Here we are again, arguing about Richard Nixon. The 30th anniversary of Watergate summons the spirits of that ill-fated venture.

Of Gen. George Armstrong Custer it has been written that he was such a bold and controversial man that his name evokes arguments a century after his death at the hand of Sioux warriors. The same will be true of Nixon.

Nixon's apologists argue that others did what he did. There is some truth to that. It can also be argued that Lyndon Johnson told a lie with larger consequence when he misled the American people about the Vietnam War. But the most compelling truth is that Nixon trashed his own presidency. That was the essential curiosity about the man. He would have won his re-election handily without commissioning burglars to bug the phones of the Democratic National Committee.

Few presidents of the modern era were as intellectually capable as Nixon. He also believed in government (Garry Wills calls Nixon "the last liberal" in Nixon Agonistes). Ever since his presidency, America has been buffeted by presidents who alternately bash the government they are elected to run (Reagan), make abject proclamations that become dogma ("No new taxes" Bush) and despite blinding intellect trashed their White House (Clinton). It has been a wild ride.


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