My latest reading of Richard Nixon’s 1962 book, Six Crises, focused on Nixon’s response to losing the 1960 Presidential election.
Nixon tries to be a good loser. Well, actually, he says that he hates losing, and he also has a passage about how women are even more upset when their men lose than the men themselves are! But Nixon tries to follow the advice of his football coach at Whittier College, Chief Newman, who said that we should hate losing but should blame ourselves when we lose, not others. Nixon blames himself for not communicating his message adequately—-to African-Americans, to the press, etc. While Nixon believes that newspaper-writers should leave their opinions out of their news stories, he says that he’d rather have that than for freedom of the press to be lost, and he notes that he (unlike Kennedy) did not exert pressure on writers when he considered their coverage of him to be biased. Nixon also explains why he chose not to demand a recount in certain counties, after he has related some pretty shady details about ghost-votes going to Kennedy! Essentially, Nixon wanted for there to be a smooth and speedy transition of power, and he did not want to make the system of free elections look bad to the rest of the world, especially the countries that were trying elections out. Consequently, Nixon accepted Kennedy’s victory.
Nixon does not express regrets about some of the moves that he made. He is glad that he did not inflame the issue of Kennedy’s religion (Catholicism). Nixon also did not attack Kennedy’s family, such as the fact that one of the companies owned by JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy, only hired African-Americans for low-level or menial positions. Nixon is proud of the fact that he focused only on JFK’s qualifications and his ideology.
Speaking of JFK’s ideology, it was interesting to me that Kennedy was much more honest when he met personally with Nixon after the election than he was during his campaign (and I’m basing this observation on Nixon’s description of the meeting). I’m not saying that Kennedy was dishonest during the campaign, mind you, but you know how politics are: You always have to look good, as if you have your act together, plus you have to try not to alienate people. When Kennedy met with Nixon privately, however, Kennedy appeared to express some reservations about his own farm policy (Nixon during the election thought that Kennedy was making farmers some pretty outlandish promises), as well as discusses the challenges of working with the new Congress, since it was hard to get liberal policies out of a body where Republicans could unite with conservative Democrats from the South. Kennedy in his private meeting with Nixon was much more honest about the challenges of governing.
While I’m on the topic of Kennedy’s meeting with Nixon, the topic of social skills stood out to me. Nixon talks about Herbert Hoover calling him after the 1960 election, and Nixon says that Hoover, like former Eisenhower aide Sherman Adams, was not big on small talk: Hoover preferred to cut to the chase rather than spending time on amenities. Kennedy, by contrast, was much better at small talk: when Kennedy called Nixon, he asked how the weather was, and if Nixon was getting some rest after the election. Small talk is something that I need to work on. It seems that some people could advance without it—-I think of Herbert Hoover—-and perhaps that’s because it’s easier on some jobs to bypass small talk and to focus primarily on tasks. Or maybe Hoover could do small talk whenever he had to do so, but he avoided it when he did not deem it necessary. One thing to note about Sherman Adams is that, according to Stephen Ambrose, Adams did not have many friends during the scandal that led to his departure from office (namely, he accepted a gift), and that could have been because of his off-putting social mannerisms.
Nixon also talks about friendship and how a number of people in politics are fair-weather friends. He mentions his friend, Bebe Rebozo, as an example of someone who remained his friend, during highs and lows. This stood out to me on account of Ambrose’s narration that Nixon himself tended to leave friends behind when he moved to a different setting, focusing instead on those he was currently working with. But there were exceptions to that, such as Bebe Rebozo.
Nixon closes his book by saying that he may return to public life. Nixon refers to the Greek poet Sophocles, who said that “One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.” Nixon says that the evening of his life has not yet come, yet his life up to that point has been splendid. Of course, this book was written a little over a decade before Watergate and Nixon resigning from the Presidency in disgrace. But perhaps Nixon in the evening of his life still thought that his life was splendid. He had gotten to travel to a lot of places, and he wrote thoughtful books on foreign policy after his resignation. There were good things in his life, notwithstanding his scandal.