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Frost/Nixon: The Liberal Film As Conservative


I finally got around to watching Frost/Nixon, and I was struck by how often the conservative view of the world–that is to say, reality–snuck in past the filmmakers’ strenuous attempts to bar the door against it. We see, for instance, that Nixon was right: the media was out to get him. The bitter hate-filled James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) is shown as obsessed with destroying the already-disgraced former President. In the end, Reston’s childish triumph is that television was able to reduce Nixon to a single image of guilt, thus eradicating all the complexities of his legacy. Then there’s ABC’s Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt). Zelnick ridicules Nixon’s complaints that a lovestruck media Obamanized John F. Kennedy. But in that ridicule the facts come out: the mob-linked, priapic Kennedy started the Vietnam war and made enough tactical Cold War errors to drive the world to the very brink of extinction. No, the bias of the mainstream media–and its smallness, meanness and dishonesty–are well on display for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Sure, for the most part, the liberal mythos has its way with the truth throughout the picture. This is still a Hollywood film, after all. Nixon gets no credit for helping to expose Communist infiltration in American government, or for stopping the spread of Communism in Asia through his hard line war policies. The left takes no responsibility for the millions of murders brought about by the coming of “peace.” And, of course, we hear that the slaughter-happy Khmer Rouge was a creation of American policy: that comforting old leftist nursery story that no evil exists except when we make it–so if we’re very, very good, the bad men won’t hurt us.

But never mind. At the center of Frost/Nixon is a warning that every conservative should heed. Nixon committed the crimes and follies of Watergate–and abased himself in front of Frost–because he made a terrible mistake. He cared what the left thought about him. He wanted the Ivy League intellectuals and the New York Times and the Camelot Pretenders to like him. He respected their opinion. It was truly his tragic flaw. If he had only known, really known in his heart, that, for all their education and sophistication, they are nothing but high-toned rascals and humbugs more concerned with their own sense of virtue than with virtue itself, he might have done what Reagan did: treated them with the blithe indifference they deserve while acting on his principles with courage and joy.

Instead, he feared their contempt and therefore hated them, as a man always hates the people he fears. And as he himself said, “Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” We should keep that in mind while dealing with the current crop of what, for lack of a word more accurate and yet still printable, I will call journalists.

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