Scott Galupo: Getting Nixon Right

Roundup: Talking About History

Scott Galupo is a writer and musician living in Virginia.

Un homme serieux. The phrase, found in a Newsweek column written by Joseph Alsop after Richard Nixon’s second inauguration, recurs frequently in Thomas Mallon’s engaging new historical novel, Watergate. Alsop believed that Nixon was un homme serieux in at least three senses:

The literal meaning is, of course, ‘serious man.’ Less literally, but more accurately, it means a man who has to be taken seriously. Less literally still, but more accurately in terms of the President’s thinking, it means a tough man, a hard man, a man not to be pushed around.

Each of these shades of meaning was intensely present in Nixon. He was a man of high intellect, an accomplished statesman—also something of, well, a crook.

What accounts for this whiplash-inducing quality of Nixon’s—this ability to mingle high purpose with common thuggery?..

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