Richard Nixon and the Idea

of Rehabilitation




In 1974 everyone was saying that Richard Nixon's public career was over. By 1984, the word was "rehabilitation."'


Talk of rehabilitation began with his first public appearance four years after the scandal of Watergate forced his resignation from the presidency. In the ensuing years, some have seen his rehabilitation as an article of faith, something people believe in; others see it as a job, the work the former president has been doing since he left office. Some describe it as a struggle; others describe it as a flawless performance. Some see his rehabilitation as complete; some see it as partial; and still others search for a way to measure how far he has come from disgrace and dishonor (Thomas, 1978; Kaiser, 1984; Friedrich, 1984; Herbers, 1984; Glynn, 1984; Anson, 1984; Lewis, 1984; Alter, 1984; Fineman, 1985; Boyd, 1985; Kristof, 1986; Martz, 1986; Simes, 1987).


Rehabilitation is a social process. It involves a person who has a reputation that is flawed or defective in some way, and work that is undertaken to restore that reputation to a socially acceptable condition.


Some axioms of rehabilitation theory are relevant. First, the idea assumes that the person in question is worth the effort that rehabilitation takes. It assumes that the person is a good person gone bad, and not an irredeemably bad person. Conservative critics of rehabilitation in the prisons argue that some offenders are not worth the cost involved or have no redeeming social values to begin with, and indeed, the goal of rehabilitation has long since been discarded as an objective of imprisonment. Those of a more liberal persuasion argue that all human beings have socially redeeming qualities, and therefore that rehabilitation is a possibility for everyone, although it may not always happen (Wright, 1973; Newman, 1978; Johnson, 1987).


A second important principle of rehabilitation addresses the way the candidate approaches the process. Successful rehabilitation requires that those who are to be restored to honor and respect openly and freely admit the error of their ways, show remorse, be humble, and be embarrassed and distressed by those actions that resulted in their dishonor (Garfinkle, 1956). As Richard Nixon has said on various occasions, contrition is not his style. Thus, any application of the idea of rehabilitation to his case must treat his acknowledgment that "mistakes were made" as the equivalent of the selfcriticism ordinarily required from those who seek social redemption.


Rehabilitation is a status transformation. The rehabilitation process takes a person whose moral character has been disgraced and degraded and transforms him or her into a new person who now deserves honor and respect. This transformation is not just something that happens, the unaided evolution of character. Rather, it involves active work on the part of agents of social control, persons acting in the name of moral responsibility (Garfinkle, 1956). Insofar as Gerald Ford's pardon effectively eliminated the involvement of any agency of social control, and insofar as Nixon has sought neither private practitioner nor self-help agency to aid him, his rehabilitation must be viewed as an instance of self-rehabilitation, a transformation of character done without any organized institutional assistance.


Finally, the measure of rehabilitation is change. The idea of rehabilitation implies that there is a new Nixon, and that this new Nixon is a function of recognizable changes in his character.


This paper addresses the question of Richard Nixon's rehabilitation first by addressing what kind of evidence exists that there is a new Nixon, and then by looking at the work that has been undertaken to create the image of rehabilitation, despite considerable evidence that the new Nixon is really an old Nixon.




The new Nixon is an old Nixon in various ways. Most obvious is the repetitive drama of Richard Nixon coming back from the brink of oblivion, reemerging in the public arena like a phoenix rising from the ashes of political defeat (McGinnis, 1968; Witcover, 1970; Lurie, 1972; Cavan, 1979; Brodie, 1981).


The first example of his recurrent resurrection was in 1952 when charges were made that he was being supported by a secret fund contributed to by wealthy oil and real estate interests. Those charges evoked editorials in newspapers that supported the Republican ticket demanding his resignation from the vice presidential nomination. No support was forthcoming from party influentials. It looked like his career in politics was over. Nevertheless, Nixon mounted a television defense of his honor. and so effective was his appeal to the sentiment

and emotions of the audience that, in a viewing audience of sixty million, five in every thousand were motivated to respond with a letter, a postcard, or a telegram. The Republican National Headquarters was overwhelmed by the mail, which ran 741 against his resignation, and Nixon was retained on the ticket (Stratton, 1964; O'Brien and Jones, 1976). When Dwight D. Eisenhower won the election, Richard Nixon moved from being a senator with suspicious connections to being vice president of the United States of America.


In 1960 and 1962, Nixon suffered two major political defeats. Groomed to run for president in 1960, he lost the popular election to John F. Kennedy; then he lost the contest for governor of California to Edmund G. Brown. Worse yet, in the wake of this second defeat he exploded in anger, declaring that the press would no longer have Richard Nixon to kick around, that this was to be his last press conference and, by implication, that he was through with politics. He took on the image of a loser, and a poor one at that. It appeared that his political career was over.


