Sunday, July 7, 2013

Nixon in Winter 10

I finished Monica Crowley's Nixon in Winter, which is about Monica's time working for Richard Nixon in the 1990's.

My latest reading covered a lot of ground, but here are some items that I noticed:

----Monica says that Nixon was a voracious reader, and she discusses her conversations with him about political theory, as Nixon interacted with the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, and others.  I identified with what Nixon said about Hegel: "Most of the time I can't make out a...thing in this stuff, but once in a while I come across something that makes sense" (page 353).  I feel that way about certain books, myself: I may have a hard time understanding them, but they have a jewel here and there.

----Monica talks about Richard Nixon's relationship with his wife Pat.  She portrays it as a relationship of tenderness and mutual consideration.  And, to be honest, I believe Monica on this.  I've read plenty of books that depict Richard and Pat's marriage to each other quite negatively: I've read that Nixon was dismissive of Pat (and a few authors even say he was abusive), that Pat dressed Nixon down in public, that Nixon and Pat hadn't made love with each other in years, etc.  But it wouldn't surprise me if they still had some mutual respect and affection for each other that grew over the years.  And maybe their relationship was better after Nixon left the political arena and could spend more time with her (though he continued to participate in the political arena as an elder statesman).

----I enjoyed reading about Nixon's Halloween party in his lawn, which he opened up to people on Halloween.  Nixon saw a guy wearing a Richard Nixon mask, and Nixon said to him, "Hello, Mr. President!"  As Nixon looked at the party and saw people wearing Nixon and Reagan masks, Nixon remarked to Monica that he never saw that many Presidents in one place in his life!

----Monica's narration of Nixon's response to his wife's sickness and death was sad and highlighted Nixon's humanity and vulnerability.

----Monica appears to portray Nixon as one who was racing against death, who perhaps was hoping to cheat death by keeping active (through writing books and articles, visiting foreign countries, etc.), or was trying to accomplish as much as he could before he died.  But people Nixon loved, respected, or knew----Pat, John Connally, H.R. Haldeman, Tip O'Neill, etc.----were dying around him.  Monica said that Nixon's career, even his life, was characterized by him making comebacks after experiencing setbacks.  Monica even goes back to when Nixon fell out of a buggy at a very young age and got back up again, an incident that some like to mention in attempting to account for Nixon's insecurity, but which Monica highlights as an example of his tenacity.  But Nixon could not make a comeback after death, Monica notes (though the possibility of an afterlife comes up in her book at least once).

----Monica portrays Nixon as somewhat of a scapegoat.  On page 407, she states: "In order to justify both his removal from office in view of our failure to hold others to the same high ethical standards and our provision of excuses for them where we would allow none for Nixon, we have told ourselves repeatedly that we did the right thing to him.  [T]he relentless attack on him, even as others commit crimes as egregious and are allowed to survive, has evolved into a national psychological exercise aimed at convincing ourselves that our recent history is not as damaging as it seems----and that it was solely Nixon's fault...In him, we found a receptacle for all of our self-hatred and misguided upheaval.  In his wrongdoing, we found shelter from our own."

----In light of that passage on page 407, I should say a word or two about Nixon's responses to scandals in Monica's book.  A lot of times, it is Nixon whining about how the Republicans get the shaft while the Democrats get away with immoralities.  Nixon and Monica talked about the issue of sexual harassment during the Clarence Thomas hearings and the Bob Packwood scandal, and, while Monica was explaining to Nixon why sexual harassment was wrong, Nixon's focus seemed to be on partisanship: how Democrats did the same things that Republicans were being criticized for doing, yet it was a scandal when Republicans did them.  (Monica does discuss other things that Nixon asked about sexual harassment, however, such as what it was, how it could be proved, etc.)  That just gets old after a while.  Shouldn't our focus be on what is right and what is wrong, and why, rather than the double-standards that exist in the world?

At the same time, Monica in her book does discuss the degeneration of standards in American politics: that politicians in the past did not get by with the things that politicians today get by with.  An affair sank Gary Hart, but not Bill Clinton.  And Monica on page 320 mentions Iran-Contra and how that was not as big of a deal to many Americans as Watergate was.  Remember that Iran-Contra was a Republican scandal.  There is still arguably a double-standard: as Nixon said, Iran-Contra was no worse than Kennedy going over Congress' head and attempting to overthrow Castro, yet Kennedy is rarely criticized for that.  But there's something more going on than Republicans getting the shaft for things that the Democrats do, too: there is a degeneration going on.  (NOTE: there is more to Monica's argument, so I may not be characterizing it with complete accuracy.  She talks about how "Personal character was deemed less important to the responsible execution of public duties while political character was still expected to be unimpeachable."  She also criticizes certain ethics laws as unrealistic in light of human nature.  Still, my impression is that she does portray a degeneration going on, and she contends that Nixon was in some way a scapegoat for the country's moral failings.)

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