I have two items for my write-up today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician.
1. In Oliver Stone's 1995 movie Nixon,
Richard Nixon's brother Harold dies of tuberculosis, and Harold's death
allows the Nixon family to have enough money for Richard to go to law
school. Richard's mother, Hannah (played by Mary Steenburgen), tells
Richard that law school is Harold's "gift" to him. Richard
incredulously responds, "Did he have to die for me to get it?"
Years later on the movie, when Richard Nixon is President, Richard
reflects that two deaths paved the way for him to become President:
Harold's, and that of Bobby Kennedy, who could have won the 1968
Presidential election had he not been assassinated.
I don't know
how much of this, if any of it, reflects reality. (UPDATE: On page 72, Ambrose says that "Hannah thought that Dick might
have felt guilty about surviving Arthur's and Harold's deaths", and that
doesn't sound to me like she was contributing to his survivor's
guilt.) In my reading of
Ambrose, it did seem that Harold's tuberculosis was holding Richard
Nixon back, on some level. Nixon got a scholarship to Harvard, but he
did not have enough money to move to Massachusetts and live there, and
Ambrose says that one reason was the cost to Nixon's family of treating
Harold's tuberculosis. Ambrose does say, however, that Harold's death
made Richard Nixon lonelier and even more standoffish, and that Richard
could have been less so had Harold lived, since Harold was gregarious.
Ambrose says on page 72:
"Harold's death played an important role
in [Richard's] loneliness, because Harold was his best chance at
establishing an open, trusting, honest, loving adult relationship with
another human being. Harold could have thrown an arm around him, given
him a hug, penetrated his mysteries, told him to stop being such a
stuffed shirt, taught him to laugh and see the funny side of life, in
general made him loosen up and enjoy himself...But Harold was not
healthy enough to do these things for Dick before he died, and no one
else could take his place."
2. On pages 57-58, Ambrose discusses
an essay that Nixon wrote in 1933 about his religious beliefs, in which
Nixon sought to reconcile the Bible with science. Nixon was raised to
regard the Bible as infallible and as literally correct, and his parents
warned him "not to be misled by college professors" at Whittier, a
Quaker college (page 58). Nixon wrote that he believed in God as the
creator, but he did not think that Jesus was God's son in a physical
sense, but rather in the sense that Jesus "reached the highest
conception of God...His life was so perfect that he 'mingled' his soul
with God's" (Nixon's words). Nixon had problems with the story that
Jesus rose physically from the dead, saying, "I believe we in the modern
world will find a real resurrection in the life and teachings of
This coincides with something that I read in William Martin's book With God on Our Side:
that Chuck Colson said that Nixon did not take Jesus' resurrection
literally. Apparently, Nixon carried some of his liberal religious
views for quite a long time, from 1933 through his Presidency.
my reading about Nixon thus far, religion has been an interesting topic
in the few times that it has come up. Both Irwin Gellman and Stephen
Ambrose tell the story, for example, about how Nixon's father Frank felt
after the death of one of his sons that God was punishing him for
keeping his store open on Sundays, and so he closed the store on Sundays
and became more religious. I wonder if Richard Nixon rejected that
sort of view when he became more of a theological liberal.
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