As the hours count down and we get ready to face 2011, the inevitable question arises of what our New Year’s resolutions should be – or if we should make any. I have found, over a few decades, that just saying resolutions aloud never gets them to stick in one’s mind (though it’s remarkable how well they’ll stay in the memory of someone who hears you utter them). They have to be written down. And even then, the diary or scrap of paper on which they’re written has a habit of vanishing for weeks or months – or may not even pop up until sometime the following December, filling one with all manner of regrets.
Richard Nixon, as the historic figure he was, had his New Year’s plans preserved for posterity. He was, before, during, and after his Presidency, in the habit of sitting down and sketching out his intentions for the coming year. Sometimes what he wrote was specifically identified as a set of resolutions. Sometimes such a document was more vague. In a memo he composed in January 1970 (which was posted in this blog’s predecessor The New Nixon by Frank Gannon a year back), he wrote down some general ideas about how to structure his Presidential image in the following year:
Add element of lift to each appearance… Hard work — Imagination –
Compassion — Leadership — Understanding young –
Cool — Strong — Organized — Temperate — Exciting …
Excitement — Joy in Life — Sharing. Lift spirit of people –
During 1970, he and those with whom he worked in the White House undertook several initiatives which gave more concrete form to some of these words and phrases. Where the young were concerned, his Administration saw through the passage of the Constitutional amendment giving those 18 to 21 the right to vote. A series of groundbreaking programs in consumer safety, protection of the environment, and public health addressed “joy in life” and “sharing.” (In fact, when signing the National Environmetal Policy Act on New Year’s Day 1970, he spoke about it in the context of a New Year’s resolution to make the ’70s the decade of the environment.)
Both before and after his Presidency, RN composed resolutions intended to guide him in the coming year. At the beginning of January 1965, as a lawyer in New York, he wrote out the following list, later published in his Memoirs:
Set great goals
Knowledge of all weaknesses
Better use of time
Exactly ten years later, the former President found himself recovering from a life-threatening illness and also faced with the problem of how to move on from the events of 1974. By this time he had started work on his autobiography, and, it would seem, had come across the paper on which he had written his 1965 resolutions, because Dr. John Lundgren, his personal physician, published in the book Healing Richard Nixon the resolutions RN made for 1975, which are identical to those of a decade before, with these added:
Write more books
Golf or some form of exercise everyday
Articles and speeches on provocative new international and national issues
As so often happens some of the resolutions Nixon wrote down took longer than that year to keep. His Memoirs came out in 1978, and it was not until after then that RN moved to Manhattan and began to maintain a regular program of public appearances and to publish books every year or so, with articles and columns in between. To the end, he believed in looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past.
And as we see out 2010, I’d like to use this occasion to wish everyone in this blog’s readership the happiest of 2011s.