Dick and I
By Mark Wood
First votes--like first kisses--are often the most memorable. My first Presidential vote, I confess, was cast in a spirit of youthful defiance. It was, like now a divisive time, with an unpopular war running in the background like a scary movie, made all the more personal for me by the presence of a military draft for which I was about to become eligible. Though I was, like a lot of young people, caught up in the slightly psychedelic ideals of the McGovern movement, what really drove me to the polls that November was the chance to heave my ballot like a stone at the guy in the Oval Office. It was, in the final analysis, a vote against the man on the cover of this issue rather than a vote for his hapless opponent.
It is safe to say that I never expected to see that particular face on the cover of
Pomona College Magazine—probably, neither did you. But it is a face of almost mythical significance in American politics, even today. I started my first career as an editorial cartoonist a couple of years too late to have the pleasure of exaggerating that ski-jump nose and those fabled jowls with their indomitable five-o’clock shadow, but all of us who are old enough to remember the Nixon era carry one of those caricatures somewhere inside our heads anyway, superimposed over the real man like graffiti on a poster.
The caricature is simple and sharply defined. The real man is vague contradictory and hard to bring into focus. Like most real men and women, I suppose.
He’s the well-known commie-baiter who opened American relations to Mao’s China. He’s the “anti-Semite” (according to CBS correspondent Marvin Kalb) who arguably saved the Jewish state from disaster during the Yom Kippur War. He’s the “conservative” Republican who imposed wage and price controls and launched the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s the president who won re-election in one of the great landslides of all time and yet was so insecure that he kept a list of enemies and seemed willing to go to extremes of pettiness in putting them down.
No wonder Oliver Stone couldn’t resist making a movie about him.
And it all started right here in this little corner of Southern California. Our campus was part of Nixon’s first congressional fiefdom, and—as you’ll see in our cover story—one of our own was among the first victims of his later-to-be-famous political chicanery. His birthplace, library and resting place are only a short drive away. And yet, I’ve never been tempted to go there. Or to read all the probing biographies. Or even to watch that Oliver Stone movie, despite all the good reviews. Some part of me, I suppose, wants to hold on to the clarity and simplicity of black lines on paper—the gray-shaded jowls, the beady eyes, the improbable nose.
For those who admired him, the end of Nixon’s saga was a Greek tragedy—a great man betrayed by his own flaws and dragged down by his enemies. For those who didn’t, he’ll always be a delightfully mean-spirited caricature.