I finished Bruce Mazlish's In Search of Nixon: A Psychohistorical Inquiry.
pages 144-145, Mazlish quotes Richard Nixon expressing his fantasy of
being an academic: "If I had my druthers, I'd like to write two or three
books a year, go to one of the fine schools----Oxford, for
instance----just teach, read, and write...In order to make a decision,
an individual should sit on his rear end and dig into the
books. Very few executives do it. They listen to this side and that,
but they don't go to the sources. In this respect, I'm like
Stevenson...He was an intellectual and he needed time to contemplate."
liked this passage for a couple of reasons. First, I myself think that
it would be an ideal life to teach, read, and write, and to get paid
for doing so. Second, I appreciated Nixon's admiration for Adlai
Stevenson----the Democrat who ran against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and
1956, and who attacked Nixon with his witty barbs. In Six Crises,
on page 96, Nixon criticizes Stevenson as one who was indecisive. But,
in Mazlish's quotation of Nixon, Nixon recognizes a possible reason for
Stevenson's indecisiveness: Stevenson needed time to think. For me at
least, it's heart-warming when people can see good even in their foes.
Nixon be as sensitive to nuance, as an academic should be? My
impression from reading details in Mazlish's book is that Nixon became
more sensitive to nuance, especially when it came to the issue of
Communism. When Nixon visited Latin America and encountered mobs, Nixon
tended to reduce Communism in Latin America to those mobs. According
to Mazlish, Nixon most likely did not talk with Marxist intellectuals to
hear what they had to say, and Nixon was wrong to assume that the mobs
represented the sum total of Communism, as it would be erroneous to
think that lynchings in the South represent the sum total of the
Southern political system. Yet, Nixon came to recognize different
shades of Communism, and he concluded as President that China was not as
intent on aggression against other countries as it used to be. I doubt
that Nixon would say that he grew. When Nixon was asked if his visit
to China as President demonstrated that there were two Nixons----the old
Nixon who opposed Communist China, and the new Nixon who visited
it----Nixon retorted that there were actually two Chinas! (I base this, not on Mazlish, but rather my seeing Nixon on television.) Nixon
apparently thought that his position in the past was correct, within
that historical context, but his view changed as the context changed.
one thing that I have respected about Nixon in my reading so far has
been his openness to knowledge. In reading Irwin Gellman's The Contender,
I noticed that Nixon visited Europe when he was a Congressman and
talked with a variety of people, even Communists. Nixon was eager to
learn why Europeans would be susceptible to Communism, and he learned
that Communists provided services (i.e., a place to get a sandwich) in a
time when Europe was impoverished in the aftermath of World War II.
Nixon still could be pretty dogmatic: sometimes he put words into
people's mouths (as Stephen Ambrose says), or heard what he wanted to
hear rather than what people were saying. But, at times, he was a good
listener when he sought to learn.
Weekly Meanderings on the Fourth of July
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