Moving from California to New York, Nixon began a long and active process of rebuilding his public image; selling himself first to the loyal supporters of the Republican party, and then to those with power and influence (McGinnis, 1968). In 1962, it looked as though Nixon's meteoric career in politics had come to an end; in 1968, he was elected President of the United States by a slim margin. Four years later, he was reelected by an overwhelming majority (Cavan, 1979; Brodie, 1981).


Two years after his reelection, the House Judiciary Committee voted three articles of impeachment: obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and unconstitutionally defying its subpoenas. Rather than face the open hearing of impeachment proceedings, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency he had fought so hard to achieve.


Despite the immediate pardon granted by his successor, virtually everyone who voiced an opinion initially believed that Nixon's days of public influence were over. He was a man discredited and disgraced, stigmatized by charges of executive malfeasance that could not be denied and seemed too extraordinary to be forgotten (The Washington Post Staff, 1974; The New York Times Staff, 1974; White, 1975; Jaworski, 1976; Dunham and Mauss, 1976; Sirica, 1979).


However, his return to California did not signal retirement. On numerous occasions Nixon said that a man is not defeated until he quits, and he was not the kind of man who quit, playing golf, walking along the seashore, and withdrawing from the public arena (Frost, 1978; Anson, 1984). Consequently, after a short period of seclusion during which he recovered from an attack of phlebitis, he began a gradual return to public life by first testing the waters at a party at Walter Annenberg's; then, golf at LaCosta; and finally traveling around at home and abroad; voicing opinions in televised interviews, private phone calls and memos, and public books and speeches; meeting with foreign dignitaries, former associates, and former enemies; and being asked for opinions and assistance. He was reemerging as a public figure, playing the role of elder statesman at home and diplomatic courier abroad (Sidey, 1981; Sanders, 1983; Alter, 1984; Bruning, 1984; Morrow, 1985).


Like Rocky Balboa, that ephemeral movie hero of the 1970s, Nixon has continually returned to the top, overcoming the most overwhelming obstacles. The drama of Nixon's return to power and influence is familiar. This new Nixon is an old one.


The old Nixon was a peripatetic campaigner who was almost always on the road, traveling from one place to another, holding meetings, making speeches, and shaking hands (McGinnis, 1969; Lurie, 1972; Cavan, 1979; Brodie, 1981). The new Nixon appears even more indefatigable than the old one. He can be found regularly traveling from one part of the country to another, from the United States to Europe, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, the Far East, Africa, and the Caribbean; meeting in private, speaking in public, and being interviewed on television. Moreover, when he is not engaged in his indefatigable travels, he can be found at home writing or organizing stag dinners for a handful of guests or lunching in New York City with someone notable and newsworthy. In addition, he spends considerable time on the telephone, networking with various people of power and influence. He has a copious correspondence, especially small notes of congratulations or condolences. He walks every morning, and spends time with his grandchildren whenever he can, and to get away from it all, he takes periodic vacations with his longtime friend, Bebe Rebozo (Sidey, 1981; Anson, 1984; Alter, 1984; King and Weaver, 1986; Martz, 1986; Schmemann, 1986). In short, he has spent his time out of office in much the same way that he spent his time when he was in office or was campaigning for office: on the go.


A new category of events has become part of Richard Nixon's itinerary in these post resignation years. As his patrons, his contemporaries, and his adversaries have died, the various funeral and memorial services have created social occasions of a special sort. Death brings people together. Conflicts that existed in the past may be set aside without negotiating the terms of the new agreement. In the case of Anwar Sadat's funeral, Richard Nixon traveled aboard a government plane, in the company of former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. This was his first officially sponsored appearance, and so it was a significant event in Nixon's return to the public spotlight (Arson, 1984). The trip also allowed the three former presidents to normalize their relationships with one another. In the same sense, the Washington memorial service for Hubert Humphrey brought Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Henry Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller, and Lady Bird Johnson together in an intimate (but not unreported) meeting in the office of Howard Baker (Sidey, 1978). While this occasion was not officially sponsored, it again provided an occasion for Nixon to begin to normalize his relationships with others of power and influence. Such relationships have always been crucial to Nixon's career (Cavan, 1979).


In addition to the deaths of Anwar Sadat and Hubert Humphrey, the deaths of the shah of Iran, Yuri Andropov, Elmer Bobst, and even Woody Hayes all became occasions for Nixon to make a public appearance and frequently to give a eulogy at the service or an interview afterwards (Clark, 1978; Anson, 1984; Alter, 1984; Martz, 1986).


Nixon has always thrived on hard work. He sees himself as being at his best when he is on the brink of fatigue. He chides anyone who suggests he slow down and relax (Nixon, 1962, 1978; Chesen, 1973; Abrahamsen, 1976; Brodie, 1981). Consequently, this new Nixon who is constantly on the go is no different from the old Nixon who was constantly on the go.


