“No postwar politician did more to educate Americans to the primacy of image in politics” than Richard Nixon. So argues historian Greenberg in a rich work full of lessons and implications for spin doctors.
Richard Milhous Nixon lent himself to caricature throughout his long political career: famed for his five o’clock shadow at all hours of the day, for his sweaty brow, for his ski nose, he paid the mortgages for countless editorial cartoonists. This was not the legacy he sought, though Nixon was long aware of the need for a modern president to convey a memorable image at all times; in fact, Nixon reflected in one of his many memoirs, “In the modern presidency, concern for image must rank with concern for substance.” But Nixon, Greenberg argues, indeed authored that legacy and more: he gave us our current common-man image of the president, whether believable or not in his case, which did much for the rise of conservative populism; and in countless other ways he “nourished a culture in which the traffic in imagery was a constant and overriding concern.” Greenberg gets down to quite specific cases: he demonstrates, for instance, that Nixon carefully arranged for the famed May 1972 summit on strategic-arms limitations to be held in Moscow not to achieve greater public support for detente, but instead, as Charles Colson put it, “to strengthen the president’s image as one of the great world leaders of the century”; he constantly shifted political stances and alliances to keep what he imagined to be the most voter-friendly image before the public view, such that today no one can quite agree whether he was a conservative or a liberal; and in the final days, he even conspired to lock reporters in the White House press room so that he could have a moment away from the cameras he had always courted, “unmolested and unobserved.”
Thought-provoking from start to finish.