Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tricky Dick

Its all politics all the time around here.  As I'm watching the Canadian election returns, my mind goes to Richard Nixon.  He was a rare political animal, someone with enough raw political talent to overcome a patently unsuitable personality.  Not only did he achieve his ultimate aim, he managed the even rarer feat of a come-back.  I can't think of a similar example in US politics and only three in Canada.  McKenzie King (similarly unsuitable for political office, but for different reasons, he was a complete lunatic), Pierre Trudeau and Robert Bourassa.  All naturally brilliant politicians.

I remember Nixon well.  I followed his downfall obsessively.  A classical tragedy unfolding live on TV for two years.  His achievements as president, for better and worse, were huge.  But the man himself was profoundly bland.  Like Hitler, his ambition was the only interesting thing about him.  Nevertheless, Nixon had an outsized impact on his country and the world.  He remains fascinating on a purely political level.  Politics is a trade, and a messy trade.  Most who gain success gain a level of competence at that trade.  Rarely, you get someone who achieves mastery of the process.  The only one I know working these days is Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc Quebec leader. Obama may also command this mastery, but only time will tell.

Henry Kissinger famously wondered what Nixon would have been had he been loved as a child.  A happy nobody is the answer.  His obvious insecurity, resentment and need  for power created him and then destroyed him.