The new Nixon is an old Nixon in still other ways. The rhetoric of conflict and confrontation that has always been part of his aggressive political style continues in the imagery of the elder statesman. The Cold War is now the "Cold Peace" ("No enemies," 1984). Even where his published opinions suggest Détente and negotiation (thought not conciliation and cooperation), his public speeches continue to evoke the gothic imagery of his youth: the vision of entrenched forces of evil, dedicated to the destruction of the moral order for diabolical reasons like power and greed. In a speech at Chapman College, he said, "The Soviet leaders are dedicated Communists; they want to rule the world" (Holley, 1984, p. 1). In this classic evangelical style, Nixon has continued to evoke strong sentiments from the public, using the language and metaphors of warfare to sell peace (Fuller, Kondracke, and Lindsay, 1986).


As before, Nixon continues to idealize strategy and tactics as the meaning of politics, if not the meaning of life. He continues to focus on the means and not the goals. He continues to subscribe to pragmatic advantage as the ultimate justification for action (Sidey, 1983). In his treatise on leadership, he writes of the need for deceit and duplicity on the part of those who make important decisions. However, he does not see how the exigencies of war are exceptional circumstances and not the definitive character of leadership, which also involves vision and compassion. He does not address the relationship between the leaders and the followers in a democratic society, nor does he see how routine duplicity and deceit borders on totalitarianism (Nixon, 1982). Though he is older and more experienced, his vision is still quite narrow.


Nixon's youthful commitment to winning and losing has softened some to admit the option of compromise, yet such compromise is not seen as a move toward consensus or conciliation. Rather, it is seen as the best of competing evils, or sometimes a bargain or an admission that the other side might not be all bad. He has even described himself as a "closet dove" (Thomas, 1978; Thimmesch, 1979; Sidey, 1981, 1983; Sanders, 1983; Holley, 1984). However, for the most part, this elder statesman talks tough (Cavan, 1979).


Like the Cold War warrior of his youth, the elder statesman has no vision that goes beyond winning, no vision of unified interests engaged in mutually supportive action. Peace is not a natural attitude but rather an unstable interval between outbreaks of war and hostility, a delicate flower and not a robust shrub (Holley, 1984).


Outside arenas of conflict, whether they be politics or sports, business or gambling, there is nothing of which to speak. He does not address himself to questions of morals and ethics, virtue or truth. Neither does he speak of natural resources, individual rights, human relationships, the arts, science, religion, or humanity. He continues to be political without ever becoming philosophical.


This new Nixon is an old Nixon in a literal sense. He is now seventyfour years old. For forty years he has been in the public arena, half of that time in public of office. He was one of the original architects of nuclear politics, a political attitude based on physical control over monumental forces of destruction and the willingness to bargain with this destructive potential for strategic advantage visavis others similarly armed. Despite Nixon's current presentation of himself as a man vitally concerned with the issue of world peace, he remains the same person who by his own admission was willing to bring the planet to the brink of nuclear war on four separate occasions ("Four times," 1985).


In the years after World War II, when the destructive potential of nuclear weaponry could have been curtailed and inhibited and a path toward peaceful coexistence taken with the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon was at the forefront of a political position that argued for the development, testing, and stockpiling of nuclear weaponry as necessary to the defense of national interests in the conflict with insidious, imperialistic, nihilistic forces of communism. With political leaders propagating such imagery, nuclear weaponry proliferated at an alarming rate on both sides. Even if today's nations so armed were to forge an agreement to halt the continued proliferation of such weapons by the end of the century, the legacy left to the future are the stockpiles of lethal armaments and the toxic waste and byproducts those armaments have produced. Though he speaks of a desire for world peace, Richard Nixon has never repudiated this youthful folly. It has merely faded from prominence.


Like the aggressive young congressman of the 1950s, this new Nixon still thrives on risk, threat, confrontation, and duplicity. He is still committed to the idea that winning is everything, even if winning now means getting a better bargain rather than overpowering the enemy (Thomas, 1978; Sanders, 1983; Sidey, 1983; Holley, 1984). As an elder statesman, Nixon's stature is more a function of his endurance and ambition than of some deep philosophical insight into the human conditions, some understanding that was not accessible to him in his youth.


Despite these similarities between the new Nixon and the old Nixon, this old Nixon, the septuagenarian, also shows evidence of a new Nixon, a Nixon unlike those versions of the past.


