Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character 2

On pages 20-21 of Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, Fawn Brodie states:

"Billy Graham, Nixon's 'spiritual adviser,' who had led the prayer breakfasts at the White House and had given the funeral service when Nixon's mother died, described to his own biographer, Marshall Frady, how he vomited after reading the Nixon tape transcripts.  He said, 'I thought like John Wesley when he said, 'When I look into my heart it looks like hell.''  He did not say 'when I look into Nixon's heart,' but 'when I look into my own.'"

Brodie then goes on to say that Graham "soon saw his own escape from responsibility", and she goes on to quote Graham's statement in which he blamed Nixon's downfall on sleeping pills and demons.

Brodie argues that many people seek to differentiate themselves from Nixon, in an attempt to make themselves feel better about themselves, amidst their own shortcomings.  They ask what made Nixon so bad because they want for him to be worse than them, for their problem is that they see a bit of themselves in Nixon.  On page 20, Brodie gives examples: "We need reassurance that his lying is pathological whereas ours is simply 'white' lying, lying out of kindliness or unwillingness to give offense.  We want to be told that our small evasions, if any, in reporting our income tax do not compare with his fraudulently backdating a deed to win a tax break of half a million dollars."

This sort of theme has come up previously in my reading for My Year (or More) of Nixon.  Both Joan Hoff and Monica Crowley contend that Nixon was a scapegoat for flaws within the United States.  And David Greenberg in Nixon's Shadow stated (or perhaps he quoted someone who stated----I don't remember offhand) that a number of Americans could identify with Nixon.  Nixon was one who played roles and wore masks in his life, for instance, and many Americans realize that they do the same thing.

I've been thinking of doing a post on the hit TV series, Breaking Bad, but I'll comment on it here, even though I realize that more people would probably read what I have to say were I to write a separate Breaking Bad post.  More than one Christian blogger has stated that the show teaches them about Christian truths, such as original sin, and the slippery slope on which evil can place a person.  I have to admit that I myself do not think about spirituality when I am watching Breaking Bad.  I'm intrigued by the plot, the characters, and all the money that Walter White is making, but I don't contemplate how the show relates to my life.  I tend to identify with something that Matthew Paul Turner said on Facebook: "The '"Breaking Bad can teach us about God' blog posts are beginning to get old. I've seen at least 5 or 6 today. Why can't a good show just be a good show? Must every good show, song, or movie become a tool for Christians trying to make a mediocre Christian point?"

One reason that I was hesitant to learn any moral lessons from Breaking Bad was that I had a hard time judging Walter White.  Walter had cancer and a kid with special needs, and his jobs weren't making him much money, so he went into the meth business to provide for himself and his family.  It's a "situational ethics" sort of scenario, in which none of the options is great.

As I thought some more, however, there did come to be a time when it was no longer a matter of situational ethics.  Walter's cancer eventually went into remission, so he didn't have to worry about that anymore.  But he continued to be in the meth business.  Why?  Well, he was good at it, and he was making a lot of money.  Moreover, he had lingering resentment because, years before, he was part of a scientific discovery, and he was excluded from the huge profits that were made on it.  He thought that he had been cheated out of what he deserved, and he was making up for that by making tons of money in the meth business.

There, I believe, Breaking Bad teaches me something about morality and spirituality: Can greed and resentment lead me to do something that's wrong, something that ends up hurting people I don't see, and people I do see?  In this case, by looking into Walter White's heart, I see the flaws in my own.

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