From Forgotten Man to Elder Statesman: Richard Nixon and Masculine Ideologies in American Political Culture in the Cold War
Within the growing field of new cultural history and Cold War studies, Richard Nixon is an ideal approach to understanding the masculine ideologies, in their prescriptive and proscriptive state, that shaped American perceptions of manhood in the twentieth century. The prescriptive state examines the cultural roots of Cold War masculinity at the end of the nineteenth century and the means by which the future President, through work, leisure, sports, and war hoped to evolve from boyhood to manhood. Nixon, like many men from the period, believed boys achieved manhood through physical assertion, violent punishments, physical and emotional struggle, and, of course, through his favorite pastime, sports. At first glance, Nixon may seem to be an odd choice. After all, he’s largely remembered for his profuse sweating, his five o’clock shadow, the Watergate scandal, his Vietnam policies, the opening of China, and his general awkwardness in social settings. Throughout the twentieth century, the masculine ideal alternated between mythic figures such as the cowboy, the rugged outdoorsman, the athlete, the selfless soldier, and the economically independent man. At various times during his lifetime, Nixon conformed to various constructs, which included the forgotten man, the anticommunist, the square, the hardhat, and conceptions of hardheaded détente. In the end, Nixon’s struggle to conform to these paradigms contributed to the destruction of his presidency and his rebirth as elder statesman during the final years of the Cold War.