I owe my interest in politics to the late President Richard Nixon. I was five when he was elected president and ten when he resigned. I suppose my first connection to him came with our mutually shared date of birth (January 9), although he was born in 1913 and I came along 51 years later, but that is not the point. The point is that I found a common ground with the most powerful man in the world and it was exciting and intriguing to a young boy.
I read Monica Crowley’s tribute to President Nixon on this, the 100th anniversary of his birth. She pointed out in her wonderful voice the accomplishments of an extraordinary life. She shared her own personal experiences working with him and how he helped shape her outlook on the world. Although, sadly, I never did meet the man before he died, I do have an uncle that did business with him in New York. I suppose that lays claim to a family connection, however tenuous!
For me, the true connection with President Nixon is that he was the first president that I followed, studied and championed. When the Watergate crisis was underway, I took a strange delight in watching the proceedings unfold on television. I was home sick and had plenty of time to watch the hearings play out. It was not delight in what was happening to someone whom I thought was great; it was delight in being a witness to something extraordinary. Although at 10 years of age I may not have fully understood what it was all about, I understood enough that something great was occurring. Not great in the sense of it being good, but great in the sense that history was being made.
I recall when he opened China to the world and saw the potential that had for our nation on the world stage. I saw my parents celebrate when the end of Vietnam neared, my dad an old Army sharpshooter who served during Korea appreciating as much as anyone could. I understood that President Nixon was at the center of that too. When Nixon resigned, my young mind saw it as an injustice. It took many years of reading and study to put the pieces together to finally understand why he did what he did. I have often wondered what our nation would have been like if he had weathered the storm as President Clinton chose to do 24 years later. Would Nixon have escaped acquittal in the U.S. Senate as Clinton had? I doubt it, but it does give one pause to consider what our modern history would have been like if he had.
I am forever grateful to President Nixon for piquing my interest in politics. During my school years, I involved myself in politics in various ways, culminating in a seat in the student senate in college. When we moved to Florida, I involved myself in the local Republican Party and through that met my friend and soon to be supervisor Mike Fasano.
Although Mike is just a few years older than I, I was thrilled to learn that Mike rode around his neighborhood with “Nixon Now” signs on his bike, a young boy equally enthralled by politics as I was. Although it would take many years for our paths to cross, we both stepped onto that path because of the impact Richard Nixon had on our young minds.
I am realistic enough to realize that it still may take many years for people to look at Richard Nixon without the taint of Watergate coloring everything good he ever did. I am also realistic enough to realize that he was a flawed individual who made choices that were not always the best ones. Who among us can say we have never made a mistake? Not I, surely!
As I celebrate my birthday, I also celebrate the birthday of the one who stirred within me the desire for public service. I would not have imagined that day, nearly 40 years ago when President Nixon stepped down from the highest office in the land, that I would be working alongside another who was also impacted by the 37th president of this great land. For that, I am forever grateful.
Happy birthday, Richard Nixon!
If you have any thoughts or comments about President Nixon, or anyone else in politics or government that influenced you, please leave me a note. I would love to read about your experiences and send you a reply.