Richard Nixon

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Presidents of the United States of America
Lyndon B. JohnsonRichard NixonGerald Ford


Time cover Nixon.jpg
There is an old Vulcan proverb... "Only Nixon could go to China".

The thirty-seventh President of the United States, and probably the most hated former president in U.S. history before politics polarized in the early 2000s (only Herbert Hoover is competition), Richard Milhous Nixon remains the standard-bearer as being the embodiment of the corrupt president. If President Corrupt shows up in fiction, there will probably be allusions to this guy.

Nixon was raised in the Quaker faith (aka the pacifistic, egalitarian Society of Friends) and came from a very poor childhood (his father worked as a gas station attendant). Before becoming President he served as a naval commander during World War II, a US Congressman and then Senator from his home state of California, and Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Oh, and he had a dog named Checkers he was given as a gift that turned into a bribery scandal. Satirical portrayals of him in media initially focused on his perceived square-ishness, changing, as the Watergate scandal unraveled, to a focus on his lying and paranoia, eventually settling on sort of a general Designated Evil.

Before becoming President in 1969, Nixon had served as VP and ran in the 1960 election. His loss was in no small part due to the fact that this debate was the first one ever televised, and his haggard appearance cost him votes when contrasted with the handsome and charismatic John F. Kennedy.[1] The story goes that Nixon refused to allow the makeup people near him and that people on TV cameras without makeup look just awful; in later years, Nixon would seldom appear in public without a thick mask of makeup.

Toward the end of the '60s, he enacted his "Southern Strategy" to win over disaffected Dixiecrats (read: segregationists, despite Nixon himself being in favor of integration) to the Republicans, which played a large part in his election to the presidency and more or less set the Grand Old Party on its current course.

Nixon is, of course, most famous for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, which ultimately led to his resignation. The particulars of the scandal are as follows: the Commission to Re-Elect the President (CRP, after it was worked out that the original acronym spelled CREEP) used both illegal and morally questionable "ratfucking" methods throughout the '72 campaign to undermine competing campaigns. The break-in at the Democratic headquarters at Watergate to wiretap their phones was the culmination of these efforts, but unlike previous actions, the criminals were caught.

This, it must be noted, was merely the culmination. Every president (except for James K. Polk) wants a second term, but Nixon, with his lifelong persecution-mania, was more obsessed with it than any of his predecessors, and he passed this obsession along to his subordinates. Throughout Nixon's first term, CREEP had been working to secure the 1972 election for Nixon by scuttling the campaign of every potential Democratic nominee except George McGovern, who was judged easiest to beat. They succeeded. You can read that story in Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, by Rick Perlstein.

A series of investigations then occurred, including the press (above all the Washington Post), a Congressional investigation, and an FBI investigation. The press and Congressional investigations were more important in finding new information; the FBI investigation was rightly thought of as incompetent and/or a cover up. Eventually, more and more evidence appeared connecting Watergate to personal assistants and aides of Nixon, showing they not only had knowledge of what was going on, but were deeply involved.

Things came to a head when Nixon sought to appoint L. Patrick Gray as the permanent head of the FBI. That meant that he had to undergo Senate approval, and during the hearings he eventually made it evident that there had been a cover up regarding the break-in and, more importantly, that two presidential aides had been directly involved. This directly contradicted the White House line that the Watergate robbers had largely acted alone. He also admitted that he had destroyed evidence, allegedly unrelated to Watergate. Unsurprisingly, he was not confirmed as director by the Senate.

A whole mess of events unfolded after this, including the resignation of several of Nixon's aides, the Saturday Night Massacre—In which Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor investigating Watergate, and his own Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General (both of whom refused to comply with his order) on the same night, and sparked a constitutional crisis—and the discovery of secret tapes which recorded conversations in the Oval Office, the latter of which would eventually lead to Nixon's downfall.

