Bad men often inspire good art, and Richard Nixon is no exception...

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The Independent Culture

During Nixon's time in office, and before he became America's first unindicted co-conspirator president, the film-maker Emile de Antonio made a celebrated satirical documentary, Milhouse: A White House Comedy (1971), which harshly reviewed Nixon's political career. It included his time aiding and abetting the McCarthy communist witch hunt; his shamelessly emotive "Checkers" speech defending his reputation against accusations of impropriety while he was vice-president to Eisenhower (Checkers was the name of his daughter's dog); his announcement on quitting politics in 1962 that the media "wouldn't have Nixon to kick around any more"; and his questionable handling of the Vietnam War.

Jason Robards played a sweaty president who was clearly meant to be Nixon in the popular Seventies TV mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors, based on conspirator John Ehrlichman's best-selling book. Beau Bridges plays Nixon and Ron Silver plays Kissinger in a new US mini-series about the two men. Perhaps surprisingly, All the President's Men, the Hollywood movie about Watergate, doesn't actually feature Nixon at all.


Nixon's presidency coincided with the politicisation of rock music in response to the Vietnam War, but very few songs were specifically about him. Neil Young's "Ohio", which was an indignant response to the Kent State killing of four students by National Guardsmen, mentions him, but only Country Joe And The Fish with their song "Tricky Dicky" really took him to task, nailing the president as a "genuine plastic man". Heavy.

Some critics saw the intelligent opera Nixon in China, devised in 1987 by the minimalist composer John Adams, the poet Alice Goodman and the theatre director Peter Sellars as part of the rehabilitation of Nixon as world politician. True, Nixon was given some bouncy melodies and the opera celebrates his finest hour - the 1972 visit to China to meet Mao Tse-tung - but this was a perverse interpretation of a work in which Nixon, Mao, Kissinger and Chou En-lai are seen to be at the mercy of history.


The "Would You Buy A Used Car From This Man?" poster (creator unknown) showing a shifty-looking Nixon adorned the walls of most of America's student population during Nixon's time in office.


Philip Roth's short satire Our Gang is specifically about Nixon and his cohorts, although it is not Roth's best work. Much more inventive - and an American masterpiece - is Robert Coover's The Public Burning (1977), which blends fact and fiction to have Nixon, hot from his (real-life) persecution of the supposed communist Alger Hiss, overseeing the public burning in Times Square of those other victims of right-wing demonology, the Rosenbergs.


The young Philadelphia journalist Joe McGinnis was there with the ad men, public relations execs and speechwriters who shaped Nixon's successful 1968 campaign for the presidency. His classic The Selling of the President (1969) describes how Nixon was packaged for success in 1968 after losing the 1960 election because in television debates he looked shifty in a baggy suit and with heavy five-o'clock shadow when set against John Kennedy with his clear-eyed good looks. The book roused indignation at Nixon's manipulativeness at the time, but in these days of spin doctors and image consultants it now seems relatively innocent.


A disgraced president he might have been, but he still set up his own memorial museum - The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation - in Yorba Linda in California at a cost of $21m (pounds 13.5m). Its brochure describes it as "a hi- tech rollercoaster ride through a half-century of California, US and world history as seen through the career of Richard Nixon". You can see, among other things, the pistol presented to him by Elvis Presley, the telephone he used to talk to the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon. You can even listen to (selected) White House tapes and have an interactive conversation with a hologram of the man himself. As he used to say on every occasion: sock it to 'em.