I think this has to be one of the most recycled headlines of the Watergate era and the tapes. President Nixon is a man who, in life and in death, keeps coming back like heartburn. You notice none of the other seven or eight former incumbents raise the passions of the early culture wars in quite the same way as Ol’ Milhous does.
So lately, another book is out about the Nixon era, and it’s peppered with its share of new slings and arrows that Nixon shot in private conversation about “the Jews”. It’s like, man, you read through the latest batch and you wonder whether he was trying to outdo himself for the fiercest anti-Sem zinger.
Is the fact that Nixon got all worked up about the Jews while in the White House something to get all worked up about? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it’s kind of a window to the soul. It isn’t simply that he had aninus to a certain Jew or a situation, or even one where he was at the losing end because someone was treating him wrongly because he wasn’t Jewish. I mean, none of the Kennedy family were Jewish at that time, and they hit him about as hard as any of his various perceived enemies. So, yes, it kind of makes Richard Nixon seem even a little more off the wall than a guy who felt he had his share of people out ot get him.
But in another sense, it’s really old news. The man had his biases. You know, any number of the people in high positions of power do, and sometimes they let it out and let it go. In those days, it wasn’t just Nixon. There were half-a-dozen sitting Senators in those days who weren’t very quiet about their anti-Semitic biases; and of course in America, racial prejudice has had its chance to play a factor on the political scene a number of times.
In my formal higher education, I happened to be around and get to understand the more left-wingy of the American Jewish community. (That means I got to see the good and the bad.) And you know what? Frankly, a number of the folks I met didn’t exactly come across as benevolent and open minded. They didn’t exactly come across a persons who respected other people’s rights, and particularly the right to disagree. You can’t make generalizations off of a couple of bad situations (which I think was really Richard Nixon’s problem). It just seems like Nixon is used as one foil in the long-running Culture Wars debate. The Slate article really gives that sense, too, when the writer assigns the late President to hell, and then says he’s beyond an anti-Semite. Seriously? It sounds a bit like a shouting match of insults with a ghost, where the ghost isn’t around to care.
The 37th President was quite a character, and in the end, generally taken as a bad guy who didn’t own up to the bad things that he did along the way. People already know that in taped, private conversations, he could be way over the top. But what I wonder is why anyone cares with such passion, forty years later.