerable "Meet the Press." Despite a general lack of content, there was something gala about it.

"It isn't a comeback," Nixon promised. "It isn't to be well thought of." Whew! Then why is this man talking? Maybe he just wanted to say hello. Besides, no excuses are needed. So what if the questions are old and have already been answered? They have to be asked again. They have to be asked again because it's good sport and good viewing.

In addition to "Meet the Press" "his first appearance on a Sunday interview program in 20 years," moderator Chris Wallace trumpeted Nixon was interviewed on NBC's "Today" show. He is making other appearances. But he's not likely to unload on Oprah or spill to Phil (and certainly not carioca with Geraldo). Denouncing "psychohistory" on "Meet the Press," Nixon said: "I don't go much for psycho-TV shows either. I think they're rather revolting."

Wallace was joined for the special edition by anchor Tom Brokaw and commentator John Chancellor. Wallace didn't look happy to have Chancellor and Brokaw there, Brokaw didn't look happy to have Chancellor and Wallace there, and Chancellor looked happy.

Television was credited with destroying one of Nixon's bids for the presidency. But that was but a momentary dust-up in a long, complex and mutually beneficial relationship, one in which it's hard to tell the parasite from the host. When Nixon goes back on television, he's back where he was born.

Yes, the jowls are jowlier. Yes, the upper lip began to perspire about 10 minutes into the show. (Why doesn't that deodorant snag him for a "never let them see you sweat" commercial?) In a wide shot, one could see that Nixon had a hanky at the ready for emergency dabbing.

And he was wily, and sometimes wise, and cagey and crafty. All the things he is. He'd flash that big artificial smile (which gives him a slight resemblance to Dennis Day, Jack Benny's Irish tenor) and try to be one of the guys in vain, always, and that's somehow endearing. Then he'd wax very statesmanlike when discussing international matters. Under what seemed a large Nixon mask, there was a Nixon there.

He said he had "a phobia" about seeing himself on television. Like Dracula avoiding mirrors, perchance? Among Nixon's great hardships is that he's never been able to enjoy The Nixon Show as we have.

Obviously, Nixon relishes the role of ex-presidential interviewee, which he plays as Lord High Giver of Knowledge. He's Opinion Man, issuing pronouncements on the affairs of the world. In truth, and whatever they're worth, he issues them well, certainly better than Ronald Reagan ever could.

For a moment, he sounded like the model for Gordon Gekko, the ruthless financier in the movie "Wall Street." For a moment? Maybe longer than that. "There's nothing wrong at all with greed," Nixon said, "provided that greed is one that contributes to the wealth of the country, so that the wealth of the country can then handle some of the problems that people want."

At which point Wallace interrupted to say, "Mr. President, with a celebration of greed, we're going to have to break in for a moment." Chris, mind your manners! Never say "break in" to Nixon!

Say what you will about Nixon, and you undoubtedly have, television just wouldn't be television without him. And vice versa.