Nixon claimed that the tapes would absolve him of any guilt regarding the cover-up, but not only did one tape contain nothing less than a 18-and-half minute gap, clearly erased, but eventually a Smoking Gun tape was found, in which Nixon asks that 'for matters of national security', the FBI investigation on Watergate should be halted, tacitly admitting he had committed crimes and should thus be impeached. He resigned soon after (sparing him from impeachment), all political support having evaporated after the revelation.

The funny thing is, it's very likely that Nixon could have easily won the election without the use of dirty tricks, as he was quite a popular president and his opponent, George McGovern, ran a weak campaign (although, of course, since CRP had directly affected the Democratic primaries, and not in a nice way, it's arguable whether McGovern would have been the opponent had Nixon run things clean from the start). It's also ironically funny that, until Watergate, he was the most popular president since Washington, and if it weren't for 'gate and 'Nam...

The Watergate scandal gives us several of Nixon's trademarks, such as him saying "I am not a crook" (he did say that, but it was actually part of a larger speech and not a standalone sentence like it's usually shown), and making the V signs (ironically signifying victory) after he was forced to resign. Needless to say, this did wonders for his reputation. Nixon was also known for getting elected on the promise that he had a "secret plan" for ending The Vietnam War which turned out to be bombing North Vietnam until they agreed to a peace treaty and "Vietnamization" of the war, which meant requiring South Vietnam to provide more ground troops so Americans could leave. It didn't work out very well for South Vietnam, but did let America get out of the war. Eventually.

Which leads us to the one of the good things Nixon did - "opening up" China and the U.S.S.R. to the West. As noted in the pagequote, only Nixon (or a man of his reputation) could have done this. America was still in the shadow of the Red Scare of The Fifties, and paranoia about communism was rampant; a liberal leader trying to open diplomatic relations this way would have been denounced as a Communist sympathizer and laughed out of town. But Nixon was well-known for being the opposite of a Communist sympathizer; he first reached national prominence by helping McCarthy perpetrate the Red Scare. As such, he could travel to China and the Soviet Union and still be taken seriously. Even better, he used his trip to China to fan Soviet insecurities about a Chinese-American treaty, exploiting it into two summits with the Soviet Union which culminated in the SALT and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaties being signed. These resulted in the first real limitations on nuclear weapons, helping scale back the Cold War.

He also called for comprehensive health insurance, and supported affirmative action, social security, signed OSHA into law, started up the Environmental Protection Agency, started the Drug Enforcement Administration and declared the War on Drugs (he was also pro-Civil Rights, though as noted he later downplayed that to score political points)... In short, Nixon managed to expand the role and size of government more than any other president since Roosevelt. It's not for nothing that Noam Chomsky called Nixon "in many respects the last liberal president." People who remember these things tend to think of them as bad things. People who'd like to remember him fondly also like to gloss over these accomplishments. At this point, it is worth stating that Ted Kennedy once said that the worst mistake of his political career was rejecting Nixon's offer of universal health care in return for Democratic support.

After his resignation, Nixon was followed by his second vice president (after Spiro Agnew resigned), Gerald Ford. That president gave his predecessor a full pardon to the frustration of much of the American public who had to be satisfied with interviewer David Frost worming a partial confession out of Nixon in a series of exclusive TV interviews in 1977.

Nixon spent the rest of his years with speaking engagements, writing books, and traveling around the world to meet foreign leaders. He gained some respect as an elder statesman, and gave Ronald Reagan advice on the Soviet Union. He died after suffering a stroke in 1994.

Nixon has long been a subject of particular interest for presidential historians, and serves as the canonical example of a deeply conflicted leader who "could be considered both a failure and great or near great" (Alan Brinkley). Thanks to his particular brand of paranoid neuroses (his tapes include lengthy rants about people—mainly part of the 'liberal east-coast establishment' -- plotting against him), he's also been quite the fertile figure of study for psychologists.

