My blog post today about Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life will focus on a couple of items on page 556. They concern Richard Nixon's relationship with Robert "Bud" McFarlane, who served as President Ronald Reagan's National Security Adviser.
frustrated with Reagan, mentioning to Aitken his "difficulties in
overcoming President Reagan's inability to understand foreign policy"
(McFarlane's words). But Nixon would offer tips to McFarlane on how he
could explain foreign policy to Reagan ("Put it to him this way"), and
McFarlane said that the advice would often work.
Over a year after
quitting his job as National Security Adviser, McFarlane would try to
kill himself on account of the controversy surrounding the Iran-Contra
affair. Aitken narrates about McFarlane that "The morning after he was
coming round from his drug overdose in February 1987, his first visitor
at Bethesda Naval Hospital was the 37th President of the United
States." Nixon tried to make McFarlane feel better, knowing that
McFarlane would be portrayed as weak by the media. Nixon told McFarlane
that Churchill and de Gaulle endured their "black dogs." Nixon also
encouraged McFarlane to continue his practice of prayer and Bible
reading, since those could be an anchor to him, and having faith could
get McFarlane through his hard times. And Nixon exhorted McFarlane to
look to the future, not the past, when getting out of the hospital, and
to go earn himself some money. McFarlane relates that "Coming from him,
I can't tell you what a tonic that encouragement was."
There are a
lot of issues here. I could identify with both Reagan's difficulty in
understanding foreign policy (assuming that what McFarlane says is
true), as well as McFarlane's struggle to explain it to him. It's
refreshing when someone cares about how well we are learning, enough to
explain things to us in a way that we can understand, rather than just
writing us off as slow or dumb.
Nixon's visit to McFarlane in the
hospital was inspiring to me. It illustrates one of the reasons that I
enjoy Aitken's book: it has stories about Nixon's kindness to people,
that I have not found in other books. I agree with Nixon that prayer
and Bible reading can be an anchor in hard times. They are often things
that I hold onto----since I need something to hold onto.
Moreover, Nixon's encouragement of McFarlane is actually an
encouragement to me, a motivation for me to get back up and try after
setbacks, as I attempt to look to the future rather than the past.