Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Former President Richard Nixon is not really a controversial figure - as he's universally criticized. The criticism comes from both the left and the right. What seems to be more rare is someone who sees him as a flawed or tragic figure.
I recently watched Frost/Nixon. I had remembered my parents' opinions about Nixon, and other observations I heard over the years from various adults, teachers, community leaders.
What shocked and surprised me (after watching the film) was President Nixon's arrogance. And his defense of his behavior reminded me of the past royal "divine right of kings". So it's no wonder that a country built on opposition to monarchy would react so strongly to such behavior from its president.
Nixon's defense was that the president should be able to do anything - because they were the president. A turning point in the interview was when confronted with newsreels and the damage done in Cambodia - Pres. Nixon asserted "We should have gone into Cambodia earlier!" He wouldn't/couldn't admit that his decision was a mistake - or that it may have led to the regime of Pol Pot (a horrible dictator/totalitarian regime).
So I believe it's always interesting to hear a person's defense of their own wrongdoing.
I appreciated the movie because I thought I knew a lot about the controversy, I thought I knew of the events surrounding Watergate. I had read "All the President's Men", and I thought I knew most of the characters. I think I forgot just how angry and disappointed so many Americans were in the cover-up of Watergate, and how self-righteous Nixon could be. That he would claim to be a victim instead of admitting fault.
What struck me after watching the film was the reminder that in every situation, particularly political situations, people will argue for and against. What remains important (even critical) is to weigh the information and evaluate what we know in terms of facts. And being willing to change our minds about what we hear - when there is new evidence either way.
I did appreciate at one point in the interview (I'm assuming this happened in the actual interviews), he (Nixon) admitted that his actions might have hurt the American people and damaged their faith in their government.
Also, no matter what a person's crimes, to remember them with compassion - or at least as much compassion as we can muster.
It's not that we have to approve of what they did or forget what happened. But to remember that each human deserves some modicum of respect.
And just as one of the researchers (who had written two books scathingly critical of Pres. Nixon) was in a situation where he had to shake Nixon's hand - sometimes we are caught in a web of social standards and niceties. Sometimes we are not in control - just as a leader is not completely in control. It's a fact we/people tend to forget - it's nice to blame an individual for everything that happens - but that's not always the whole story.
It's strange to have some sympathy for Nixon, but after watching the film, I find I do have some sympathy for him. Perhaps that shows the genius of the play and the movie - and why it garnered so many Academy award nods.