Monday, August 10, 2009


I confess to having almost no aptitude for business. Sometimes I will read a book on the subject, particularly if it includes both the story of a company's success AND failure. Recently I read "The Toughest Guys on the Street", by Kate Kelley, the story of the rise and lightning-quick fall of Bear Stearns, the investment banking firm which had employed 14,000 people. The firm's eventual buyer, J.P. Morgan Chase, made the deal for a price less than the value of Bear Stearns' New York City home office building alone. It's a sobering reminder that under certain circumstances, even brains, experience and a long reputation may not be enough to survive.

Richard Nixon has been gone for awhile now. I don't want to sound like one of those old guys droning on about things "back in the day", but I thought of him when I realized that yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of his resigning as president. It had to happen, but it was sad nonetheless.
I confess to a long fascination with Nixon. He was smart, complex, even Shakesperian in how he went about acquiring and using power. By nature he should have never been in politics because he had no particular taste for people. Think of it - a man who became president even though he was an introvert. His dealings with Congress, the Cabinet and even his own White House staff were limited as much as possible - because he preferred his own company.
His strengths were big. He saw the world as a whole, something few have ever been able to do. He was a master at defining the message to his advantage, and in using flawed people to serve him because he knew their strengths. He wanted the success of the United States, in every way, and loved having all the wheels, levers and buttons of our complex national government withing his reach.
His weaknesses were also big. His humble background always seemed to haunt him, leaving him prone to bitterness even as the leader of the Free World. He had almost no use for advice from subordinates (which, of course, meant everyone) and took all opposition very personally. Finally, he came to equate the nation's goals with his own, leading him to subordinate the Constitution he was sworn to uphold.
I believe all Americans should know the story of Watergate, but it's long and complicated, so that just won't happen until the study of History becomes more than a poorly taught string of cliches. When the Bush presidency is written about, the comparisons will be to the dark days of Nixon. I'm not sure which will get top rank for destructiveness to the nation, but I think it will be close contest.


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