Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession

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Overview

"Nixon's the One!" proclaimed his campaign paraphernalia. "Tricky Dick!" retorted his detractors. From presidential savior for conservative America to bête noire for the political Left, the Richard Nixon persona has worn many masks and labels. In fiction and poetry and pop songs, in television and film, no other national political figure has so thoroughly saturated our public consciousness with so many contrasting images.

Focusing on the process of Nixon's continuous reinvention, Daniel Frick reveals a figure who continues to expose key fault lines in the nation's self-definition. Drawing on references ranging from All in the Family to Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, he shows how Nixon has become one of America's most durable and multifaceted icons in the ongoing and fierce debates over the import and meaning of the last sixty years of national life.

Examining Nixon's autobiographies and political memorabilia, Frick offers far-reaching perceptions not only of the man but of Nixon's version of himself—contrasted with those who would interpret him differently. He cites reinventions of Nixon from the late 1980s, particularly the museum at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, to demonstrate the resilience of certain national mythic narratives in the face of liberal critiques. And he recounts how celebrants at Nixon's state funeral, at which Bob Dole's eulogy depicted a God-fearing American hero, attempted to bury the sources of our divisions over him, rendering in some minds the judgment of "redeemed statesman" to erase his status as "disgraced president."

With dozens of illustrations—Nixon posing with Elvis (the National Archives' most requested photo),Nixonian cultural artifacts, classic editorial cartoons—no other book collects in one place such varied images of Nixon from so many diverse media. These reinforce Frick's probing analysis to help us understand why we disagree about Nixon—and why it matters how we resolve our disagreements.

Whether your image of Nixon is shaped by his autobiography Six Crises, Oliver Stone's surprisingly sympathetic film Nixon, John Adams's landmark opera Nixon in China, or by the saga of Watergate, Reinventing Richard Nixon expands on all perspectives. It shows how, through these contradictory mythic stories, we continue to reinvent, much like Nixon himself, our own sense of national identity.

This book is part of the CultureAmerica series.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this wide-ranging, reference-heavy volume, first-time author Frick examines the many public faces of Richard Nixon, and how they reflect countrywide changes in mood and politics. Frick has a masterful reach across different media, from political cartoons (Herb Block's 1954 panel portraying Nixon emerging from the sewer) to movies and literature to campaign propaganda, biographies and autobiographies, to supporters and detractors in the government and news media. Frick is able time and again to nail the tone of the nation in a few well-chosen quotes; when the president left office in shame in 1974, Vermont newspaperman Franklin B. Smith speaks for the forgotten Nixon nation: "The heart of America stopped beating this week." Taking readers from the early days of Nixon's national career to his eulogy, at which he was (tellingly) lionized by biographer Stephen E. Ambrose as a "beloved elder statesman," Frick sets an enormous task for himself, trying to tie down all aspects of this "representative American." Casual readers could find it all too much; readers with an avid interest in popular and historical political science, however, will find this an absorbing, expertly researched look at the many roles a single controversial figure can play in American life. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Fourteen years after Nixon's death, the debate still rages about his place in American history as a man of destiny, corrupt president, or elder statesman, writes Frick (director, Creative Writing Ctr., Franklin and Marshall Coll.). The author interprets Nixon through national myths that are embedded in American culture and provide the battleground for today's culture wars. This thought-provoking and perceptive account, like David Greenberg's Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image , offers numerous historical and cultural anecdotes that bolster the authors' similar conclusion that the second half of the 20th century was like an Age of Nixon. Greenberg primarily investigates how Nixon was viewed by different political constituencies, while Frick explores how Nixon has been portrayed in books, music, plays, and political cartoons and how he spins himself in his three autobiographies. He interprets Nixon through a number of myths that include rising from rags to riches and fulfilling America's messianic role of being the leader of the free world. Frick is good at showing the dark sides of these myths, and his excellent appraisal reveals as much about the former president's supporters and haters as it does about Nixon himself. Strongly recommended for large public and all academic popular-culture collections.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700615995
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 8/29/2008
  • Series: CultureAmerica
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Frick is director of the Writing Center and senior adjunct assistant professor of English at Franklin and Marshall College.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Richard Nixon and the

Many Faces of a Representative American 1

1 "Ragged Dick" Nixon, American Missionary 18

2 Jeremiah at San Clemente: Richard Nixon and the Decline of the American Republic 46

3 "Anyone Can Be the President": Behind the Mask of Success 77

4 The Self-Made Monster: America and the Myth of National Mission 106

5 Richard Mephisto Nixon: Further Adventures in American Political Demonology 133

6 "Never Give Up": American Orthodoxy, Revised Standard Version 171

7 Nixon, Now More than Ever 203

Notes 239

Bibliography 285

Index 317

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