Monday, August 04, 2008

"But Mr. Nixon, I'm One of the GOOD Kids!"

In 1972, I had an after-school job as a cashier in Alexander's department store in Rego Park. One evening, I had a customer who could have been the inspiration for Mike Meyer's Linda Richman character. She was wearing a big pendant watch with a picture of Dick and Pat Nixon on it. This surprised me; one, because watches with pictures on them weren't as common as they are today, and two, the Rego Park/Forest Hills area had long been a Democratic stronghold in the Borough of Queens.

"That's uh...an interesting watch," I offered.

"It's President and Mrs. Nixon, may they win by a landslide in November please God." She glared and clasped the pendant to her breast as if to protect the President and First Lady from me, a Good Girl who had yet to do anything more seditious than listen to FM radio.

So who was this man who could exploit Middle America's fear of its teenagers and, even more remarkably, get Jews to vote Republican? Rick Perlstein's "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" explores the man and the era he came to define. Right now I'm up to page 66 and already I've learned how Nixon's 1952 "Checkers Speech" set the stage for Red State/Blue State-ism. A better historian than I will have to verify the details, but so far, I'm enthralled.

I'll keep you posted as I read the other 800 pages. And that watch is a collectors' item.

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