Monday, October 21, 2013

Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character 11

I finished Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character.  On pages 513-514, Brodie states:

"Pat Nixon told Jessamyn West that in the early years Julie and Tricia could make their father laugh, and 'he could make them laugh.'  The fun, the laughter, what Pat described as 'the good times,' had long since disappeared in the relationship between Nixon and his wife.  But he did write her notes.  Dianne Sawyer, secretary in the White House, who accompanied the Nixons to San Clemente in their retirement and remained there until the memoirs were finished, has said that Nixon wrote many notes to Pat, which she was privileged to read, although she would not indicate the number or divulge the nature of the contents.  (She has taken 'a private oath' not to write or give interviews about her experience, at least while the Nixons are alive.)  Publication of these notes to Pat, or even a description of their feeling and content, may reveal a tenderness to Nixon which he has otherwise resolutely kept hidden.  In any case the very recourse to notewriting tells us more of the warping of Nixon's capacity for love."

One thing that this passage tells me is that nobody can write a fully-orbed biography of another human being.  Fawn Brodie, with all of her speculations about the psychology of Richard Nixon, cannot capture the full man.  Nixon, after all, wrote many letters to Pat.  Brodie may call that "the warping of Nixon's capacity for love", but the fact that he wrote letters to his wife may indicate that he did care about her, even though Brodie tells story after story about how that may not have been the case.

Now that Richard and Pat Nixon are dead, I wonder how much Diane Sawyer has chosen to talk about her time working for Nixon.  You can read here her responses to the Broadway play, Frost/Nixon, which later was made into a movie.  Someone played her in that.  Also, if I'm not mistaken, ABC News not long ago did a story on Nixon's love letters to Pat when they were courting.  As far as I can remember, though, Diane Sawyer did not give any indication that she knew much about the topic of Nixon's letters to Pat.  Perhaps she didn't think that was the time or the place for that!

Now for my overall impressions of Brodie's book: it was all right.  I didn't read anything earth-shakingly surprising.  I'm not sure if any anti-Nixon book can surpass Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power!  Summers drew from Brodie's work and even recommended it, but he had a lot more stories than she did.  Brodie's book has had a mixed reputation: it has been lauded for its interviews, but it has been criticized for its psychological speculations, and also for some of the negative things that it says about Nixon.  One criticism that I have read is that Brodie implies that Nixon had a homosexual relationship with his friend, Bebe Rebozo.  But she did not say that explicitly.  She simply said that they were friends, and that Nixon did not want people to think that he had a homosexual relationship with Rebozo.  She also mentions some of the homophobic things that Nixon had said.  I guess one can draw his or her own conclusions from that, but Brodie did not go as far as, say, Don Fulsom, who told about a lady who saw Nixon and Rebozo holding hands under the table.

Overall, I did find Brodie to be a good writer, and sometime in the future I may read her biography of Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican who was played by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Lincoln.

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