For my write-up today on Monica Crowley’s Nixon Off the Record, which is Monica’s recounting of her time working for former President Richard Nixon in the 1990’s, I’ll use as my starting-point something that Nixon says on page 204:
“You know, I’ve always been a liberal on health issues because I lost two brothers to TB and an aunt to cancer.”
I this post that I wrote in blogging through Richard Nixon’s memoirs, I noted some paradox in Nixon’s response to Senator Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident: Nixon had compassion for Kennedy, yet Nixon was also coldly calculating. Nixon was contemplating the political ramifications of Chappaquiddick, for both Kennedy and also for Nixon himself, who thought that Kennedy might run for President in 1972.
I see a similar vacillation between compassion and cold calculation in Nixon as I read Monica Crowley’s book. On the one hand, Nixon is enjoying the health care debate and watching how it will all play out, making me exclaim while reading, “This isn’t a game! It impacts real life people!” Yet, on the other hand, Nixon says that the health care issue is dear to his heart because of the family members he lost to disease. On the one hand, Nixon was intrigued by Vince Foster’s suicide and the documents that Hillary Clinton supposedly took from him to hide her guilt in Whitewater. On the other hand, Nixon laments that government service so often drives people to depression, and he speculates as to what could have driven Vince Foster to kill himself.
Is there a cold side to most politicians? I wouldn’t be surprised. In Crowley’s book, Nixon himself sees Bill and Hillary Clinton as rather cynical. On page 206, Nixon says about Hillary: “Hillary doesn’t give a shit for people. Well, that’s not fair. She might shed a tear now and then; we all do.” Nixon regards Hillary as tough and as cold. Yet, he acknowledges that she is more of a doctrinaire liberal than her husband. (And, whether Nixon likes her or not, he does appreciate that Bill Clinton mentioned Nixon’s health care plan in his health care speech before Congress, which Nixon speculates may have been Hillary’s doing.)
In another poignant passage of Monica’s book, Nixon says that most politicians love a winner, and that many of them are not particularly nice people. Could this apply to Nixon? I remember watching an A&E Biography on Joe McCarthy, and it narrated that, after McCarthy’s downfall, McCarthy showed up at a Republican campaign event. When Nixon saw him, Nixon supposedly told someone, “Get him out of here!” On the other hand, in Nixon’s memoirs, Nixon says some positive things about McCarthy: Nixon sees the human side of this controversial figure, whatever Nixon may think of McCarthy’s practices.
I’d like to think that politicians care about the people. Maybe a number of them do, at least on some level. There are people who want to make a difference. But many politicians are quite cynical, calculating, and self-interested—-and this may very well apply even to politicians whom I vote for.