I started Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character. This is largely characterized as a negative work about Richard Nixon, and it has been criticized for some of its conclusions as well as for its psychological analysis. I decided to read it, however, because it talks a lot about Richard Nixon's early life, and this is a subject that is actually my favorite part of the books about Richard Nixon that I have read.
I'm thinking of departing from my usual practice of
blogging about what I read each day. There are some days when I notice
more than one item in my reading that I would like to blog about, but
there are other days when I don't see any topic in my reading
that I would like to blog about. I may just write about whatever
passage I want, without regard for whether it is in that day's reading,
or was in a previous day's reading.
On page 26, Brodie says the following:
along the edge of the law. Some Americans always saw this in Nixon,
but many more saw sincerity, piety, small-town virtue, and a disarming
na[i]vet[e]. Nixon's extraordinary success in hiding his dishonesty
over the years has to do in part with the nature of his lying...Oscar
Wilde, in his essay 'The Decay of Lying,' wrote that 'the aim of the
liar is simply to charm, to delight, to give pleasure. He is the very
basis of civilized society, and without him a dinner party, even at the
mansions of the great, is as dull as a lecture at the Royal Society.'
'Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things,' he concluded, 'is the
proper aim of Art.'"
Brodie goes on to say that "Nixon never lied
to delight, although there is evidence that he delighted in lying."
I can identify with what she says about Richard Nixon's appeal. When
many people see Richard Nixon, they think he's a deceiver, with his
shifty eyes and his equivocations. Maybe there's truth to that. What I
see is someone like Ward Cleaver: fair-minded, compassionate, wise,
sincere, unafraid to be himself. And I have to admit: there is a part
of me that enjoys reading his stories about his life. They seem to
evoke 1950's myths.
At the same time, I also identify with what
many consider to be the "real" Nixon: insecure, and bad at interacting
with people. I tend to admire Nixon for rising to a position of
prominence, even though he had flaws. Yet, the way that he politically
rose is not exactly admirable to me, for essentially he rose by
shredding his political opponents to pieces. His handling of the Hiss
case is something that I admire more, however, for, even according to
some of the anti-Nixon narratives, Nixon's political career was on the
line when he was going after Alger Hiss. Nixon was taking a risk, in
I guess that I'm the sort of person who likes a mixture of
myth and realism. I like a story that is beautiful and inspiring, while
also acknowledging people's flaws. I'm a romantic realist! Still, I want to know when the myth is inaccurate, even if that may be disappointing to me.