“[The Emperor] was a politician. Richard M. Nixon was his name. He subverted the senate and finally took over and became an imperial guy and he was really evil. But he pretended to be a really nice guy.” - George Lucas
So I know Lucas was inspired by Nixon when creating Palpatine, but wasn’t Palpatine charming, patient, and collected? Even in his public image Nixon was notorious for dirty tricks and was also very paranoid while Palpatine was none of this if anything Palpatine reminds me more of LBJ’s public image but aside from the hairline and corruption I don’t see parallels between Nixon’s behavior and Palpatine. Even in the OT, Palpatine is openly a dictator while Nixon wasn’t really a dictator
The Nixon we think of as Peak Dirtbag Nixon didn’t become fixated in the popular consciousness until partway through his first term, entering into his second – where, it bears reminding, he won reelection in an utter landslide vs McGovern. To call Nixon “charming, patient and collected” a la Palpatine might be a stretch, but it’s fair to say that he was widely respected and admired on both sides of the aisle, particularly as a former Vice President, when he first ran for the presidency in 1960.
Seymour Hersh wrote a revisionist history of Kennedy’s presidency in 1997 titled THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT. There’s a very interesting bit in there about how the Kennedy family leaned on their Boston mob connections to secure Illinois’ electoral votes for JFK – in other words, the 1960 Presidential Election was stolen from Nixon. Nixon basically vowed to never lose another election on account of playing by the rules. This moment is what Hersh and others point to as the birth of Darth Nixon.
So, in other words, you have to dig a little deeper behind the popular image of Nixon – corrupt, sweaty, a lying weasel – to look at the larger arc of his career: a trusted, long-serving public figure, admired in the Senate, and always respected for his political acumen, especially in foreign affairs. About 18 months passed from the time of the Watergate break-in to Nixon’s resignation. It’s during this time, but especially in the last several weeks of the scandal, that the other, deeply paranoid side of Nixon was brought to light.
TLDR: George Lucas was a California quasi-hippy who wrote the earliest story treatments for Star Wars while Nixon’s presidency was either still winding down or had just ended in resignation. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, of course, but the parallels between US politics and the Empire are all there on the surface of SW77. (It’s also worth reiterating that Lucas’ ideas for the Emperor changed even from the time of SW77’s novelization through to Empire and ROTJ.) You have to kind of set aside the Nixon-as-bogeyman caricature of the man and look at his career pre-1960 to understand Lucas’ intent in using him as the basis for Palpatine – a character who nonetheless underwent several more conceptual changes of his own on the way to his future appearances. However, it’s fair to say that Nixon has always been the original real-world inspiration for Palpatine.