Thursday, January 18, 2007


James Walcott has posted a gem, riffing on the Little Round-Headed Boy's review of Altman's Secret Honor. LRHB begins:
On the week of Richard Nixon's birthdate, on the week after Gerald Ford's funeral, on the night of George Bush's speech about committing even more troops to Iraq, I sat down with Robert Altman's Secret Honor for the first time in years. What a weird harmonic convergence. As I watched Philip Baker Hall's Nixon bitching about the Ford pardon and the reaction to his escalation of bombing in Cambodia, I could hear the TV downstairs broadcasting Bush's speech about upping the troop count in Iraq. I felt like I was hallucinating. We needed to be in Vietnam to stop the Communist domino effect from spreading across Southeast Asia; now, we need to stay the course in Iraq to stop civil violence from spreading out of Iraq's borders across the Middle East. Different decades, different presidents, same old rhetoric about a "winnable" war. Pride over honor, blood over logic. God, I miss Altman.
I have to confess that I find Nixon the most compelling figure in postwar American public life, so gnarled is he at the root, so deep his self-infliction, so complex his duplicity, and yet, at the end, so fragile his dignity even with his tough core. I'm slowly reading through Mark Feeney's transfixing Nixon at the Movies and I can't wait for Frost/Nixon to make its transatlantic move. It looks as if I'm going to have to pick up the Secret Honor DVD too
Meanwhile, downstairs on the TV in real life and real time, there is Bush defending his actions and refusing to break, acting more and more Nixonian by the minute. Nixon, Bush; Bush, Nixon. Depressing, utterly depressing.
And unlike Nixon, Bush will not be able to rehabilitate himself in retirement because he's simply too stuntedly ill-informed and reality-detached. I remember seeing an aging Nixon on C-SPAN speaking and answering questions smoothly and cogently for over an hour on a range of geopolitical topics without benefit of notes and with a humbled confidence that was (for Nixon) charming. Clinton has that kind of sophisticated knowledgability, Jimmy Carter does as well, but Bush never will, so uninterested is he in other cultures and so reliant upon platitudes and homilies and self-affirmation. I think (hope) Steve Gilliard is right: Bush's presidency will unravel in shame and disgrace, as Nixon's did. But unlike Nixon, Bush will not enjoy a lion-in-winter third act. For better or worse, Nixon was his own man, a stark lesson in the possibilities and limits of self-reliance. Bush, who has always relied upon others to bail him out of jams, is not his own man. If he were, he wouldn't let Cheney secretly run the show.


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