Observers of the post resignation period note that he is more secure, more relaxed, less anxious, and less ill at ease (Herbers, 1984; Fineman, 1985; Martz, 1986; Fuller et al., 1986). He is obviously a man who is much more experienced than the youthful version of his self, more in control, and less apprehensive and uncertain. He has seen a lot in his lifetime, usually from the highest places. He has also fallen from high places; he has experienced the abyss and lived to tell the tale on network television. Very little fazes him. He continues to struggle to write and rewrite the accounts of his life and times in order to validate his claims to honor and respect. However, now he does so with more assurance, more grace, and even occasional flashes of humor.


He is also much wealthier than he was in his youth. Through a variety of judicious real estate transactions, wellplaced investments, royalties accumulated from his books, and payments received for his interviews, in addition to the pensions and perquisites of the presidency that his resignation and pardon insured, he has managed to amass a sizable fortune (Arson, 1984; Alter, 1984; Herbers, 1984; Glynn, 1984; Martz, 1986). The modest circumstances that his wife's cloth coat symbolized in his youth have given way to a more imperial style. He lives in a spacious house in an exclusive neighborhood; when he travels, which is frequently, he travels firstclass, accompanied by an extensive entourage of aides and assistants to facilitate his movements and a bevy of armed bodyguards to surround and protect him. All the logistics of his daily existence are managed by others, from planning his agenda to managing his wardrobe. Freed from the irksome problems of mundane existence, there is less to frustrate him and more time for contemplation (Dolan, 1984; Herbers, 1984; Glynn, 1984; Shapiro, 1985; Martz, 1986).


Nixon the septuagenarian has also had more time for his family. In his youth, constant campaigning for office made inordinate demands on his wife and left him little time to share with his growing daughters. The embattled years of Watergate drew the family together, and when the girls married, their husbands were brought into the fold. With the birth of three grandchildren, the Nixon family has begun to take the shape of a dynasty: Nixon the patriarch, portrayed next to an ailing wife, flanked by beautiful daughters and handsome sonsin-law, fondling his infant grandchildren, and taking the older grandchildren to baseball games. His family is one of his greatest assets, and the new Nixon spends considerable time and energy cultivating that resource (Thimmesch, 1979; Mehle, 1982; Friedrich, 1984; Fuller et al., 1986; Eisenhower, 1986).


In sum, there are indeed ways in which the new Nixon is a man changed from the past, but at least to this analyst, there seems far more evidence to suggest that the new Nixon is an old Nixon, not so much changed as renewed, starting over with fresh energy and restored ambition. Indeed, in one of his rare flashes of humor, he joked, "[there is not] a new Nixon or a reincarnation, but there sure is an old Nixon" (Shapiro, 1984, p. 32).




A man with a loyal and devoted family, projecting an image of vitality and ambition; visiting scores of nations, some repeatedly; meeting with almost every major political leader abroad and many important people at home; voicing opinions in books, speeches, phone calls, memos, and letters; being asked his opinion by others&emdash;in the thirteen years since his resignation, Richard Nixon has re emerged as a figure of considerable influence in the public arena and a growing influence in the backstage machinations of political life.


How does he do it? we may ask. How does Nixon manage to overcome the stigma of discrediting revelations about his career and his character and in so doing maintain a position of respect with the public at large as well as with power brokers in both political parties (Herbers, 1984; Shapiro, 1984; Brown, 1987; McGovern, 1987)?


If he has not changed, certainly there is an impression that he is different&emdash; more worthy and more honorable than when he left office in disgrace. It is this impression that I wish to address by asking, How does Nixon evoke this impression? What does he do that makes those who judge him do so in a favorable light?


Impression management is a part of dramaturgical theory (Goffman, 1958; Burke, 1962; Messinger, Sampson, and Towne, 1962). It addresses the practices that individuals employ in order to elicit a desired response on the part of targeted audiences. Scripts, props, settings, and supporting cast are all organized to sustain a particular image of moral character. This is as much the case for those who are judged respectable as it is for those who are judged deviant (Goffman, 1963).


Audiences make their judgments on the basis of what they know or come to see, or on what is implied by what they know and see. Thus, the ability to control information is fundamental to controlling others' impressions. In addition, how information is presented and who is available to help with these presentations are relevant aspects of impression management.


Nixon's overwhelming task in these post resignation years has been creating and selling an image of himself as trustworthy, reliable, sincere, and enlightened, despite abundant evidence of deceit and duplicity, opportunism and betrayal. This is not a new task. He showed considerable appreciation of the role of impressions in adolescence (Cavan, 1979) and, from the Checkers speech on, his political career has demonstrated an astute appreciation and cultivation of various techniques associated with creating an image. Thus, as one small example, he has recently changed his official portrait at the White House to one that projects an image more in line with how he would like others to see him (Vasari, 1982; Hosefros, 1984).




Impression management has its roots in theater. As an analytic metaphor, it directs our attention to the stage, and to the important distinction between "front stage," where the calculated performances of public character are enacted, and "backstage," where the dirty work of manipulation and collusion takes place (Goffman, 1958).


