In Search of Nixon 2

For my write-up today on In Search of Nixon: A Psychohistorical Inquiry, I’ll use as my starting-point something that Bruce Mazlish says on page 115:

“In general, Nixon’s basic vision of himself is as a high-principled, fair-minded man (of greatness), who is constantly being unfairly attacked and smeared by his opponents (mainly communists and crooks), and who is his own severest critic.  Much of this self-image, we must admit, corresponds to the image of self-righteousness projected by America as a whole; this correspondence is undoubtedly a part of Nixon’s political success.”

There are so many branches that can proceed out of Mazlish’s discussion here of Richard Nixon’s self-image.  Here are some of them (and I’ll often be using the present tense, even though Nixon is now dead, because Mazlish when he wrote the book was commenting on what he thought Nixon was like at the time that Mazlish was writing):

1.  A point that Mazlish makes a couple of times in this book is that Nixon falls back on roles in seeking guidance on what to do, for Nixon doesn’t really know who he is.  Mazlish also portrays Nixon’s public outbursts of tears (which, interestingly, seems to go against Nixon’s admiration for those who are tough and strong, and his contempt for sissies) as acting—-though I’m not sure if Mazlish is implying that Nixon was insincere or not.  In any case, whether or not Nixon knew who he was, Mazlish does state that Nixon had a vision of himself.

2.  The thing is, was Nixon’s vision of himself accurate?  Mazlish himself tries to be fair-minded in his analysis of Nixon, for Mazlish says that he thinks that Alger Hiss was guilty, whereas Nixon was not guilty of the charges of corruption that led him to deliver his Checkers speech in 1952.  But Mazlish doesn’t appear to think that Nixon is entirely high-principled and fair-minded, for he says that Nixon tends to project his weaknesses onto others.  Nixon, for example, said that his political opponents smeared him, when he smeared others.  (Mazlish also refers to Nixon’s statement in Six Crises that Nixon could tell that Alger Hiss was lying because Hiss appeared to be overacting.  According to Mazlish, Nixon made that judgment about Hiss because Nixon himself was the sort of person who acted and tended to exaggerate.)

3.  But is there an authentic core to Nixon, according to Mazlish?  Or was Nixon simply acting and fulfilling roles?  I think that Mazlish does believe that Nixon had an authentic core, rooted (at least in part) in his upbringing.  Mazlish accepts the notion that Nixon is someone who is committed to peace, for Nixon had a Quaker mother (and yet Nixon’s psyche also received his father’s combativeness).  Mazlish also believes that Nixon was genuinely affected by the deaths of the Kent State students, which was one reason that he visited anti-war students at the Lincoln Memorial.

4.  While Nixon sees himself as his own severest critic, I get from Mazlish, Nixon’s self-criticism is rather superficial, and Nixon is adverse to undergoing a level of deep self-analysis.

5.  In the same way that Nixon tends to ignore his own faults and project them onto others, Nixon tends to ignore America’s historical aggression.  Nixon says that the United States does not have a history of aggression, and he even tells foreign leaders that.  According to Mazlish, Nixon ignores historical examples of U.S. aggression: against Native Americans, Mexico, and others.  On pages 96-97, Mazlish refers to “American intervention in the Russian Civil War [and] the American willingness, in part, to have Germany invade Russia…”

6.  Mazlish talks about Nixon’s generosity to people, which has been attested.  But Mazlish says that Nixon is generous, but Nixon tries to be generous from a position of strength.  Nixon wants to give, but he is uncomfortable with taking (though he has friends who have helped him over the years).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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