My latest reading of Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character was a summary of Brodie's psychological analysis of Richard Nixon. Brodie essentially argues that Nixon was unloved as a child, and she states that Nixon's father was for winning at all costs, whereas his mother tended to stretch the truth when it suited her. As a result, Nixon had a hunger for adulation, and he sought that through political success. In the process of this, he stretched the truth, and he tried to win at all costs. Earlier in the book, Brodie states that Nixon's environment enabled him to have the confidence to pursue his political dreams. Had Nixon been at Harvard, the competition would have made it much harder for him to do so, but Nixon was at Whittier, where his ambitions were more attainable.
Elsewhere in the book, Brodie
raises other considerations. She speculates that Nixon's lying may go
back to when he had to lie or adroitly manipulate the truth in order to
avoid the discipline at the hands of his harsh father. In the endnotes,
she cites Bruce Mazlish's claim that Nixon did not rebel as a youth,
and, "as a result," he did not bow "so totally before authority"
(Mazlish's words, quoted on page 524). The idea here may be that Nixon
was rebelling against his parents' authoritarianism when he did
ethically-compromising things as an adult. Brodie also states that
Nixon may have lied to make himself feel better: when someone prominent
criticized him, Nixon went on to tell the story that this person had
actually praised him. Lying made it easier for him to cope, in short.
point that Brodie makes is that Nixon felt rather strangled by Quaker
Whittier, which was one of the places where he grew up. Brodie states
that Nixon liked the "erosion of even the stoutest Quaker virtues"
(Brodie's words) that occurred when oil was discovered in the 1920's,
and she believes that this sentiment underlies Nixon's frequent
statements as President that America was "the richest and strongest
nation on earth" (Nixon's words), with "richest" coming first. Brodie
states that many in Whittier felt threatened by "the fantasy world of
Hollywood" and the "surrounding Chicano society, with its taverns and
dancehalls, its well-attended Catholic churches, with its more
spontaneous gaiety" (page 501), and she seems to present Nixon rebelling
against this protective Whittier mentality. Nixon was drawn to acting
and celebrities, he thought of practicing law in Havana, Cuba, and he
enjoyed vacationing in the Caribbean.
Is there anything to
Brodie's analysis? I don't rule it out. Nixon biographer Stephen
Ambrose did not seem to find that kind of argumentation overly
convincing, for, as he notes, many people feel insufficiently loved by
their parents, and not all of them turn out as Richard Nixon did. The
thing is, though, people are different, and thus they respond to
situations in different ways.
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