One important example of this division between front stage presentations and backstage machinations is Nixon's conscious control of his language. It was not until the publication of the White House tapes that most Americans had any idea that the man who presented himself as the embodiment of respectable standards routinely used profanity in his private conversations in the Oval Office. Because these transcripts were to be made public, the actual words were edited out and replaced by (expletive deleted), a technique that only further exemplified Nixon's appreciation of maintaining the illusions of respectability front stage despite the backstage realities. In accounts written subsequent to his resignation, the public could learn how he carefully controlled his language in front of "ladies" while he engaged in locker room vulgarities with "the boys" (Woodward and Bernstein, 1976; Cavan, 1979; Brodie, 1981; Anson, 1984).


The controlled public image Nixon projects hides the disreputable aspects of his character from view. Occasionally, accounts of this side leak from aides and associates and find their way into public record. However, the pious public Nixon is a very different person from the vulgar, private Nixon, and in large measure, his success with the American public is a function of his ability to control those aspects of himself that are considered dishonorable and disrespectful, and to present instead an acceptable image.


Creating a division between front stage performances, where the illusion of respectability is fostered, and backstage behavior, where a different image is available is one division integral to managing the image of rehabilitation. There are other divisions that serve the same purpose: projecting the illusion of respectability. Thus, Nixon proposes that the past is different from the present; that errors in domestic policy have no relevance for judgment in foreign policy; that behavior governed by the head is different from behavior governed by the heart; that the means employed to get from one place to another are different from the goals being sought by that action (Frost, 1978). He suggests that what is unlawful becomes lawful when the president authorizes it (Pear, 1980b). He said, in the televised interview with David Frost, "My motive was pure political containment, and political containment is not a corrupt motive.... [M]y motive was not criminal" (Frost, 1978, pp. 16, 13).


By splitting hairs, Nixon speaks to only part of the issue, while he appears to address the whole topic. The audiences' attention is diverted. The impression is of a man who has nothing to apologize for, and no basis for embarrassment or chagrin. There has been a misunderstanding, but it is insignificant compared to the larger, global issues (Cavan, 1979).


Now it is clear to the attentive audience that when the former president says, as he does frequently, "I never look back" (see, for example, Frost, 1978; Bruning, 1984; Shapiro, 1984; Anson, 1984; Friedrich, 1984), his reference is specifically to the events of Watergate and his resignation. Otherwise, one of his most characteristic behavior patterns is looking back. Reruns and reunions are frequent motifs in these years since Watergate. He attends the fiftieth reunion of his graduating class at Whittier College; he returns to China on the tenth anniversary of his first trip; when he travels to Burma, he rings the ceremonial bell he rang on his first trip thirtythree years ago; the twentyfifth anniversary of the Khrushchev Kitchen debate is memorialized at the Smithsonian; the tenth


anniversary of Nixon's reelection to the presidency is celebrated in Washington, D.C. All these reruns and reunions suggest a man who is very much focused on the past, with perhaps this one notable exception (McGrath, 1982; Friedrich, 1984; "Nixon makes rare sojourn," 1984; "Golden anniversary," 1984; King and Weaver, 1986).




Creating divisions by splitting hairs is one technique of impression management. Another technique is the control of information. From the available "pool of facts," members of the audience get their impressions of character as well as their understanding of history. By controlling the contents and availability of this pool, Nixon can control others' impressions of him as a person and of his role in history.


A review of the public record of Richard Nixon's activities since his resignation reveals the inordinate energy and attention he has directed toward restricting access to information that might discredit his claim to respectability. He has also been active in creating new information that contributes to the impression of his respectability and his role in the historical process.


Nixon's continued litigation over the "private and personal" definition of the papers and tapes of his presidential years in the face of counterclaims that the public has a right to know the "documented facts" of his administration has been an important arena of information control. From the time the existence of the taping system became known in the testimony of Alex Butterfield, a low ranking White House functionary, Nixon has faced constant pressure to yield those documents, but he has yielded very little. When he was finally forced to give up the June 23 tape, it revealed the president conspiring with his chief of staff to obstruct the investigation of the Justice Department and deceive the American public about the lawful character of his administration. This was the evidence the House Judiciary Committee needed to complete its case for impeachment. Consequently, the loss of that piece of information was a major factor in Nixon's resignation.


In the years since his resignation, he has lost control of very little information from those copious archives. The major portion of his tapes and papers remain bound in litigation, offstage and impotent as sources of American history or Nixonian biography (Arson, 1984; "Still waiting," 1986; "Nixon loses," 1987). As sources of information, they may well change our understanding of the course of American history, cat 19691974, and also our judgments of the moral character of the man who was our president during those years. Therefore, controlling this information is crucial to the former president's objectives of defining his place in history.


