For Harry Shearer, Nixon is still the one

Harry Shearer.

I spent an enjoyable evening in Nixon's Oval office recently along with other Nixonphiles and -phobes like political writer Richard Reeves and KCRW's Warren Olney. Well, to be precise, it was more like the faux-val office, as created and brought to life by Harry Shearer in a continuation of what has become one of Shearer's passions: bringing the good, the bad, the ugly, the comedy, the tragedy and yes, the humanity, of Richard Nixon and his taped conversations into the daylight.

Shearer is an astute political thinker and observer of American politics and the media and has honed his appreciation of Richard Nixon to a saber's edge over years of impersonating and embodying the man writ large and small. As grateful as he is for mining the comic gold contained in those tapes, he also expressed some empathy for Nixon's huge character flaws which the former President unwittingly exposed for all the world to see once the tapes were made public.

This latest Nixonfest was, as Shearer called it, "a one-off," a ticketed event held at Raleigh Studios' Charlie Chaplin Theater to showcase Nixon's the One, a series of 6 episodes of reenactments of verbatim taped conversations and musings between Nixon and his White House aides, cabinet members and sychophants. After listening to hundreds of hours of Nixon's Oval Office tapes along with Nixon historian Stanley Kutler, "certain themes emerged," said Shearer--Nixon's hatred of the East Coast "elite," the Jewish-controlled media, the blacks and of course, his enemies, who often included former political opponents. But Shearer is quick to point out that the person who really should have topped Nixon's enemies list was Nixon himself. "He was a self-made man," Shearer said, "And self-destroyed." The episodes were put together by Shearer and Kutler and broadcast in Britain on the Sky Arts channel.

Now that the series is done, Shearer has been releasing the episodes to YouTube, after trying unsuccessfully to get them broadcast on American television. Given the drivel that ends up on television and cable these days, it's amazing that this series was rejected. The episodes are must-see viewing for anyone who remembers Richard Nixon, and certainly for anyone interested in American politics--there is much to learn about the risks of that complicated cocktail of power and ego when combined with a huge shot of human frailty. Shakespeare couldn't have done it better.

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