For my blog post today on Jules Witcover's Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, I'll comment on three passages.
On page 147, we read: "It wasn't so much that Nixon was down on Agnew,
John Sears said later, as that he was up on Connally. At the same time,
he said, Nixon's lack of self-confidence, and his consequent
self-loathing, led him to tear down others. 'If you were out of his
presence and there were any way to pick you apart, he'd do it,' Sears
said. 'That way he didn't feel so badly about himself. Of all the
people who hated Nixon, Nixon had the lowest opinion of himself [of]
anybody. It was always, 'Everybody's against me.''"
about Connally and Agnew relates to a key plot-line in this book:
President Richard Nixon was seriously contemplating replacing
Vice-President Spiro Agnew with Democrat John Connally----who had been a
governor of Texas (actually, he was the man who sat in front of John F.
Kennedy when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas) and was later
appointed by Nixon to be Secretary of the Treasury. Agnew was making a
lot of blunders, as when he said in Africa that the African leaders were
so much better than the African-American leaders in the United States
(which Nixon agreed with, but he didn't think that Agnew should have
said that). Meanwhile, Nixon liked Connally because Connally stroked
Nixon's ego (as when Connally compared Nixon to Lincoln), was tough, was
better Presidential material in Nixon's eyes than Agnew, and offered
what Nixon considered to be good advice (as when Connally said that
Nixon needs to stop being stiff and become more passionate in public,
which probably resonated with Nixon's fighting spirit). That Nixon thought the world of Connally is evident in Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record, for Nixon even during the 1990's was quoting Connally in his conversations with Monica.
insecurity comes up a few times in Witcover's book. According to
Witcover, Nixon was drawn to strong men like Agnew and Connally because
of his own sense of inadequacy. Yet, Nixon didn't like to be upstaged,
and that was one of his problems with Agnew. When Agnew in a meeting
was advising Nixon to be tough on attacking Cambodia----when Nixon was
advocating a more moderate policy than Agnew was----Nixon did not like
for Agnew to appear tougher than Nixon before other people. Connally
was tough, and yet he also seemed to be more of a team-player.
passage on page 147 inspired me to ask: "Can a person truly hate
himself?" Christians debate this. Some say that Jesus' statement that
we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves encourages self-love,
in a time when people have difficulty loving themselves. Others counter
that Jesus was taking for granted that people love themselves----that
even those with self-pity or low self-confidence wish the best for
themselves. I think that Nixon loved himself in the sense that he
desired his own advancement, but I also believe that Nixon was
disappointed in himself, seeing himself as limited in areas.
On page 144, we read: "Around this time, the Nixon White House launched
new revenue-sharing proposals with the governors, as part of a
government reorganization. Agnew had been led to believe he would be
importantly involved. However, under the label 'the New American
Revolution,' the vice-president found himself relegated to the job of
salesman of the stump while [George] Schultz, as head of the newly
reorganized Office of Management and Budget, and [John] Ehrlichman, as
overseer of all domestic affairs, became the policy heavies. Agnew felt
that as a former county executive and governor, he was well-qualified
to be in the middle of things rather than simply a huckster for this new
Witcover talks about Agnew's attempt to cultivate a
role for himself as Vice-President. It's a problem that many
Vice-Presidents throughout history have had, including Richard Nixon
when he was Dwight Eisenhower's Vice-President. Agnew threw himself
with gusto into the role of being the President of the Senate, which
impressed some of the Senators there. And Agnew also was a popular
speaker, as he attacked liberal elites. Yet, Agnew wanted more than
that. He desired more influence on policy and more administrative
responsibilities. Perhaps he thought that anyone could preside
over the Senate or go across the country delivering a Pat
Buchanan-written speech with passion, but that one was truly valued when
his opinions on policy were accepted, or when he was entrusted with
leading a project.
Can I identify with this? Right now,
I'd be happy to have a job that makes me some money. But suppose I
already had economic security. In that case, would I desire something
more, such as respect?
On the issue of revenue-sharing, the
passage on page 144 calls to my mind an earlier part of Witcover's book,
which said that Agnew actually disagreed with Nixon on welfare-reform.
Agnew wanted a single national policy, whereas Nixon was for the states
developing their own policy. Could this have been one factor behind
Agnew's exclusion from playing an administrative or policy-laden role in
the so-called new American revolution? I doubt it was the only factor,
for Nixon does appear to have been rather clannish in how he ran the
White House, trusting only an inner-circle. But it could have been one
3. On page 169, Witcover quotes Nixon as saying: "That's
the thing. [Agnew] went to China, he's been to Korea, you know, he's
been to all these places....Well, that's the danger. A little bit of
knowledge and you become an expert. You go to Taiwan once, and 'I know
about the China thing. I know Chiang Kai-shek, I know more than they
even think they know.' But Agnew doesn't see the point there...You
know, Henry, the thing about the Agnew thing that irritates me is...we
handled this Chinese thing with extreme subtlety and skill and got good
credit for it, and [referring to the press] now these sons of bitches
will jump on the Agnew thing."
The context of this passage is
Agnew's public questioning of a policy of U.S. normalization of
relations with Communist China, right when Nixon was supporting this
policy. Agnew was very pro-Taiwan, and his anti-Communism led him to be
a fierce critic of Communist China. But Nixon thought that Agnew had
tunnel-vision and was not sensitive to certain nuances in the situation,
such as the impact that U.S. normalization with Communist China would
have on the Soviet Union, which had differences with Communist China.
Again, in Nixon's eyes, Agnew was not being a very good team player.
issue of Agnew being one of the more conservative members of the Nixon
Administration comes up more than once in this book. Agnew does not
always voice his disagreements publicly, however, for he often sent
memos criticizing a person or a policy within the Nixon Administration
as too liberal. Agnew was probably seen as somewhat of a pain within
the Administration, and definitely as a loose-cannon when he said
something inappropriate in public, even going so far as to disagree
publicly with Nixon's policy.
The part about Agnew thinking that
he's an expert stood out to me because it made me think about how some
people think that they're experts on something, just because they've
read a few books. I am guilty of this as well! I read a couple of
books on foreign policy, and I suddenly see myself as some expert! But
I'm not an expert. Far from it. There is much more to read. Heck,
becoming an expert may entail not just reading, but experiencing certain
people, places, and situations. I'm not an expert on much, but I'm
learning. And even experts can learn more than they currently know,
which means that we're all learning, even if some are more advanced than
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