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by Steve Young

Steve Young columns

I saw Frost/Nixon this weekend. Having one despised president exit this week, the film seemed apropos. Outstanding job by Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. As I watched I remembered just how much I hated Nixon. How important it was to me when the press stood up to him (thank you, Dan Rather). He had stretched the Vietnam war over far more American bodies than needed to die. It hit me that as much as I despized Bush 43, I did not despise him anywhere near as I did Nixon. But the film brought up another perspective for me.

Langellla's dour and thoughtful performance actually made me feel sad for Nixon, something I thought I was incapable of. He was a deeply flawed and lamentable man, but he wasn't an idiot -- paranoid, but not an idiot. He was intelligent enough to grasp just how alone he was. He was coherent enough to understand that he was full of self-hate and unhappy that he was who he was.

Spoiler alert: During the final day of the Frost interview, Nixon broke, accepting for all the world to see and hear; that he was corrupt and let down the American people. Langella's depiction of that moment of self-realization was stunning. As another deep line etched in his already hanging face, it all became clear. The jig was up. Nixon sat there digesting what he had held tight to the chest for years. In Watergate he was the guilty party. He had not properly represented the office of president and he had let down the American people. His admission was an indication of a trace of humanity in the man.

On the other hand, Bush is apparently incapable of admitting guilt or responsibility. To do so he would need to harbor a sense of real emotion. There is no self-awareness -- Bush has affability but no humanity, no matter how deep you scratch through the layers of grime.

In his Jan. 15 "Farewell," Bush said: "As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation."

How revealing, particularly because it came in a prepared speech where he had many chances to edit it out. The insensitivity is staggering -- no regard for the 9/11 families or war casualty families or ANYONE else. Put another way: "I got hurt bad, too," cries the drunk driver who crashes his car after forcing a school bus off a cliff, killing all on board.

Given his unfathomable attempt at empathy, rationalizing that giving up golf is commiserate with losing a loved one to war (a month later he was photographed playing again), my guess is that he doesn't even understand what taking responsibility means. Nixon could take a question and, after a momentary frank answer, veer off deftly into anecdotes that left the original question difficult to recall. But he knew what he was doing.

Bush did nothing deftly. He just didn't answer the questions.

A late-awakening 70's press corp pushed the Nixonian truth to the surface. Talk radio was loud, but in its infancy. The right wing likes of NY's Bob Grant, LA's Wally George and George Putnam were still considered jokes so Nixon didn't have the 24/7 distortion defense of today's Lords of Loud to obliterate the truth. Without the capacity to truly contemplate right and wrong, Bush made it through the last eight years- certainly a lot better than the rest of us -- helped mightily by Limbaugh and da gang.

My guess is that if talk radio were running the air waves back then like they do today, Nixon would have made it though to the end of his second term, a few bumps and bruises, but still considered an honored statesman with no need to spill his guts on international TV. Bush got away with murder, but while Nixon did too, David Frost provided us our day in court and Nixon cornered, took responsibility.

But Bush will never admit guilt. And why should he? No one has ever demanded more from the privileged man-child who has skated through a self-centered life.

Award-winning TV writer and author of Great Failures of the Extremely Successful, Steve Young was an original talk show host at L.A.'s KTLK and blogs at

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Albion Monitor   January 23, 2009   (

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