Frost/Nixon and the pride of insecurity
Richard Nixon is not a people person, unlike David Frost who is interviewing him. Nixon admits that he’s never been charming or likeable. He says he believes “what makes life mean something is purpose – a goal, a battle, a struggle.” As president Nixon wanted to accomplish something big and important but struggled with the social demands that came with the job. For Nixon being president is all about agenda.
Nixon’s hubris is revealed in the famous line: “I’m saying that when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!” It is his wounded pride that drives the lifetime of compromise that culminates in that statement. The goals he sets for himself, his dreams for the country, and the tenets of his Quaker faith are all compromised by his methods and by the pride and insecurity that motivates those methods. Eventually he acknowledges to David Frost what his hubris cost, saying “I let them down. I let down my friends, I let down my country, and worst of all I let down our system of government…and I’m going to have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.”
Producer James Reston says that David Frost manages to get “Richard Nixon’s face swollen and ravaged by loneliness, self-loathing and defeat.” Perhaps Nixon’s perception of Frost as a man maligned and disrespected by “real” news people makes Frost his perceived equal rather than his perceived superior. Perhaps Frost employs the listening skills of a people person, skills that distinguish talk show hosts from newscasters as determined to “get the story” as Nixon was determined to get elected. For whatever reason, Frost is the perfect confessor for Nixon who, at least at that moment, really wants to confess and repent to the nation that he knows in his heart he has betrayed.