Don’t shake Nixon’s hand

There is picture of me shaking hands with President Nixon. I’m sixteen and in a skirt so short it should be illegal. He is looking right at the camera, with the frozen smile he made a hundred times that day as a selected slice of the citizenry of Kansas was paraded before him. I’m looking away. In spite of the honor of meeting a U.S. president, I already do not like this one and I will come to like him even less as we both grow older.

Richard Nixon, three days after resigning on 9 August 1974My parents could not have been more proud. Much to my embarrassment they hung the photo in the front hall of our house, leaving me to shrug and smile lamely whenever my own friends saw it. Then it got buried in a box for a few decades, and emerged here in my home a few months ago.

The decades make you more philosophical. This is a piece of my personal history, I thought.  I should embrace all the oddball steps along the path I’ve trod. So up went the photo, albeit in a far corner of a room upstairs.

Now, let me be clear. I think Nixon was a frequent liar, who tried to distance himself from a my-wining-justifies-any-behavior scandal called Watergate to which he had no moral objection. I know that he was foul-mouthed, rude and paranoid. This might describe a lot of politicians to some degree, it is true, but I think Nixon was on the far end of that spectrum and I don’t like him for it. I don’t think he was a nice or an honorable man.

Vietnam_WarWhat is worse, there is some evidence that he worked to derail the Vietnam peace talks in order to get elected in 1968. This would make him indirectly responsible for thousands of deaths and an uncountable amount of human suffering. Again, one might argue that many leaders could be accused of such. With great responsibility comes large consequences for poor decisions. But derailing peace talks to get elected? That has to be on the very low end of poor decision making.

Then, we get John Ehrlichman’s revelations from this past week. Nixon hated the hippie movement. In fact, it was his comments about such that turned me off so thoroughly the day the photo was taken. I don’t doubt that he was racist (and probably everything else -ist). The virtues of tolerance, diversity and inclusivity never appeared to be part of his make-up. He may or may not have specifically designed the war on drugs to target blacks and anti-establishment youth, but at the very least it was a bonus to him. This story has the ring of truth to it in that he was notably pragmatic as regarded his own political career. Not only did he not like either group, he also recognized how unlikely either was to ever vote for him.

IMG_2180So I look at the photo and consider taking it back down. These recent revelations stir up the anger and frustration I used to feel, and explain why a younger version of myself thought a man like Gerald Ford was a big improvement. It turns out that I wouldn’t dislike another president so vehemently until Ronald Reagan got elected. Mercifully, I don’t have a picture of me and Reagan to agonize over.

There is something to be said for keeping your own history, honoring your own memories and what those moments meant to you. There is also something to be said to for deciding “I have heard enough about this clown, I don’t ever want to see his face again.”

Which emotion trumps?  Oooopppps, bad word choice. My subconscious must be doing a little free association. Let me rephrase the question. Do I ban his image from my home? Or maybe I should just cut out the part of the photo containing Nixon, and leave my sixteen year-old-self shaking hands with an unseen apparition?

Picking a President: “Holding Out for a Hero”

So I am adding to the music page on this blog, and come to “Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler and suddenly current events sort of click for me. I confess that watching this presidential primary process has left me disturbed like never before. What does an 80’s song have to do this? Walk with me here, because I think I’m on to something.

superheroWhy is the protagonist in a novel, or movie, or TV series usually called the hero of the story? We love our heroes (male and female) because we not only love to cheer them on, we also live through them vicariously. In fact, we are so used to being entertained by heroes that I think we’ve evolved into a society where many of us don’t want our politicians to be leaders.  We certainly don’t want them to be politicians. We want them to be our heroes, and that’s a different thing.

Some politicians thought to have a good shot at the presidency are having a hard time fitting the hero image. Hilary Clinton, Mark Rubio and John Kasich are all struggling with it, and Jeb Bush failed at it along with eleven other GOP hopefuls.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders has risen as a hero to the left. It’s fair to tell you that I like a lot of Bernie Sanders ideas and if he wins the primary I will vote for him, even though I do not think he would be particularly good at the business of governing these United States. My point here is that I don’t think his followers are focusing on his abilities as a statesman. He is a hero to them for speaking out against the injustice in our nation.

fractal 6On the other side of the aisle are an array of heroes to chose from. Does your hatred of the federal government run so strong that you cheer on a man willing to shut the entire government down if he doesn’t get his way? Have we got a candidate for you. Fancy a quiet neurosurgeon whose medical feats don’t qualify him for politics but sure are impressive? Step this way. Or is your idea of a hero someone who is wildly rich, terribly confident and never backs down? Ohhhh boy, you are going to love what we have for you.

I’m afraid that as a nation were not looking for the most capable leader we can find. We’re each looking for our own particular kind of hero out there. We want someone we can rally behind and yell “hell yes”, the country be damned. It makes sense in a very visceral way, even though I don’t think this is what the founding fathers had in mind for democracy. However, as our society has become ever more entertainment-saturated, this might have been inevitable.

I think it would be a good idea to be more aware of what we are doing, and to ask whether heroes have historically made good leaders. What do you think?

While you ponder that question, enjoy this 1984 video of a young Bonnie Tyler and her 80’s hair as she sings “Holding out for a Hero.”

(Learn more at bonnietyler.com/. You can buy this song at Amazon.)

z2 is a story about becoming a hero when necessary. Enjoy this short excerpt about one of the moments when my protagonist has to act like a hero. And no, I do not think that being able to handle a situation like this qualifies one to be president.

“It’s probably just the cat,” he muttered, mostly asleep.

“It’s NOT the cat!” she said. “It’s coming from the front lawn.” Lola stepped into the hallway and could see a bright glow coming in through the front windows. “Oh my god, Alex.”

Alex could recognize genuine panic when he heard it and he went from barely awake to completely awake in about two seconds. This was his job. He protected this house. He strode into the front hall and saw through the glass panels on either side of his front door an angry and probably drunk mob of white hooded people on his front lawn, most waving burning torches and chanting something about his house, shelter and Satan.

“Call 911,” he barked to Lola, heading back to the bedroom to grab some pants. “Then see if you can make it out the back door and get to a neighbor. Bring back some help if you can. I’m going out there to see what they want.”

It was an indication of how serious the situation was that Lola didn’t even pause to discuss his plan with him.

He opened the door, and saw that a cross about the size of a grown man had been erected on his front lawn and was being doused in liquid from a metal can. As he opened his mouth to speak, the crowd noticed him, and the chanting was replaced by a plethora of epitaphs.