Nixon has been uniquely successful in limiting the public and private testimony he has given in the various suits and dispositions generated in the wake of the Watergate revelations. As he was pardoned of all crimes of commission and omission, there was no public trial to demand that he testify under oath, and whatever the outcome, to officially define his place in the history of the American presidency. Instead, his resignation was surrounded with ambiguity. Nixon used primetime television to explain his action to the public. He claimed his resignation was motivated by altruism, by the desire to see that the nation had a full-time president and not one embattled in a prolonged judicial debate that had been instigated by his detractors in the first place (Woodward and Bernstein, 1976; Cavan, 1979). There was no way to counter his public explanation, and no way to object. Nixon had the last word.


In an ironic way, his hospitalization for phlebitis was a lucky break. It effectively protected him from having to testify under oath in the trials of his closest aides and associates. Then, over the years, his extensive (and expensive) retinue of lawyers have protected him from a multitude of lawsuits that might demand that the former president state under oath the nature of his actions in various crucial situations relevant to charges such as obstruction of justice, infringement of civil rights, backdating his tax papers, and various other violations of the criminal code and abuses of executive power. Indeed, until the spring of 1987, his only courtroom testimony has been in the defense of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents charged with illegal entry (Pear, 1980b). Despite Nixon's appearance, the two agents were found guilty. They were subsequently pardoned by Ronald Reagan (Arson, 1984).


One way to control information is by preventing discrediting information from becoming public. Another way to control information is by manufacturing it yourself, by being an active participant in what is being written and said. In numerous books, speeches, and letters to the editor that he has authored, singly or in association with others (including selfpublishing his book Real Peace), Nixon has been active in creating a documentary record that attests to his continued involvement in world affairs as an informed critic. No occasion is too lowly or too insignificant. Thus, speaking before the Whittier Republican Women's Club, he mentioned that his wife was feeling better and that they went to Disneyland for their anniversary; then, he launched into a formal presentation about geopolitics. The next day he gave the same speech at his fiftieth college reunion ("Nixon makes rare sojourn," 1984).


In addition to public speeches, interviews on television and in magazines and newspapers all involve the former president's active participation in the creation of a documentary record. What is asked and what is said in response to those queries reflect on the image that Nixon hopes to sustain: sage and statesman, a brilliant geopolitical thinker and astute strategist, a man whose observations and advice advance world peace. Incidentally, he also portrays himself as a regular guy, as when it was reported that he drops in at Burger King for lunch, bodyguards and all (Frost, 1978; "Nixon to assess," 1980; Mehle, 1982; McGrath, 1982; Bruning, 1984; Friedrich, 1984).


These staged events are opportunities for Nixon to set the record straight, often in the face of an interviewer determined to wrench some expression of




Sherri Cavan


remorse or humility from the former president (Frost, 1978; Anson, 1984). Notable in this context is Nixon's extraordinary ability to stonewall, to refuse to give any account of his involvement in Watergate other than acknowledging that mistakes were made and conceding that for a man of ambition, resignation from the presidency was a great punishment (Thimmesch, 1979). Beyond that, there is no accounting. There is no acknowledgment of precisely what "mistakes" were made, much less any consideration of whether, for example, obstruction of justice is more than simply a "mistake of judgment." There are no expressions of remorse or embarrassment, much less humiliation. There is no admission of what he might have learned as a result of those "mistakes" other than an occasional bitter references about destroying the tapes (Morganthau, 1982; Anson, 1984).


Another way an individual can make information become part of the record is by keeping a high profile. Since the 1950s, Richard Nixon's name has made news, first in the local community, then nationally, and finally internationally. Over the years, the curious turns his career has taken have only made him more newsworthy. Thus, his various foreign travels, his meetings and phone calls, his lunches and dinners at home and abroad, his real estate transactions, his visits to the baseball game with his grandson, and even his opinions of Disneyland are all the objects of journalists' attention. From there, they make their way to the daily pool of electronic and print information available to the public and the historians, both loyalists and detractors. Even when Nixon stays home, continuous reviews and analyses of him and his administration mean that his name and his reputation are rarely out of view.


Not all Nixon's reviews are favorable. A major part of his mystery is his ability to evoke intense loyalty from some and intense hatred from others, so not all those who read the available documentary record do so with the same benign accounting that he wishes to foster (Lewis, 1984; Kaiser, 1984; Morrow, 1985; Hiss, 1986). Their interpretations have not been stifled, but neither have they inflamed the public to demand an open accounting of the past in order to better comprehend the meaning of the present.


