“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” — Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon is one of my favorite historical figures. Often vilified, people forget some of the accomplishments of his first term: opening relations with China, extricating the US from the Vietnam War, achieving détente with the Soviet Union…these were no minor events.
It was his second term for which he is remembered. That is when he became the first president in history to resign, facing the clear and present danger of impeachment.
Nixon was flawed by a dangerous ambition which tempted him to resort to dirty tricks to win election to public office. In an ironic twist, he won his second term by a landslide. His involvement in the Watergate break-in was totally unnecessary but ultimately ended his career and wrote him into the history books as a disgraced criminal. I can only speculate how history would have treated “Tricky Dicky” if he’d only been as paranoid as an average politician.
His story is that of a man, with feet of clay, who overcame fantastic odds to achieve one of the world’s greatest accomplishments. It is a fantastic tale of human triumph and tragedy with plenty of sobering lessons for all of us.
His life, lived in the spotlight, left us with plenty of notable quotes. The first one to come to everyone’s mind is, “I am not a crook.” Another commonly recalled quote is, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”
Lesson number one, watch what you say when the cameras are rolling. That is not the time to let your bitterness, anger or pettiness show. You are not likely to have network news recording you, but you do have exposure from social media. Watch what you say and how you say it. No one wants to hire an angry person with issues.
There are plenty of other quotes which give us a much better picture of the man. For example, the next quote had to be one learned the hard way.
“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.”
After narrowly losing the presidential election to Kennedy, Nixon went on to lose a gubernatorial race in California. Everyone counted the man out, however, he went on to win the presidency twice.
Considering his many years in politics (as member of the US House and Senate as well as vice president) you have to be amazed that he actually considered himself to be a Washington outsider. He could express a cynical view of politics shared by the common man.
“Any change is resisted because bureaucrats have a vested interest in the chaos in which they exist.“
At times he said things that were either shrewd beyond normal human capacity or dangerously pragmatic.
“Solutions are not the answer.”
Then there were the times when he was gracious in defeat. I believe he had “better angels of his nature” whereby he coped with defeat by turning his attention to the welfare of the American people.
“A public man must never forget that he loses his usefulness when he as an individual, rather than his policy, becomes the issue.“
And finally, there were the poetic parting words to his staff as he left the White House upon his resignation. Too bad, he was not able to live up to them.
“Always remember that others may hate you but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”
But perhaps the Nixon who appeared in his later years, the “Elder Statesman” who gave advice to several presidents of each party, shows that he did live up to his advice, and ultimately did not destroy himself.
Be careful what you express in social media. Let us see your better side. Your wit and wisdom. And when you fall prey to your lesser nature, be encouraged. Google loves fresh content. The term “Nixonesque” expresses a tendency toward being paranoid, bitter and underhanded. However, in his final years, Nixon emerged as a fallen leader with wisdom to share and a certain generosity and humility which comes with the role. Let what you say today and in the future be positive. The weight of fresh content will cause your unfortunate social media blunders to drift deeper and deeper into the recesses of the Internet.
In the end, it is those who finish strong who are remembered well.
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