I finished Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990. On page 586, Ambrose asks questions about Nixon that a number of people have asked: "What made Richard Nixon what he was? How could a man who had so much talent, brains, ambition, and success feel so insecure, so snubbed, so unrewarded?" Ambrose goes on to say: "It is not insignificant that with all the words expended on him, Nixon himself has provided the most insightful analysis." Ambrose then quotes Nixon as saying the following:
"What starts the process really are the
laughs and snubs and slights you get when you are a kid. Sometimes it's
because you're poor or Irish or Jewish or ugly or simply that you are
skinny. But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep
enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes
by excellence, personal gut performance, while those who have
everything are sitting on their fat butts....[When you get to the top]
You find you can't stop playing the game the way you've always played it
because it is a part of you and you need it as much as you do an arm or
a leg. So you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to
walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become
fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your
Hugh Sidey said the following about his own
understanding of Nixon's self-image: "Born clumsy, not very good
looking, to parents who were overworked, overburdened, harsh.
Confronted by poverty, by a society that was wealthy and did not much
care about him. Ridiculed in early life and always. Yet there was a
fierce talent beneath all that. He kept everything----resentment and
talent. He understood that his success depended on him developing his
mind and at least to some degree getting along in society. But he never
abandoned his black impulses to lash out at the world which made him
kind of lumpy and uncoordinated and denied him warmth and security."
characterizes Nixon as one with drive----who kept coming back even
after people thought he was through. Was it an angry "I'll show them"
attitude that propelled Nixon's drive? Perhaps. The thing is, Ambrose
argues that there were downsides to the way that Nixon did things. For
example, the way that Nixon surprised people with his proposals and
ideas after keeping them a secret was not conducive to him building
bridges with the Congress (which he scorned) and thereby achieving
lasting results. It's hard to completely stereotype Nixon on this, for
he did work with people. As Sidey said, Nixon learned that, his
introversion and anger notwithstanding, he had to learn to get along in
society. And yet, Nixon alienated many because he struck them as a
glory-hog and as one who did things by and for himself, without a great
deal of collaboration.
A part of me admires Nixon's "screw you"
approach. I admire it in President Barack Obama! Remember when Obama
gave his second inaugural address, displaying a salient commitment to a
progressive agenda, and then he went on to send in his nomination of
Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, even though Hagel was being
criticized by prominent Republicans? I loved it! But Obama has been
criticized for not collaborating with the Republicans enough, and for
not building bridges with the Congress. Maybe that sort of approach
does inhibit things from getting done. And yet, I wonder what would
have happened had Republicans been included more in the process of
health care reform. Would they have killed it?