Reinventing Richard Nixon
A Cultural History of an American Obsession
Sales Date: September 23, 2008
344 Pages, 6.13 x 9.25 in
- Published: September 2008
- Published: April 2023
“Nixon’s the One!” proclaimed his campaign paraphernalia. “Tricky Dick!” retorted his detractors. From presidential savior for conservative America to bete noire for the political Left, the Richard Nixon persona has worn many masks and labels. In fiction and poetry and pop songs, in television and film, no other national political figure has so thoroughly saturated our public consciousness with so many contrasting images.
Focusing on the process of Nixon’s continuous reinvention, Daniel Frick reveals a figure who continues to expose key fault lines in the nation’s self-definition. Drawing on references ranging from All in the Family to Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, he shows how Nixon has become one of America’s most durable and multifaceted icons in the ongoing and fierce debates over the import and meaning of the last sixty years of national life.
Examining Nixon’s autobiographies and political memorabilia, Frick offers far-reaching perceptions not only of the man but of Nixon’s version of himself—contrasted with those who would interpret him differently. He cites reinventions of Nixon from the late 1980s, particularly the museum at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, to demonstrate the resilience of certain national mythic narratives in the face of liberal critiques. And he recounts how celebrants at Nixon’s state funeral, at which Bob Dole’s eulogy depicted a God-fearing American hero, attempted to bury the sources of our divisions over him, rendering in some minds the judgment of “redeemed statesman” to erase his status as “disgraced president.”
With dozens of illustrations—Nixon posing with Elvis (the National Archives’ most requested photo), Nixonian cultural artifacts, classic editorial cartoons—no other book collects in one place such varied images of Nixon from so many diverse media. These reinforce Frick’s probing analysis to help us understand why we disagree about Nixon—and why it matters how we resolve our disagreements.
Whether your image of Nixon is shaped by his autobiography Six Crises, Oliver Stone’s surprisingly sympathetic film Nixon, John Adams’s landmark opera Nixon in China, or by the saga of Watergate, Reinventing Richard Nixon expands on all perspectives. It shows how, through these contradictory mythic stories, we continue to reinvent, much like Nixon himself, our own sense of national identity.
"Frick has written a valuable book for those of us who are interested not only in Nixon but also in understanding the political world in which we live. . . . Frick has written a book that helps explain why the postwar decades might be the age of Nixon, albeit not in the way that Nixon&8217;s supporters would argue. The book also transcends the topic of Nixon to help us understand what it means when we, so many decades after his presidency, still find ourselves debating his legacy."—American Historical Review
"A meditation on the meaning of Richard Nixon in our world. Daniel Frick’s knowledge of cultural artifacts such as the political cartoons, campaign ephemera, and pop cultural representations of Nixon is positively encyclopedic."—American Quarterly
"An interesting and, at times, lively account of how Nixon is still a cultural icon and a national obsession—and he will be for a long time."—Reviews in American History
"[In Frick’s book] we are confronted with the many faces (and reinventions) of the man and how those changes have been reflected in the national mood and, of course, in the nation’s politics. . . . Nixon is still the most polarizing figure in modern American political history. Frick is even willing to go farther and place Nixon at the very origin of our cultural and political wars . . . For some Americans, Nixon was the devil; for others, he was the true personification of the American myth and the American dream. . . . Frick shows us that there are plenty of examples of both Nixons in the nation’s popular culture. Frick makes it clear that the nation will never fully resolve this Nixon dilemma, that America has found very little consensus in its attempts to unearth the real Nixon, his values, his life, even his deeds."—Journal of American History
"In this interesting, exhaustive review, Frick explores the many ways Richard Nixon has been represented, and represented himself, in American political life and culture. . . . This is an essential work for anyone interested in the multiple dimensions of Nixon’s political career and public reactions to it. It is also an excellent example of cultural analysis."—Choice
"Frick explores how Nixon has been portrayed in books, music, plays, and political cartoons, and how he spins himself in his three autobiographies. He interprets Nixon through a number of myths that include rising from rags to riches and fulfilling America’s messianic role of being the leader of the free world. Frick is good at showing the dark sides of these myths, and his excellent appraisal reveals as much about the former president’s supporters and haters as it does about Nixon himself."—Library Journal
“Senator Bob Dole argued that the last half of the twentieth century was ‘the age of Nixon’ and Dan Frick shows us why. The Nixon limned here is a mutable public figure constantly reinterpreted by his enemies and his admirers. They all find him an irresistible figure for thinking about who we are, who we want to be, and what we’re willing to do to get there. It is a brilliant and scary read.”—David Farber, author of The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s
“A remarkable book that vividly reminds us of how important Nixon was and is to our own sense of ourselves as a political culture.”—Bruce Kuklick, author of Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger
Introduction: Richard Nixon and the Many Faces of a Representative America
1. “Ragged Dick” Nixon, American Missionary
2. Jeremiah at San Clemente: Richard Nixon and the Decline of the American Republic
3. “Anyone Can Be the President”: Behind the Mask of Success
4. The Self-Made Monster: America and the Myth of National Mission
5. Richard Mephisto Nixon: Further Adventures in American Political Demonology
6. “Never Give Up”: American Orthodoxy, Revised Standard Version
7. Nixon, Now More than Ever