I never much liked Richard Nixon, and I’ll tell you why. Nixon had a foul mouth and a foulness of mind that he let infect the White House. I could always tell, kind of, that when he and Haldeman, Erlichtman, Mitchell and Dean did their deep thinking in the Oval, a lot of it consisted of calling whoever they thought was getting in their way "assholes" and "cocksuckers". This bore out when the transcriptions of their Oval Office conversations were made public, even though I never did find out whether they thought Pierre Trudeau was an asshole or a cocksucker.
I can’t see any good reason why political office ought to make people more stupid and mean-spirited than they already are, but it is observably true that it does anyway. I mean, elected office isn’t like construction work, where the minute you pick up a hammer your IQ drops 40 points and all inanimate objects become cocksuckers and everyone you work for and with becomes a motherfucker, as in, "bang that there piece into place with that cocksucker over there, motherfucker."
Even so, there’s a democratic civility built into the American presidency that damned well ought to exclude it from this effect, and so its more distasteful than it might be when someone like Richard Nixon gets hold of the office. I say this as a non-American, and excuse me for it. It is possible to respect and even admire the institutions of the United States even when you know they don’t work often or very well. The civility of the U.S. Presidency made Bill Clinton into an interesting human being despite the Lewinsky mess, transforming him from the retching eagerness he began with to an elegant and almost august presidential diffidence that was larger than that pussy-crazed pragmatist could have achieved on his own.
One of the things I liked about Clinton, incidentally, was that he respected the office such that you knew damned he wasn’t calling his political opponents "cocksuckers" as he paced the Oval Office, and that those around him weren’t using language that way either. In fact, I don’t think those words were used in the Oval Office by any of the other post-Nixon presidents. Bush Sr. Was too Patrician, Ronald Reagan, for all his vulgarity (and later, feeble-mindedness) was neither foul-mouthed or minded, Jimmy Carter simply didn’t think that way, and Gerald Ford wasn’t capable of working three-syllable words.
I’m afraid the Bush Jr. Presidency is going to be a return to the sensibility of Richard Nixon. You can see it in his face, you can see it in his cabinet selections, and we have that piece of campaign-trail evidence when he ragged down a New York Times reporter with his microphone on. And that’s a shame.
March 17, 2001// 436 words