Monday, January 13, 2014

Kennedy & Nixon 8

On pages 254-255 of Kennedy & Nixon, Chris Matthews relates something that Stephen Hess related about Richard Nixon’s attitude towards political “scut work” (Matthews’ words).  Matthews quotes Hess as saying:

“[Nixon] was telling me about how he was a law student at Duke during the Depression and had a summer job.  He had a professor who couldn’t sell his textbook to a commercial publisher, so he decides he’s going to mimeograph it and sell it to his students.  Nixon gets the job of cranking the mimeograph machine…in the North Carolina summer in an airless room.  And the reason he’s telling me this story is that the end justifies the means.  He needed to get his law degree, and he would do anything, including cranking the mimeograph machine in the North Carolina heat…all summer, to get the money to be a law student.  That’s the way he treated politics.  It’s what you’ve got to do.”

For one, I have to admire Nixon’s law professor who couldn’t find a publisher for his textbook, and thus sought another way to make money off of it and to put it into the hands of people who might find it useful.  It’s undoubtedly hard for a writer to pour so much time and energy into a project, only for that project to be rejected.  But one can try to find other ways to release one’s work to the public, so that one’s hard work is not in vain.  Some authors go the route of self-publication.  Others blog.  Sure, that’s second best, and one may still want to keep on looking for publishers for one’s work, but those are ways for writers to get their names out there and their work in the world of ideas.  It may be easier now than it was in the past, due to the existence of blogging.  When life closes a door, one should ask, “What can I do?” rather than obsessing over the shut door.

Second, Nixon looks back at his days of scarcity—-his days of small things (to echo Zechariah 4:10)—-as something that can instruct him during his time of prosperity.  He learned the value of hard work back when he was an economizing law student.  I think that’s good, just as long as one does not forget those who helped along the way.  It’s easy for one to develop an “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” mentality and then to judge those who are poor, and that (in my opinion) is a wrong mindset to have.

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