The favorable reviews accorded to Will Swift’s Pat And Dick since its publication this month show that, almost four decades after President Nixon left office, not only are historians and biographers viewing his career in a new and favorable light, but writers in the media are starting to follow suit.
Another writer is at work on a book that promises to radically alter the conventional wisdom about the thirty-seventh President that has dominated media discussion for a half-century. John A. Farrell, author of acclaimed biographies of House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill and lawyer Clarence Darrow, is presently writing a biography for Random House, Richard Nixon: An American Tragedy. Mr. Farrell has won two of journalism’s most distinguished prizes – the George Polk Award and the Raymond Clapper Prize – and has a sheaf of other awards to his credit.
Last Tuesday, Mr. Farrell spoke before an audience of students and faculty at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, A news release from the school describes his remarks:
“Nixon took office when many of our more important civil rights laws were taking place,” said Farrell […] “Many others get credit but it was Nixon who gave life to the Civil Rights Act and presided over how these laws were enforced.”
Of course, Farrell explains, he didn’t do it on his own. The Supreme Court, who had had enough of integration being put off, as well as many civil rights groups and a liberal antagonistic press leaned him on to take action.
But Farrell pointed out that the President was no stranger to civil rights.
“His namesakes were both active in civil rights so he was very sympathetic to those issues. The Milhous side had been part of the Underground Railroad,” said Farrell. “On the Nixon side, his great-grandfather had fought and dies at the Battle of Gettysburg.”
The title of Farrell’s lecture, “Watch What We Do, Not What We Say,” is a quote from former Attorney General John Mitchell who used the remarks to explain the president’s stance on civil rights issues.
“In the public arena, Nixon offered winks and nods to southern whites, convincing them that he was on their side and winning their votes in his divisive ‘southern strategy,’” said Farrell. “But inside the federal bureaucracies, the work of the great civil rights laws went on, and the integration of southern schools was quietly, but relentlessly, accomplished on his watch.”
After so many books which misrepresented and unfairly derided the accomplishments of the Nixon Administration, words such as these show that a new and objective age of Nixon studies has arrived.