Fast-forward to real-life. It was 1983. I had worked as an aide to a Republican U.S. senator, but was completing my degrees at David Frost's same Cambridge University. Back in the United States on holiday, I was at a well-known private establishment when a group of prominent Republican fundraisers spotted me and insisted that they had "Dick Nixon" with them in the next room. I thought they were joking, but instead, as they opened the door, there he stood, larger than life.
They told Nixon that I had worked in the Senate, but was now at Cambridge, studying toward an advanced degree in International Relations.
Nixon didn't miss a beat. First the charm: "Most Americans think Oxford is the best but all the smart guys go to Cambridge." As with Frost, Nixon had charmed me in a flash. But in the course of our chat -- Nixon clearly enjoyed talking international relations -- he asked me an odd question in a newly sincere tone: "Are they treating you OK there?"
I guess with my Southern accent and lack of sophistication, he assumed that I, too, was a victim of highbred elitism.
Ironically, just like David Frost in the movie, my response shocked him. I felt totally at ease with the university and my many friends. Nixon shrugged off the subject and proceeded to allow me to question him for my dissertation. I had lucked out.
And therein lies the essence of this stellar film. Richard Nixon could be both a charmer and his own worst enemy. In displaying his insecurities about a real or imagined world of "elites," he was an early embodiment of the "Paranoid Nation" I describe in my book.
I guess the only difference between most people he met and me was that I still admired much of what the man had achieved and I appreciated that he tried so hard to be loved.
Take the time to see "Frost/Nixon." It will be as special as a chance encounter with the man would have been; and it will bring him to life far better than my meager words can alone.
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