I have had some very strong feelings at various times in the last 20 years or so, and while I do love political satire, I have to admit, there’s some truly terrible and bizarre political satire out there. Sometimes you get something wonderful like Veep, or you get something that maybe begins as satire or something like and grows into something more substantial like All the King’s Men and Billy Brammer’s The Gay Place. But other times you get something like Ian McEwan’s deeply embarrassing The Cockroach. This one is more like Robert Coover’s book The Cat in the Hat for President. It’s a solid to ok satire written by both a talented and funny writer.
I think with Nixon though, you get something more out of it. I couldn’t imagine someone wasting their time trying to say something substantive (and satirical) about George HW Bush or Ford or Carter or even Obama. It’s also deeply embarrassing to watch people try to lampoon Biden right now, not because he’s flawless or anything, but because it’s a weird straw man version of things. And I won’t get into the weird cottage industry of Trump Twitter reply-guys.
Like I said, with Nixon it’s different. It’s not because he’s the most corrupt president who ever lived (although he might be) or the most powerful (again,…) but because the Nixon presidency is a clear pivot for the country and while there’s a lull in the mid-70s through 1980, we’ve been in the thick of it for a long time sense. Nixon’s the first president that feels almost like a presidency we recognize from contemporary politics. And this book reminds us of all this, even with its opening chapter about Nixon spending a lot of energy pleading for the rights of the “unborn” something that Roth’s novel can barely even imagine.