Beth: Why not start with a joke?I really feel as if I should make some note of the latest Nixon tapes release. I've seen two different stories: there's Nixon's ethnic bashing, reported in the NYT story (and featuring a worthwhile Henry Kissinger sidebar noted by Jeffrey Goldberg ), and via Chait, Nixon's edict that Jews, including Kissinger, were not to be involved in Israel policy.
Lisa: A joke! Such a great idea. You know what? I just happen to have a joke book for junior executives right here.
Beth: Of course you do.
Lisa: [Reading] Co-eds...Hippies...Levittown...Teatotalers...Sputnik...Swinging Singles...Polish Jokes...
Beth: How old is that book, anyway?
Lisa: Um...It was published in 1967. [Proudly] It was my dad's.
Beth: Oh, that's cool, that's cool. My dad was a bigot, too.
(NewsRadio episode 4.6 -- which just happens to be titled "Pure Evil")
I'll leave Kissinger to others. As for Richard Nixon...well, to some extent that kind of casual bigotry (towards blacks, Jews, the Irish, Italians, and on and on) is more shocking to us than it would have been to his contemporaries -- it really was, by all accounts, far more comment to both hold and express such attitudes then,. as Mad Men often reminds us. Although it was also more common, I suspect, in 1960 than it was in 1973. This hardly excuses it, of course.
It also reminds me that one of the troubles that Nixon ran into during Watergate was the revelation that the President of the United States used off-color language, represented by the classic phrase "expletive deleted" in the best-selling transcription of the very first Nixon tapes. As it happens, most (all? I'd have to look it up) of the off-color language turned out to be "goddamns" and "sons-of-bitches" and "bastards." Nixon was pretty fond, if I recall correctly, of "goddamn." Again, times and standards change, but it really was a big deal in he early 1970s when people first heard about this.
It also, really, is unfortunate.
Watergate -- the shorthand name for a serious and important conspiracy against democracy and constitutional government by the President of the United States, his Chief of Staff, and others in and around the Executive Office of the President -- was in fact a terrible abuse of power, one that I suspect is underappreciated these days (see here for my shorthand version of What Watergate was, and here for my longer exploration of the dangers of the imperial presidency).
Whether or not Nixon was a loathsome human being on a personal level is pretty much irrelevant to why he was a loathsome president. It's also unfortunate that people mistakenly believe that a lesson of Watergate is that the cover-up is worse than the crime. That may be true in some cases, and certainly Nixon and others committed multiple crimes in the cover-up, but the cover-up was only thought necessary because the crimes of Watergate were so, well, illegal -- no cover-up, and pretty much the entire upper level of the administration, probably including the president, wind up in jail.