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Richard Nixon At 100: Why He Mattered To This Boy From Hancock, Wisconsin

January 9, 2013


At  the age of ten I sat in the backseat of our family car as we drove to a  nighttime hair appointment for my mother in Plainfield, Wisconsin. My father had the car radio on, its soft glow radiating from the front dashboard. It was election night 1972. Perhaps I was somehow primed for that night due to my rural upbringing, having grandparents for neighbors, by family choice not having  television in our home, and my already loving books. Whatever had preceded that night perhaps made me more receptive to what I heard  and sensed from the radio.

I still recall the authoritative voices of the news  announcers, and the crowd noise from election night gatherings (I assume, since  I was too young to know details of what was happening). I recall Richard  Nixon’s name being said over and over. And I recall my father telling me it was  election night, and that Richard Nixon would be elected president.

Countless times over the decades of my life I have thought back to that night, and how Richard Nixon would come to mean a great deal to how my interests were formed.

Richard Nixon and family celebrate his election, 1968

As I grew into my teen years my fascination with politics, news, broadcasting, and journalism only grew.  As I think back over those teenage years in Hancock I recall the news accounts of  Watergate, the speeches by President Nixon, and the final goodbye from the White  House as he talked to White House staff and aides.   I recall the China trip, and how the pictures from a place I would seek out on the large atlas book we kept in the dining room kept appearing on the front pages of the Steven Point Journal which arrived in our mail each afternoon.

By the time we had a  television in our home in the summer of 1976 I was a captive to the national  party conventions. I found them most interesting, and followed with enthusiasm  the election of Jimmy Carter. In my high school years I found myself debating  issues with classmates while relished taking history courses along with electives such  as comparative political systems to further broaden my thinking and interests.  My most important teacher, and a real aid to my future, Mrs. Glad, continually stoked my interests and urged me to read more and think outside the traditional parameters.  Too few students have someone so remarkable to teach them when it matters.

Following high school I entered broadcasting school, and worked at a radio station in Door County before heeding my internal calling to enter into the political world.  I worked in the Wisconsin State Legislature as a Research Assistant and Committee Clerk, and became involved in various campaigns and causes.

I mention all this on the 100th birthday of Richard Nixon, because in large part my interests were stoked on a daily basis in my formative years by the news stories I read about him, or the news reports I heard on the radio.  He lit a fire of interest within me to follow the news, read the paper (which I did each day  while lying on our family couch following school classes), better understand  the rough and tumble of politics, and care more about foreign policy.

Much has  been written and said over the decades about RN, and I too have difficulty with certain aspects of his campaigns and presidency. But I can honestly say I truly appreciate the better qualities that he  possessed, and helped instill in me.

That is a pretty grand thing to be able to say about anyone.

When I was a teenager while growing up in Hancock it was Richard Nixon who showed me the excitement and importance of  politics–what a journey it has been, and remains everyday.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2013 10:42 AM

    He was very bright and well-read. That earns him many points. RN was one of the smartest presidents we had in the 20th century. He had the desire and ability to focus and think long-term about the role of the country. In his years in the White House he often worked in the Executive Office Building so to be more in isolation and focus on foreign policy. While this was a good thing for policy purposes I would argue his ‘gate-keepers’ did not always do him proud. His devotion to ideas that were large and complex not only fascinates me but also as a consequence he earns my respect. He also had a great memory and could practice a speech and then stand in front of a microphone and recite it. His Checkers performance in 1952 remains the most impressive political event in the last half of the 20th century, in part, for this ability. Lastly, I recognize the shy awkward Nixon on the one hand who also wanted to be a part of the national debate on issues that mattered. For all the irony that it carried he entered a profession that made him the most public face in the nation.

  2. larry188 permalink
    January 10, 2013 9:06 AM

    Could you refresh me on some of those “better qualities” Nixon possessed? I know he would be considered somewhat liberal on some issues by today’s right-wing standards, but I am curious as to what positive personal traits he had that are worth noting.

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