Other tropes Nixon has given us are:
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman
  • The phrase, "Follow the money", supposedly said by the anonymous Deep Throat phone tipster, the source who leaked information about the Watergate Scandal to reporters Woodward and Bernstein. In 2005, it was revealed to be William Mark Felt, Sr. after he said he was and Woodward and Bernstein confirmed the story.
  • "Expletive deleted" - due to its sheer rate of appearance in transcripts of the Watergate tapes. Nixon was very foul-mouthed in private. The censorship makes it seem worse than it was. "Goddamned" makes up the bulk of his swearing, though with the bleeps in, it makes it sounds like he's dropping f-bombs left and right.
    • Although he did use the phrase "son of a bitch" as a verb more than once. That's right, "son of a bitching."
  • And, of course, the Nixon Mask.
  • Milhouse in The Simpsons is named after Nixon's middle name. Made more obvious in early episodes, when he would be introduced after Bart's now-forgotten friend, Richard.
  • Inherently Funny Words - Come on, the man's nickname is "Tricky Dick"!
    • A political button at the time read "Dick Nixon - before he dicks you"
  • Instant scandal name! Just add "-gate!"
  • The Trope Namer for the Silent Majority, which he used in a speech in 1969 to describe those people who were not out protesting.
  • The "Southern Strategy": The white voters of the South had been solidly Democratic since the Civil War (Lincoln was a Republican, after all), but that started to change in the early 1960s when the national Democratic Party came out in support of civil rights and Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act (declaring, on the latter occasion, "We [the Democrats] have just lost the South for a generation."). In 1968, George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, ran an independent campaign, won in several Southern states—draining votes from the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey—and Nixon won by a plurality. In his first term, Nixon, on the advice of his aide Kevin Phillips, set out to win over Wallace's supporters—playing up ethnic polarization, speaking out against school integration by forced busing (though not integration as a whole - Nixon had always personally supported desegregation, a legacy from his days as Eisenhower's Vice President), emphasizing cultural conservatism and "law and order." He not only succeeded—in the 1972 election, Nixon won by a majority and picked up every state but Massachusetts—but started a decade-long process in which most conservative white Southerners migrated to the GOP.
    • This strategy only worked so well because Hubert Humphrey was undoubtedly the most pro-integration American politician of that time. Humphrey had made civil rights his chief issue since 1948 and it had come back to bite him with the loss of the south.
  • The 'Enemies List' -- a list (eventually very lengthy) of public figures who Nixon considered to be his enemies and who were therefore subjected to the 'ratfucking' techniques of his operatives. Included people from a wide range of areas, such as politics, organised labor, the media, entertainment, business and academia. Some particular notables were Edward Kennedy, Jane Fonda, John Lennon and the entirety of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Paul Newman considered his inclusion to be a triumphant achievement, while Hunter S. Thompson reportedly felt disappointed to not be on it.
  • Anglo people visiting Native American homes, on-rez and off, may be surprised to see a picture of Nixon on the wall. Why? Nixon did more to improve Indian lives than any president before him. He appointed a Mohawk as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He signed laws saving Indian resources and returning many Indian lands to their original owners. Most of all, he put a stop to the horrific policy of Termination, which forced Indian people to "assimilate" by relocating them into unfamiliar cities. There's a reason the Paiutes of Pyramid Lake, NV named their capitol city Nixon.

