If the Truth Were Told

Richard Nixon got his 15 minutes of media redemption last year...from the grave. They buried the nice Nixon who went to China, but Bill Clinton's mush-brained eulogy of the president-in-disgrace is already fading in public memory.

The Nixon that will live forever is Oliver Stone's.

This Nixon will survive on cable and at Blockbuster's, will be studied in film schools, and will enter the bloodstream of our culture. Stone's Nixon will become an American archetype, just like Citizen Kane, Huckleberry Finn, and "Johnny B. Goode."

Of course, that horrifies the loyalists-for-hire at the Nixon library. But, if the truth were told, they-and even the Nixon family members-should be grateful to Oliver Stone. This Nixon is a complicated character worthy of compassion. He is a free moral agent, and he freely does horrific things. But we also see that the roots of his weaknesses, and even his moral failings, run down to the open wounds of his childhood. There is real suffering in this Nixon. He is, in fact, trapped in his own pain.

Besides making Nixon human, Stone's film, even in its three-and-a-quarter hours, doesn't manage to include all the documented episodes of criminality and corruption in Nixon's public career. Stone could have gone on and on and on. The bill of indictment could easily have filled a 12-hour miniseries.

For instance, Stone doesn't touch on the secret deal Nixon cut with South Vietnamese President Thieu to keep the war going until after election day in 1968. Nixon wanted to head off a feared "October surprise" peace treaty that could have bolstered the Hubert Humphrey campaign.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1996
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