Dreaming of Richard Nixon


richard_nixon_fighting_a_saber_tooth_tiger_by_sharpwriter-d6bln06I dreamt last night of my childhood.  Richard Nixon loomed large. 

Watergate is my first explicitly political memory.  I was five years old, and that summer my parents rented a huge house in Vermont.  Or huge it seemed to me at the age of five: I imagine that were I to go back now, it would seem much reduced in size, as everything does when revisited in adulthood.  It couldn’t have been that big; my father was an academic and my mother was a musician; there’s no way they could have afforded to rent a house as big as Buckingham Palace.  But, to my five-year-old eyes, that’s how it looked. 

I was too young to understand the significance of what was happening, but I remember the mood and the urgency: no matter what we were doing, we had to rush back to be in front of the television for the evening news.  For those of you too young to remember, “the news” happened at 6 p.m.  You had three options: ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, or CBS Evening News.  Every American watched one of those shows, and they were essentially indistinguishable in ideological perspective: I suspect we were a much more unified nation for it.  Anyway, you either caught the news at 6 o’clock or you missed everything.  For the saplings among us, this is what television looked like back then:

Nixon and Watergate are what stand out in my mind when I think of that summer, along with a Mom ‘n’ Pop store that sold popsicles in the shape of bunny rabbits.  Stopping for one of those was about as good as life got.  I remember playing a game with my mother called, I think, Pick-up Sticks—I just looked it up, yes, that’s what it was called; I see that it was supposed to be educational (back then we played games with things like sticks: no one had a computer.)  And I remember being stung by a bee, which was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

But back to Nixon.  I wonder now what effect Watergate had on me?  My first memory of American political life involved seeing my parents, night after night, sucking in their breath in shock, jeering at the television—that is to say, at the President of our country and at everyone around him, mesmerized and horrified by the spectacle.  To what extent did that permanently shape my sense of politics?  How much of my abiding suspicion that politicians are not to be trusted or given too much power devolves from that?  A priori, it seems to me that no one who grew up during that time would be capable of having the attitude toward a president that, for example, my grandmother had toward Roosevelt.  She recalled listening to him on the radio and feeling incredibly reassured by his voice.  I can’t say that I remember a single American president whose voice made me confident that all would be well.

What was your first political memory?  How do you think it affected you?  How old were you when Nixon resigned? If it was a formative age, do you think it permanently shaped the way you look at politics and politicians?

In my dream, Nixon was back on television.  I was on a cruise ship with my grandmother.  There was a large banquet table, and for some reason Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was there, giving an endless noisy speech.  But I soon forgot about Nixon, because we were docking at a lovely and magical city, very far north, illuminated by sparkling Christmas lights and dusted in pristine snow.

Photo Credit: Deviat Art user SharpWriter.

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  1. Annefy Member

    Born in 1958, so I remember all three assassinations and the funerals very clearly. 

    One of my earliest personal memories is listening to my parents (immigrants from Scotland) arguing with Yankee neighbors about the Viet Nam war. (my folks were against, neighbors were for) We moved from that neighborhood in 1964 but I crossed paths with their children years later. Ironic; neither of their sons were ever drafted or in the lottery thanks to admittedly bogus medical claims while my parents have one Marine Corps grandson and will have another in February.

    We were in Scotland when Nixon resigned and the entire family stayed up to watch the resignation live. Watergate was a HUGE deal in our house.

    My parents were dyed in the wool, union loving, anti-gun democrats who happily voted for Obama. Four of their five children drifted right in their 20s, married conservatives and are all now firmly planted there. Damn near broke my daddy’s heart.

    One remains on the left, the baby born in 1967. The only one who went to college. He never really left; he’s an NCAA coach at the college he attended. And he married a teacher.

    • #31
  2. user_44643 Inactive

    I was born in 1975, so I have no childhood memory of Nixon and Watergate. My earliest political memory is from 1980, when I recall my mom (who was then a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat) being upset that Carter had lost to Reagan.

    Growing up in the ’80s, Reagan was “the President” and always will be. I remember being angry at the Democrats undermining him at every turn on foreign policy, wondering why they wanted the Soviets to win the Cold War. I’ve despised them ever since.

    • #32
  3. user_645 Editor

    Dan Campbell:

    Also born in 1960. Who knew there were so many?

    Any significance to it, I wonder? I mean, in terms of formative childhood events that all of you born-in-1960 people lived through? 

    • #33
  4. mwupton@gmail.com Inactive

    I remember feeling scorn for my first grade teacher because she had a Ross Perot bumper sticker. I’m pretty sure I picked up the attitude from Rush.

    • #34
  5. user_1121313 Inactive

    It was the nightly news showing a battle from Vietnam. It must have been in the very early 70s. I could not have been over 5 yrs old. I asked my father question after question and got no answers that satisfied me and yet I was highly interested in the military/geopolitics (not that I knew what either where at the time or even how to spell them). I no longer remember specifics, my Dad’s answers or if my Uncle was over there and that is why I was so interested . . . I do remember the news clip. The jungle, the men, the intensity of feelings conveyed.

