Tricky Dick and the Man in Black

By Dan Clendenin

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Tricky Dick and the Man in Black (2018)

On April 17, 1970, President Richard Nixon hosted Johnny Cash at the White House for an evening of country music. In fact, this was a naked attempt by Nixon to co-opt Cash in the Republican Party’s larger “Southern Strategy” that courted voters in the south by an appeal to law-n-order patriotism, as opposed to those “communist” and counter-cultural lefties who were protesting the Vietnam war. The film opens with a Nixon phone call recorded on the (formerly) “secret tapes” to this effect. And who better to symbolize conservative patriotism than Cash, who had even praised Nixon’s war strategy on his national television show? He even specifically instructed Cash to sing two songs: “Okie from Muskogee” and “Welfare Cadillac.” But Nixon miscalculated, and the event backfired. Cash had just been to Vietnam on a concert tour a few weeks before he went to the White House. He had in mind a different sort of patriotism, and so he didn’t sing what the president requested, but instead did a provocative anti-war song called “What is Truth?” Nixon squirmed in his seat. This Netflix Original Documentary draws upon extensive archival film footage, and the commentaries of Johnny Cash’s sister, brother, pastor, manager, band mates, and especially his son. The lesson here? Don’t mess with the Man in Black! For more on the legend see my review of the biography by Robert Hilburn, Johnny Cash: The Life (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013), 679pp.

Dan Clendenin: dan@journeywithjesus.net

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