In addition to critics' interpretation of the available records, there has been some information leakage, revelations of facts and observations that contradict the claims the former president has made about his conduct in office and his character as a human being. Books and articles by various investigative journalists as well as books and interviews with some of his former associates have yielded substantial documentation of another side to Richard Nixon (Woodward and Bernstein, 1976; Haldeman, 1978; "Nixon encore," 1981; Ehrlichman, 1982b; Hersh, 1982a, 1982b, 1983).




Nixon has not sustained the illusion of his rehabilitation alone. Like any social judgment, it requires the collusion of others. In the first place, the network of contacts that he had as president remained relatively intact after he left office. This network provides him with an inside line to power and influence, and he spends considerable time and energy cultivating it. Accounts of his day at his New York office stress the intense round of telephone calls he makes each morning. Like a salesman generating leads and prospects, Nixon continuously makes contact and touches base with old associates as well as with old opponents, power brokers, and people of influence. Occasionally he makes contact with ordinary folk, like calling a police officer who has been injured. Personal notes and memos supplement his phone calls, actively maintaining connections that might be useful in the future (Thimmesch, 1979; Anson, 1984; Friedrich, 1984; Boyd, 1985; Martz, 1986).


In an interview for Newsweek, Nixon said quite candidly:


As far as President Reagan is concerned, I talk to him quite regularly. Usually he calls me from Camp David, usually after he has had one of those, you know, tough decisions. For example, he called me after the Libyan business [the bombing of Qaddafi's compound], and we chatted a bit about it. It's a very natural relationship. (Fuller et al., 1986, p. 33)


Access to a network of interpersonal influence has been crucial to Nixon's career. It began with the Committee of One Hundred, which selected him to run for Congress in the 1940s, and in the ensuing forty years, this network has continued to grow, encompassing influentials at home and abroad, in government, politics, business, and the military; and gradually even encompassing those who were once at odds with Nixon's objectives: Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Mark Hatfield, Mario Cuomo, Katherine Graham, and even the working press ("Why Carter invited Nixon," 1979; Thimmesch, 1979; Shapiro, 1984; Lewis, 1984; Friedrich, 1984; "No enemies," 1984; Martz, 1986; Brown, 1987).


These social connections are important resources. They provide aid and assistance in accomplishing Richard Nixon's objectives. Nixon's relationship with Alexander Haig illustrates the best feature of such interpersonal connections: their ability to provide mutual aid (Kropotkin, 1902). As Nixon's chief of staff in the months before his resignation, Haig managed the orderly transition of the presidency from a man who had been reelected to that office by an enormous popular vote to a man who had never been elected to any office higher than the House of Representatives. Haig was subsequently instrumental in managing Ford's pardon of Nixon. In the ensuing years, Haig was instrumental in arranging Nixon's various public trips abroad as well as being a regular source of inside information for the former president (Hersh, 1982a; Anson, 1984; Herbers, 1984).


At the same time Alexander Haig was being useful to Richard Nixon, his own career was advancing. Originally brought into the White House by Henry Kissinger, both Haig and Kissinger avoided the stigma of Watergate. When Nixon's other aides and associates were going to trial and then to jail, Haig went to Europe as commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. After the Democratic interlude of the Carter Administration Haig was brought back to serve for two years as secretary of state for the Reagan administration, and he was one of the candidates for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination (King, 1987).


In addition to the active collusion of people with power and influence, Nixon's claims to honor and respect are advanced by more general forms of assistance. Nixon's public appearances have always evoked a cadre of staunch loyalists for whom he can do no wrong. They can be found in the press, in politics, in business, among the outstanding members of various local communities, and among countless ordinary people. They can be found in the United States and in many other parts of the world, although not all. To these people, Richard Nixon is a hero. Some of them have been Nixon supporters from the beginning of his political career; others were prepubescent at the time of Watergate, but count themselves as loyalists nonetheless (Nelson, 1978; Axthelm, 1978; Dolan, 1984; Kaiser, 1984).


Whoever they are and whenever they were recruited to his cause, the devotion of Nixon's supporters is intense and rarely deflected. No matter what is revealed about the other side of Richard Nixon, this cadre of loyalists is able to provide a benign interpretation. They are able to show that whatever he might have done, he did it with the best intentions, that it was not as bad as his detractors claim, or that other presidents did worse. Their dedicated support is crucial to Nixon's objectives.


Aligned in opposition are' the detractors and demonstrators, for whom everything Nixon does is wrong. As in the past, he has encountered fewer public signs of disrespect when he is out of office than when he holds an official position, and he has encountered less disrespect on the East Coast than he did on the West Coast. Nonetheless, every so often, a vocal crowd convenes in the vicinity of his public appearances to express their disapproval (Pear, 1980a; Anson, 1984). Besides vocal crowds, there have been other outward signs of disrespect. The opposition Nixon encountered in leasing a New York apartment is a minor example. More significant were the objections raised by Duke University faculty when they were faced with the possibility that the Nixon Library would be established on their campus (Scott, 1981; Wilson, 1981). However, at the same time the Duke faculty protested the library, there were many other communities vying for the opportunity to house the documents of his administration. Over the years, protests have become increasingly fewer, and in their absence, they help foster the impression that Richard Nixon, the thirtyseventh president of the United States, is a man worthy of honor and respect (Herbers, 1984).




