Thursday, June 20, 2013

Guess What? More Nixon!

I'm reading a book (Surprise! It's about Richard Nixon!) that in the first 50 pages -- heck, by the introduction -- I could tell should be read by any political aspirant and anyone who thinks they have the damn right to vote.

The book is Nixon's Shadow, The History of an Image, by David Greenberg. It's more than just another study of Richard Nixon, but a study of his image, and how imagecraft, especially that accomplished by Nixon and presidents who succeeded him has, with other factors, led to increased cynicism and distrust of government and politicians.

From the preface:

I also want to trace a story of how American political culture in the last half century has become consumed by concerns about image making and authenticity. We now live in a culture that's hyperaware of the construction and manipulation of images in politics. Nixon provides a vehicle for tracking the rise of this new hyperawareness, since, perhaps uniquely among late twentieth-politicians, he both reflected and contributed to it. Indeed, his historical importance lies partly in having helped foster our current image-obsessed political culture. Hence, this book is also a study in political image making.

Greenberg goes on to say that since Nixon, with each successive administration, the image making has continued, successively, with some success and with some failure, tried new things, building upon the successful image making of those who've gone on before. The voting public, no ninnies we, have seep the image making and, with each successful campaign, grown more aware of the act, and more cynical towards it. Thus Greenberg's thesis, as I get into it, is that successive elections are going to call for more image making which, in turn, will make voters more cynical and distrustful. It's a negative reinforcement loop.

So why should politicians be aware of this? Well, because even when Nixon tried to appear as a common guy, his opponents saw through the image craft. Any politician trying to appear normal (Obama bowling or Mitt Romney singing "Who Let the Dogs Out") is setting himself or herself on fire, even if the effort is sincere, because generally voters are so cynical they doubt even the most sincere among us.

So why should voters need to know this? Maybe to be able to tell politicians we can see the man behind the curtain. And maybe to tell ourselves that, once in a while, a politician might be sincere and authentic and actually mean it.

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