While trawling the web with my cereal this morning, I discovered that the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA, has recently declassified documents online that had previously been withheld.

Now, if you ever want to see me have a truly hideous history geek moment, just mention the words “previously unreleased classified documents.” Music to my ears. Even reading that same standardized font that the government uses in all its memos and telcons makes me feel like I’m about to discover something earthshaking next time I turn the page. (It’s a relic of doing primary source research in the National Archives – besides the awesome salad bar, finding a good quote was just about the only excitement available.)

Anyway, I digress. This gem of a document (available in its full text here! how exciting) is an 11-page rant by Nixon about the lack of positive PR his peons, I mean administration, was disseminating. Referring to himself repeatedly in the third person, “RN” cited the following positive examples to correct the public image of himself as “an efficient, crafty, cold, machine:”

Nixon cited “warm items” (Page 3) such as “the calls that I make to people when they are sick, even though they no longer mean anything to anybody” (Page 4). “I called some mothers and wives of men that had been killed in Vietnam,” he added, helpfully.

And really, the public only went unaware of his good deeds because “The President does not brag about all … he does for people” (Page 4).

Wow! Now that really goes far to correct my negative image of RN. I mean, what a guy. Ha.

Actually, writing my thesis on Nixon did serve to open my eyes in certain regards. While RN’s legacy has become Watergate, in truth those events were at the end of an otherwise very busy and rather ambitious term as President. When Nixon took office, he was facing an uncertain world, one where the Soviets were making rapid gains and the U.S. was falling behind (or so they thought). Through a series of deft maneuvers, mostly engineered by Kissinger, the Nixon administration brought us very close to achieving true detente. Their brand of realpolitik, while often crass and even inhuman, served as a unique lens by which both men viewed the Cold War struggle.

Here I could go into the Cienfuegos submarine incident of 1970, on which I wrote my thesis, but that is a big and extremely geeky topic. I will save it for another day. Suffice it to say, Nixon was a strange man, and somehow managed to combine a great deal of realism in international affairs with an absolute self-obsessed paranoia in his personal and domestic life.

And there’s your history geek lesson for today.