Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 2

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:

"Her 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 do.

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:

"Steve 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!

3. 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."

This sounds like Ambrose is praising Nixon, and perhaps he is.  But Ambrose also criticizes Nixon a lot in this book, sometimes quite sarcastically!

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