The Nixon charm

How the 37th president gives hope to the common man

By Emmett Rensin

Have you ever felt as if life dealt you an unfair hand? That you have the interest, the passion, and the perseverance to fulfill your goals but lack some characteristic unfairly withheld from you by the genetic lottery?

There are many careers that people feel they can never pursue because something over which they have no control is holding them back. Perhaps they aspire to be professional basketball players, but are just too short. Or maybe they’d like to be salesmen, but lack the requisite slick hair and smooth voice. While it’d be easy for such a person to abandon hope and resign himself to a soul-crushing career more suited to his DNA, he might instead take some inspiration from a man who overcame this very dilemma. A man named Richard Nixon.

Richard Milhous Nixon, our 37th President, didn’t have the good traits on his side. Uncharismatic, untrustworthy, and not particularly good-looking, Nixon didn’t seem to possess any of the qualities necessary for a career in politics. But despite these shortcomings, he went on to become the only man ever elected vice president and president of the United States twice apiece, making him one of the most successful politicians in American history. He was a striver, and he wouldn’t let anything, not even his unusually heavy eyebrows and grating voice, get in his way.

How did he do it? A man who was called “Tricky Dick” long before his trickier side became apparent to the American people, shouldn’t have been able to win over the trust of 50-plus-one percent of the American electorate on four different occasions. But somehow he did, and the secret of Nixon’s successes can serve as a guide for all those who see themselves as inadequate for the dreams they aspire to.

Put simply, Richard Nixon took every disadvantage dealt to him and turned it into an advantage. Nixon hadn’t gone to a good school, he was ugly, and his oratory wasn’t all that inspiring—in short, he was no Kennedy. But what Nixon realized was that the American people weren’t like Kennedy either—they were like Richard Nixon. Suddenly, he wasn’t inadequate; he was just like the people whose votes he needed. The media regularly called Nixon a liar, but hadn’t the American people seen themselves belittled by the same kinds of elitists? Now they had Nixon, who all of a sudden wasn’t untrustworthy: He was the victim of the same unfair browbeating that every average Joe got from his supposed “cultural superiors.” So they voted for him. With this kind of perception manipulation, Nixon managed to transform fault after fault into the very qualities that propelled him into the White House.

Though he might’ve hated to be the center of a feel-good inspiration piece, Richard Nixon should serve as a role model for anyone who thinks he doesn’t have what it takes. Nixon showed that any unfair disadvantage can be turned into a strength when manipulated properly. The guy who’s too short to play basketball? With a little bit of Nixonian magic, it’s not that he’s not tall enough to dominate the courts, it’s that he’s just the right size for running between the other players legs on the way to the basket. And the chutzpah-less would-be salesman? Well, maybe the ruffled hair and unflattering voice just go to show the customer that he’s a guy they can trust, not some tricky smooth operator trying to cheat the customer out of his money. With Nixon as a role model, anything seems possible. It’s all a matter of twisting reality until it goes your way.

Of course, the question remains: Wasn’t it just this kind of crass distortion of inadequacy that led Nixon from being that very successful politician to being one of the most disgraced presidents in American history. And by extension, will anybody who uses his method of fault-manipulation eventually be exposed to the same inglorious fate? Well, it’s probably best not to dwell too much on that point.

In the meantime, whenever it feels like without the proper genetic luck some doors are permanently shut, just remember one name: Richard Nixon.