I have three items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972. The setting for the three items will be the year 1965.
1. On page 63, we read about Pat Nixon's boredom:
husband and younger daughter worried about her. Julie recorded in her
diary how she and her father 'took a long walk along Madison Avenue' and
agreed 'that Mother needed something to do.'"
Pat Nixon loved
living in New York City, with all of its activity and its stores. Yet,
she found herself bored. As a very private person, she didn't really
care for campaigning, with "all those smiles, all those empty phrases,
all those strangers" (page 63). She was like her daughter Tricia in
that respect, whereas Richard Nixon made himself campaign even though he
didn't enjoy it, and their daughter Julie actually did like
campaigning. But now that Pat wasn't involved in campaigning, she was
bored, and her participation in charity work was not satisfying her.
This reminds me of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique,
which was about how a number of women become bored with their
responsibilities as mothers and housewives, since they need a channel
for their creativity and intelligence. I think that Pat enjoyed being a
mother, for she loved her daughters very much, but Pat wanted more to
I also found it sweet that Richard Nixon and Julie were
concerned about Pat----and Nixon highlighted to Julie the importance of
people making a contribution in order to be happy. I gather from my
reading for my Year (or More) of Nixon that Nixon was not always a
considerate husband to Pat: he could be dismissive to her, he treated
her as an afterthought, and some (such as Don Folsom) have even argued
that there were more serious issues than that (which I will discuss when
I get into Folsom's book). But, in this part of Ambrose's book, Nixon
was considerate, caring, and empathetic. As Ambrose highlights in his
Foreword, Nixon could be both cold and considerate. He was a paradox.
2. On page 67, we read about Nixon's relationship with his writers:
Hess, who had been helping Nixon with his writing before 1965,
explained some of the factors in Nixon's success in his relationship
with writers. The first was Nixon's high regard for the writing
process. Nixon had found writing Six Crises to be difficult;
he told Hess 'it was one of the hardest and most satisfying things I've
ever done.' So he respected writers and their craft. Second, Nixon
worked closely with his speech writers, going over drafts word by word,
questioning, judging, inserting, drawing a blue pencil through a
line----the most intimate kind of work. Third, Nixon was always
generous with his praise. After a major speech, he would call Safire,
or Buchanan, or Hess, or whoever helped him write it, to say thanks.
Even better, he would refer to a specific line written by his aide, and
point out how well it had gone over with the audience, and thank the
writer again. For a speech writer in politics, this is a most unusual,
and wonderfully heady, experience. Fourth, Nixon was personally fond of
his writers, and showed it."
Surrounding this passage, there is
more about Nixon's thoughts on his speech writers, William Safire and
Pat Buchanan, as well as Nixon's generosity towards Hess. Ambrose says
that Safire was not the sort of person one would expect Nixon to like,
for Safire "was a young Jewish intellectual with a quick wit and a way
with words, with a sardonic approach to the hoopla of politics and an
honest man's disapproval of the corruption of politics" (page 67). Yet,
Safire and Nixon liked each other. Safire at times disagreed with
Nixon's strategy, as when Nixon was attacking the Governor of Rhode
Island for tolerating a Marxist professor at Rutgers University who said
he would welcome a Vietcong victory. Safire said Nixon was using
"early-fifties-style anti-Communism" (Ambrose's words on page 74).
Nixon apparently did not get mad at Safire for saying this. Nixon just
replied: "Oh, I know you and the rest of the intellectuals won't like
it...But somebody had to take 'em on. Imagine a professor teaching that
line to kids." Regarding Pat Buchanan, Safire says that Nixon "liked
Buchanan's eccentric mind, his passionate involvement, his wide-ranging
knowledge of politics, and his speech-writing ability" (page 67). And,
on Nixon's generosity to Hess, Nixon paid Hess $5,000 of the $10,000
Nixon got from an article on Vietnam for the Saturday Evening Post.
As Hess said, back in those days one could go to Europe and remodel his
house with $5,000, plus the article under Hess' name would have gotten
Hess only $1,000!
This was all good stuff, but what I most liked
was how Nixon came to respect writers after he himself had experienced
the ardor of the writing process. Nixon liked to call writing Six Crises his seventh crisis. Of course, that was before Watergate!
Nixon was trying to rekindle a relationship with Nikita Khrushchev of
the Soviet Union, even though Khrushchev was out of power. But
Khrushchev apparently didn't want to see Nixon! On page 65, Ambrose
comments on Nixon's debate with Khrushchev back when Nixon as
Vice-President visited the Soviet Union: "The story that accompanied the
photo contained ample reminders of the glorious moment when Nixon had
been the man who stood up to Khrushchev, at a time when Khrushchev's
name was enough to frighten half the world to death."
like Ambrose is praising Nixon, and perhaps he is. But Ambrose also
criticizes Nixon a lot in this book, sometimes quite sarcastically!