Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image
February 5, 2014
This is a review that I have submitted to Amazon for a book entitled, Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image by David Greenberg.
Greenberg's book on Nixon and the media has the appearance of a thoughtful investigation of both phenomena, Nixon and the media. However, as one gets into it, this appearance is, like Nixon, more image than reality. For example, Greenberg pretty much takes for granted that Nixon was in some way(s) unique, just as do those who disliked Nixon and those who liked him or thought him to be a "statesman." But he was far from unique and the way he and the media interacted was from unique. Like almost all our politicians, Nixon said what he needed to say to get elected and the media pretty much accepted it, while often writing glowing reports of Nixon's virtues, especially early in his career. [This phenomenon reoccurred at the end of Nixon's career as well, when he was dubbed to have "redeemed" himself and proven himself a "statesman," an image that was ratified by his funeral in the presence of every living ex-president.] Hence, when Nixon campaigned in 1968 saying that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War with "honor," the media accepted this assertion without challenging Nixon, something Greenberg and the media find hard to explain.
And this points to another shortcoming of Greenberg's book: His failure to take into account that both Nixon and the media are or were embedded in a "system" and that those who control it seek to perpetuate it. In politics, this means maintaining the status quo, which both Nixon and the media, as sharing control of this "system," wanted to maintain. Hence. as the prevailing political class was under severe pressure in 1967 and 1968, was threatened with being "overthrown," it was incumbent on them to look to someone who would be able to maintain the status quo, someone able to protect the prevailing political order. LBJ was no longer able to do that, so he declined to seek re-election, hoping that Nixon would be elected insofar as he, Nixon, was not the "wimp" LBJ deemed Humphrey to be. Further, Nixon ran as "the peace candidate" even though he had no plan, secret or otherwise, to get peace. But by running as "the peace candidate," Nixon, following Johnson's example, co-opted "the peace movement" which embraced a kind of politics both Nixon and LBJ thought inane and dangerous, both to the nation and to them and their political class. The media went along with talk about "the new Nixon" and his "secret plan" to end the war because it served the interests of the prevailing political order, in which they were invested along with the prevailing political class.
Like another, more recent book,, "Nixonland," Greenberg's book is based on and helps to fortify the view that Richard Nixon possessed some special qualities, that is, qualities not possessed by other, more ordinary politicians. This makes for drama, even for what might be called "tragedy," as in "the tragedy of Richard Nixon, a great man with a tragic flaw." But, in fact, Richard Nixon was little more than an ambitious, manipulating human being whose viciousness and vacuousness was hidden with the help of the media and others. There is no tragedy here, just another illustration of how our politics is, for the most part, smoke and mirrors.