III repute is not just the negativity of nihilists and haters, smallminded people who hold a grudge and do not forgive. Sociologically, it has very important consequences for people's understanding of moral conduct (Garfinkel, 1956; Schwartz and Skolnick, 1964; Erikson, 1969). Indeed, it is by the allocation of ill repute that the members of a society effectively establish moral boundaries. III repute illuminates the behavior that is not acceptable in terms of the prevailing value schemes. Those whose biographies are blemished by the stigma associated with such unacceptable behavior become walking reminders of what happens when people go too far.


III repute is also a warning to those who might associate with the stigmatized that their reputations are likely to suffer as well. Thus ostracism from respectable society serves as punishment for those who have gone astray and as a method of containment for those who might be seduced by association with such behavior.


III repute is a forceful social judgment; it illuminates social boundaries and gives expression to social values. It is one of the forces that create community.


Rehabilitation is the process by which individuals who have gone beyond the boundaries of the moral order can be reintegrated back into the community. By acknowledging the errors of their ways, by cooperating with the authorities, and by showing demonstrable changes in conduct and character, members of the community acknowledge in these individuals a transformation of status: the bad guy becomes a good guy again; the stigma of ill repute is gone.


Where there is no stigma associated with behavior and no ill repute accorded the actor, we read the behavior as normal and the person as respectable. We understand that this is a behavior and expression of character that can be expected in similar situations; we read it as acceptable human conduct. Therefore, the absence of ill repute also expresses social values (Goffman, 1963; Gusfield, 1963).


If, in the absence of rehabilitation, ill repute fades over time, we must read a change as indicative of changing ideas about what is acceptable conduct and what is not. Thus, community standards may change over time; what was once thought to be the exception comes to be the rule, and reputations follow suit.


In the foregoing pages I have argued that there is little evidence that Richard Nixon has been rehabilitated in any way congruent with the axioms of sociological theories of rehabilitation. Nevertheless, the widespread impression exists that this is in fact what is happening&emdash;that in the years since his resignation from the presidency, whatever brought him into disgrace and dishonor has been eliminated, and that he is now due all the honor and respect appropriate to a former president of the United States. This impression of rehabilitation is a function of continuous hard work on the part of the former president: splitting hairs, concealing information, fostering illusion, and colluding with others.


In social life the impression is often as good as the event. We are constantly called on to rely on representations of statements (for example, printed accounts that purport to represent actual conversations), images (such as televised events that are proclaimed to be live), inferences (things that go unspoken but are known nonetheless), and innuendoes (where ambiguity is maintained and deniability possible). Given this gossamer fabric of social life, Richard Nixon's ability to manipulate the impression of his rehabilitation has been an effective method of managing the stigma associated with his resignation.


His ability to maintain this impression in the face of everything that has been revealed about the inside workings of the White House during his administration and in the face of the indictments, guilt, and punishment of many of those who collaborated with him as part of that administration is impressive. A lesser man might have given up in despair, surrendering to those oldfashioned ideas of truth, justice, and honor. But Mr. Nixon stood fast and stood firm. Gradually, people came to forget why he was infamous, and he became famous again.


In addition, of course, there have been numerous political scandals since Watergate. Abscam moved public attention from the White House to the Congress; the IranContra scandal then returned the focus to the White House. So perhaps we see in the "rehabilitation of Richard Nixon" not the change in moral character of a single man but the transformation of community standards attesting to acceptable moral conduct (Ermann and Lundman, 1978; Eisenstadt, Hoogenboom, and Trefousse, 1979; Vidal, 1983).




1. Methodological note: Since I am concerned with the nature of public character, I have taken my "observations" from the public record. In the various accounts documenting Richard Nixon's activities since his resignation, I asked, "Where does he go; what does he do; with whom does he associate; what do others say about him; where does that information get recorded?" As I began to collect these observations, "rehabilitation" emerged as a repetitive theme. To assess the meaning of "rehabilitation," I first assessed the record of Nixon's behavior against an idealtype sociological model of "rehabilitation." There seemed little congruence between Nixon's behavior and behavior predicted by theories of rehabilitation. To explain this discrepancy between the actual and the expected, I turned to the idea of impression management as the method by which the illusion of rehabilitation is realized. I wish to thank Cary Gilliam for his faithful assistance in the library and in the bibliography.




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