  • The film All the President's Men tells the story of the reporters, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), who uncovered the Watergate scandal. It was based on a non-fiction book of the same name written by the actual reporters.
  • Nixon is the last real president known to have existed in The West Wing universe.
  • Played by Anthony Hopkins in Nixon (1995). Which is saying something.
  • Nixon is the only character on-screen in Robert Altman's movie Secret Honor. He is played by Philip Baker Hall, who delivers a lengthy monologue into a tape recorder while pacing around his study.
  • The play (and subsequent film) Frost/Nixon dramatize the disgraced former President's 1977 television interviews with David Frost. Frank Langella portrayed Nixon in both stage and screen productions. (And no, you are not immature for thinking the play was about something else.)
  • In Back to The Future Part II, a year-old newspaper from 1985-A says Nixon has served four terms and plans to end The Vietnam War "by 1985".
  • Another Robert Zemeckis film, Forrest Gump, has Forrest reporting the original Watergate break-in. Forrest thought the break-in was a power outage, and only reported it because the flashlights were keeping him awake. Ironically, it was Nixon who told him to stay at Watergate.
  • In Watchmen, Richard Nixon continues to govern all the way through a fifth term, partly because he was reckless enough to order the god-like superhero Dr. Manhattan to attack the Vietcong and North Vietnam to win The Vietnam War, disregarding the dire implications of disrupting the international balance of power and riling the USSR up to prepare themselves for an all-out fight. In addition, the Watergate Scandal doesn't happen because he has the Comedian murder Woodward and Bernstein.
  • The 1999 movie Dick had a humorous, almost Forrest Gump-like (see above) take on Nixon's administration. Kristen Dunst and Michelle Williams played two ditzy hippie girls who ended up influencing governmental policy and becoming Deep Throat (named after one of the girls' brother's favorite movie).
  • Dave Barry Slept Here has the Running Gag of Nixon's political defeats being "widely believed to be the end of his career."
    • Elsewhere Dave states that Dick resigned to live in a state of utter disgrace: New Jersey.
  • A Nixon analogue, "Stanton Spobeck," is the president of "Americo" in Green Ronin's Damnation Decade RPG.
  • Cowboy Angels, by Paul McAuley, is a book about a group of people who travel through various alternate universes, or "sheaves". Due to when they visited it, our universe is referred to as "the Nixon sheaf".
  • In Slings and Arrows, Sanjay has a tendency to make up quotes and attribute them to Richard Nixon.
  • Nixon's disembodied head features frequently in Futurama. He became the president of Earth on his first major appearance and stayed there ever since, along with Vice President Agnew...a body with no head.

Nixon's Head: Listen here, Missy. Computers may be twice as fast as they were in 1973, but the average voter is as drunk and stupid as ever. The only one who's changed is me. I've become more bitter and, let's face it, crazy over the years. And when I'm swept into office, I'll sell our children's organs to zoos for meat, and I'll go into people's houses at night and wreck up the place!

  • The Avengers once traveled back in time to the '50s and teamed up with some contemporary heroes (3D-Man, Gorilla Man, etc.) to stop a shapeshifting alien who was impersonating Vice President Nixon.
  • In one episode of Yogi's Treasure Hunt, Hanna-Barbera villain Dick Dastardly announced his full name as Richard Milhous Dastardly, further cementing him as a "Tricky Dick".
  • Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfus' Alternate History novel The Two Georges, set in a world where America never left the British Empire, has "Honest Dick" as a used car salesman. He's murdered early in the novel as a Red Herring to the main crime, the theft of an important painting by anti-British extremists.
    • Another story, one where the US being neutral in World War I lead to Prussian peacekeeping forces under a League of Nations Mandate occupying the South, had Richard Nixon as The Man Behind the Man. His plan was simple, get the Democrats attempting to reach out to Martin Luther King's group to establish a political settlement and get the Germans out peacefully set up as assassins of the German Field Marshal Rommel. It works.
    • Also by Turtledove, in the Timeline-191 alternate history, Congresswoman Flora Blackford believes her office may be bugged. Her offices are checked by three technicians: Bob, Carl, and Dick (obviously Woodward, Bernstein, and Nixon). The author makes sure to mention Dick's dark five-o'clock shadow, and has him say, "Well, let me say this about that ..." (a well-known Nixon Catch Phrase).
  • In an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, Johnny is doing a remote from a stereo shop when it's held up. The perp turns out to be interested not in robbing the business but in replacing Johnny on air - he's a DJ who's been out of work for a long time. Johnny is sympathetic, and lets him escape when the police arrive. The episode's epilogue is a mock APB asking for the public's help in finding the robber, complete with Johnny holding up an Identikit sketch - of Richard Nixon.
  • In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Brad and Janet are listening to the radio transmission of Nixon's resignation speech right before their car breaks down not too far from Frank's castle.
  • When Eric made a joke about Nixon on an episode of That '70s Show, his Republican father Red became very angry:

Red: What did you just say?
Eric:...That Nixon was framed, and that Kennedy was a Communist?

