How an image-obsessed president transformed the way we think about politics and politicians.
The Guardian (London)
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.42(w) x 9.64(h) x 1.55(d)
Meet the Author
David Greenberg is a historian of American politics and a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of the prize-winning Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, among other books. Currently a columnist for Politico, he has been an editor at Slate and the New Republic and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other popular and scholarly publications. He lives with his family in New York City.
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Try to grasp a shadow and you¿ll learn what you already knew. They¿re pretty insubstantial. Fittingly so is David Greenberg¿s book on Nixon¿s. To anyone who lived through the Nixon years, or who has read through the Nixon literature, Greenberg offers little that¿s new. Ambrose¿s biography, Garry Wills¿ exegesis, or even Theodore H. White¿s apologia is solider matter. Of course Greenberg contends he¿s writing about the evolution of Nixon¿s ¿image¿¿roughly speaking, the interaction between what Nixon wanted people to think about him, what people came to think about him, and how what people thought about him came, in turn, to change the way Nixon tried to get people to think about him. Still the fundamental problem about Nixon is that none of the image-making apparatus (public relations ploys, media manipulation, etc.) changed the fact that most people wanted to know about the ¿truth,¿ not the image. Finally, in the end, perhaps Nixon was brought down because a majority of folks made that, not the magic of image-making, their lodestar. Greenberg suggests that, after Nixon, politics and presidential aspirations, were forever changed, that TV and the electronic image of the candidates became of central importance to political campaigns. Politicians were expected to have personalities, appearances, prose, and media apparatus as polished as any pop diva¿s. The old business of party political platforms and a political philosophy was right out the window. Too true. But I wonder, if only the form, and not the substance of this aspect of politics has changed. I can¿t think of a president who did not engage in polishing their image to fit their aspirations: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, the list goes on. What¿s changed is the media, not the fundamental problem. What¿s dangerous is Greenberg¿s suggestion that the Nixon problem basically boiled down to a sort of downward spiraling tango between Nixon and his ¿enemies.¿ The more Nixon was hated by his opponents, the more Nixon hated them. The more Nixon hated his enemies, the more he did to cause his enemies to hate him. This verges on excusing Nixon from any responsibility for his politics. Perhaps the lesson of this is that political careers too clouded with failures and disappointments should be short. Loosing elections too often lengthens the list of political enemies to dangerous levels. By 1968, Nixon had pursued his obsession too long and had built up a reservoir of resentments he was bound to unleash.
Greenberg's provocative, insightful, and artfully written book represents a quantum leap forward in understanding Richard Nixon, image-making in American politics, and indeed politics itself. The book is organized in a series of highly readable, engrossing chapters, each chronicling a different group of Nixon lovers, haters, critics, apologists, etc. It's a highly innovative approach perfectly suited to the subject matter.