    • #35
  6. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum

    I was seven and reading Weekly Reader’s special edition on JFK’s assassination; vividly recall hovering in front of the TV at 11 during the deathwatch for RFK;  I was aware of Watergate/the David Frost interviews, but didn’t focus on politics; on a happier note, I started reading National Review and watching Firing Line in high school at 14…I’m a confirmed political junkie now.

    • #36
  7. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.

    Claire Berlinski:

    Dan Campbell:

    Also born in 1960. Who knew there were so many?

    Any significance to it, I wonder? I mean, in terms of formative childhood events that all of you born-in-1960 people lived through?

     Well, I don’t know about specific childhood events, but anyone born in 1960 came of age in the ’70’s and I think that tends to explain a lot.

    • #37
  8. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards

    Before Nixon I remember Spiro Agnew resigning. What a dream ticket Nixon / Agnew turned out to be.

    • #38
  9. EThompson Inactive

    1. Listening to my parents discussing at the dinner table the remark made by Goldwater at the SF Cow Palace in 1964: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” (The grade school years.)
    2. The excoriation of Gerald Ford for pardoning Nixon in 1974. (The teenage years.)
    3. Discussing with my father why we were both voting for Ross Perot in 1992. (The young adult years.)

    • #39
  10. user_131369 Inactive

    It was September 1, 1939 and I was about to start kindergarten.  It was the first time I’d ever seen my mother cry.  That was politics by other means.  I also remember listening to the radio the next year as Roosevelt beat Wendell Willke.

    • #40
  11. user_82762 Inactive


    My sister and I were watching the Kennedy Nixon debate on the Dumont black & white.  The next morning in 2nd grade the teacher had us vote by raising our hands.  Nixon won easily.  I was quite surprised when Kennedy won the election.

    Of course, it was many years before I realized just how many dead people voting in Richard Daley’s Chicago it had taken for Kennedy to win.  It was many more years before I had the philosophical expertise to understand why such corruption was inevitable with those that believed in the State a little too much.

    This is how television looked then.



    • #41
  12. Eeyore Member

    One small political memory. Barry Goldwater came to speak at my college. Although a dumb lefty at the time, I found him warm and genuine (seed planted, perhaps). During the Q&A after his speech, one person began his question with “Lyndon Johnson beat you in 1964…” at which point, Goldwater leaned into his microphone and said – with sincere lighthearted humor: “Did he ever!”

    • #42
  13. Darth Vader Jr Inactive
    Darth Vader Jr

    What can I say – “I like Ike” and “Batista Flees”.

    • #43
  14. ctlaw Coolidge

    Two points about Nixon as President.

    My early memory of him as President was as an old bald guy.

    In reality, at that time he was relatively young despite having been in national politics for nearly 20 years. He was 61 when he left office. Many people now are older when they first seek it.

    Ford was the same age as Nixon. Reagan older. Carter only 11 years younger.

    As for hair, a modern stylist could have people thinking Nixon had more hair than Romney. Just look at John Edwards for proof.

    • #44
  15. user_235504 Inactive

    The summer of my 4th birthday, a lot of coming and going at our house, then my father explaining that Jews now had their own country. I didn’t understand but I could see he was in tears. Two or three years later, watching grainy footage of the Korean War on a tiny TV, and knowing British soldiers from the Gloucestershire Regiment were there fighting the Chinese. The death of Stalin, of whom I had never heard. My father saying he was a bad man who ruled Russia. By 1956 I was 12 and well wise to the ways of the world. A Hungarian boy came to my school, speaking not a word of English. Then the Suez crisis, and the US forcing the UK and France to withdraw, which led to the resignation of the prime minister, Sir Anthony Eden. My grandmother claiming to be distantly related to him and saying again and again, “Poor Anthony Eden, poor Anthony Eden”, and me thinking (correctly) she was a silly old snob. On my 16th birthday Krushchev walked out of the summit conference over the U2 incident and it ruined my day. I think I was a bit over-serious.

    • #45
  16. Dudley Inactive

    I cannot identify a first political memory. I was ambivalent about politcs until 1979, my senior year in high school, when a fantastic teacher who taught our government class turned me onto to politics. From there I went to college in DC because I just knew I was going to be President one day and fix all our problems.  After a year and a half interning on ‘the Hill’ I had been exposed to enough of how the sausage is made to decide politics was not for me. I was rather idealistic at the time and it is a sad day when you realize your heros are no better, and often worse, than those you’ve thought ill of for so long. I finished my college years at a conservative ‘Southern Ivy’ school where things like honor and tradition were more than words.

    • #46
  17. user_82762 Inactive


    Update on my comment #41.  My parent’s house that the Dumont black & white TV was in was so small that even at 7 years old it looked small.  For some reason I felt more comfortable in it than the bigger house we moved to when I was 9.

    My father did his best research when he was in a reconditioned old building in the 50s and 60s.   Later the University built a rather grand structure and moved him there.  His research wasn’t ever the same.  He said about it “Buildings don’t do Science, people do Science.”

    Maybe houses don’t do Family, people do Family.  Just a thought.



    • #47
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