Red: That's right.

    • Which is a Retcon if Red is a UAW member and thus Democrat, as suggested in an earlier episode, "Streaking" (in which then-President Ford comes to town and Red chastises him for pardoning Nixon).
  • In the first (and to-date, only) Comedy Central Commie Awards (Awards for Achievement in Comedy), Nixon is referred to as having won the award for Best Comedy Album for "The Watergate Tapes"—the clip played was, of course, an Atomic Cluster F-Bomb.
  • There is a persistent urban legend that Nixon himself (who was a football fanatic and a good friend of Redskins coach George Allen) once called a play in the Washington-San Francisco 1971 NFC Playoff game. It was a Wide Receiver Reverse called on the opponent's 8 yard line (a terrible place to do so) and lost 13 yards.
    • In Super Bowl VI at the end of that season, the Miami Dolphins (in their 6th year of existence) were facing the tough Dallas Cowboys. Reportedly, head coach Don Shula received a call from Nixon (having again appointed himself an honorary offensive coordinator) suggesting a down-and-in pass to their best wide receiver, Paul Warfield. The result of the play (used late in the first quarter) was an incomplete pass, and the Dolphins lost 24-3.
      • To be fair, the Dolphins' loss probably had more to do with their having played in what is still the longest game in NFL history just the previous week, rather than any one particular incomplete pass.
    • Speaking of football, in December 1969 Nixon attended a game between the Texas Longhorns and Arkansas Razorbacks (both of which were undefeated going into the game and ranked as the #1 and #2 college teams, respectively), after which he presented the Longhorns with a plaque naming them "national champions"...which many fans and commentators regarded as premature, given that Notre Dame's team was also undefeated at that point and none of the postseason bowl games had yet been played.
  • He is seen briefly in the film CSA: Confederate States of America. Even if the film's Alternate History, he still loses presidency to John F. Kennedy. Whether or not he wins it later is never said.
    • He does win later according to the film's website. But he is forced to resign over a scandal. His parting words? "I am not a negro."
    • In an interesting reversal, he is the Democratic candidate who loses to Kennedy's Republican bid.
  • In the film Black Dynamite, Nixon ends up as the Big Bad, being behind a conspiracy to use liquor to shrink the crotches of black men. He then proceeds to fight Dynamite with kung fu and John Wilkes Booth's gun. Lincoln's ghost shows up to save the day.
  • Nixon is mentioned several times in All in The Family, where his policies are matters of debate between Archie and Mike. In the episode "Writing the President", after Archie learns that Mike wrote a critical letter to him, he writes a praising letter, and imagines Nixon reading his letter out on national television.
    • Nixon himself can be heard discussing the show and this particular episode on the Watergate tapes.
  • The Manic Street Preachers song "The Love of Richard Nixon" takes a very sympathetic look at Nixon's life and career, pointing out triumphs of his presidency, and moaning about "death without assassination".
  • The fifth season of 24 features Jack Bauer going up against the White House, and draws so blatantly and heavily from the Nixon mythos that it's almost funny: not only does Gregory Itzin heavily resemble Nixon, but his Cassandra mentally unstable wife is named Martha...
  • In Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72 (an Alternate History work), for the 1972 election Nixon faces John Julian McKeithen, a more moderate Democrat capable of dirty tricks himself, as his chief challenger. However, McGovern still runs as a 'Peace' candidate, as does Wallace, with the result that the election produces a hung electoral college and a long period of political grappling and chaos that makes our history's 2000 election look like peanuts by comparison.
  • He's mentioned in Grease (set in the '50s); when the principal makes a speech, she says: "among you young men, there may be a Joe DiMaggio, a President Eisenhower, or even a Vice-President Nixon", creating an intentional example of Hilarious in Hindsight.
  • In a Cyanide & Happiness strip, a guy complains to Nixon about the food at the Watergate Hotel, to which he responds: "I'm not a cook!"
