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Richard Nixon uses the Perpendicular Pronoun and “Crook” in the same sentence – 43 years ago today.

November 17, 2015

43 years ago today, Richard Nixon met with the press for an extended Q&A session – at Disneyworld in Florida of all places.  Very little of this interview is remembered today – except for the crucial bit where Nixon declared that he wasn’t a crook.

And for those who (like me) would always rather read something that watch a video clip…

President Nixon: “…Let me just say this, and I want to say this to the television audience: I made my mistakes, but in all of my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service–I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I could say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got.”

That’s the problem with denials – they put the allegation and the politician in proximate relation.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

(Everyone instantly has a mental picture of Clinton having sexual relations with that woman)

“The pig and I were just close friends.”

(Euuuugh!)

(Of course – that second denial was never made – because someone’s advisers invoked the precedents of Nixon and Clinton)

Part of the problem is that (thanks in no small part to Richard Nixon), politicians are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent.  In many ways this is a bad thing.  Pervasive cynicism about all elected officials results in a kind of sulky disengagement from the entire political process – a convenient quietism that benefits only the most truly cynical and selfish of political operators.

When Nixon announced that he wasn’t a crook – he sort of reminded people that he was – as well as reminding people that he had had to go on television twenty years earlier as Vice President to tell people that he wasn’t a crook during the so-called “Checkers” crisis of 1952.  If you tell people you’re not a crook too often then a tautology becomes an oxymoron.

With the memory of the previous denial still echoing somewhere – in a rare feat of collective grammatical logic – a double negative somehow became an affirmative.  Nixon was a sort of “victim” of confusing historical syntax.

Except for the fact that he actually was a crook.  He really was.  A maudlin, rambling, self-pitying sort of crook – but a crook nonetheless.

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