  • "It's just a storm, Dick. Sit down!" Nixon features in the post-game bonus "Five" Zombies map as a playable character. He's incredibly hammy.
    • "SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE'S BR-R-R-R-REAKING IN!!"
  • Young Republican Alex P. Keaton has a framed portrait of Nixon.
  • Despite being a pot-smoking ex-hippie, Jeffrey Lebowski aka "The Dude" has a framed photo of Nixon on his wall. Nixon, like the Dude, was an avid bowler.
  • The 1997 tv-movie Elvis Meets Nixon imagines events that led to the famous White House meeting of the two in 1970. President Nixon is trying to figure out how to connect to young people, and Elvis, sneaking out on his own for the first time in a dozen years, gets the idea to become a DEA agent.
  • Nixon in China, 1987 opera by John Coolidge Adams.
  • Hunter S. Thompson had an intense hatred of Nixon, repeatedly using Nixon as a symbol of everything bad and wrong in America in pretty much everything he wrote after 1968. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas he goes on several rants against the president; in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 he follows George McGovern's attempt to unseat him; and he becomes one other legion of reporters closely following Watergate in 1973-4. He even blamed Nixon (tongue-in-cheek, sort of) for what he saw as a decline in the quality of pro football (which both he and Nixon loved) in the '60s.
  • Nixon appears in the Doctor Who two-parter "The Impossible Astronaut" / "Day of the Moon" as a hard, paranoid man being followed by the voice of a Creepy Child. He enlists the Doctor and Canton to help him. He comes off as a very charming man which is weird compared to so many other media that villify him. Of course, it happened early in his presidency, and it turns out that some of his habits - paranoia and taping everything he did - may have been prompted or encouraged by their encounter.
    • Nixon is unique in being the only person to have traveled in the TARDIS and not been stunned speechless. Not once, but twice!
      • Rory took it pretty casually too, but he'd been hearing about it from his girlfriend for years and was Genre Savvy about things like pocket dimensions and other Sci Fi conventions in any case.
    • The Doctor, a man who routinely deals with Complete Monster types, pretty clearly holds him in complete disgust and mocks him about how his presidency will end. "Say hello to David Frost for me."
    • The production team basically said that, given the Doctor's tendency to meet some of the greatest figures of history in the new series, they thought it'd be fun to have him bump into, in their words, "one of the rubbish ones."
  • In BBC Radio's The Burkiss Way there's a sketch in which Nixon's advisors tell him that Presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy owe their success to having silly middle names. They've tested a computer program for generating silly names on the vice president, but it malfunctioned and gave him silly first and last names - Spiro Agnew. When they test it on Nixon it comes up with two suggestions - "Millstone Round The Neck Of The American People" and "Biggest Crook In The White House". Nixon decides to compile his middle name from "Millstone" and "White House" and comes up with... "Stonehouse". (A reference to corrupt British politician John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.)
  • The 1980 short story "A Cross-Country Trip to Kill Richard Nixon" by Orson Scott Card.
  • Nixon was resurrected by a congressional page in The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, and had planned on slaughtering the Presidental Turkey, but decided to become a fashion designer instead when he learned that he's considered 'cool' again. Later, he fakes a heroic death to paint himself in a good light and makes a new start in the Victorian Era.

Nixon: Back before women wore pantsuits. What a glorious age.

  • In Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, the contact team to a new planet spend weeks in an unpopulated area getting acclimated and attaching cute names to the wildlife. Richard Nixons are little creatures that walk around bent over looking for food. Later on there's a reference to cleaning up the team's shuttle transport because there are Richard Nixons roosting in the undercarriage.
  • Nixon is one of the player characters in the "Five" level of Zombies Mode in Call of Duty Black Ops.

"Oh Dicky...Tricky Dicky...They're never going to forget you."

  1. Those listening to the debate by radio thought Nixon had won