In my post today on Jules Witcover’s Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, I’ll focus on Richard Nixon’s interactions with Spiro Agnew.
Witcover essentially portrays Nixon as someone who was nice and supportive towards Agnew to Agnew’s face, but was seeking Agnew’s removal from the Vice-Presidency behind his back. Moreover, Agnew did not feel that Nixon really came to bat for him during his (meaning Agnew’s) legal problems. Agnew had a hard time forgiving this. Nixon did reach out to Agnew after Agnew left office, sending Agnew notes, trying to call him on the telephone, and even giving Agnew the chair where Agnew sat at the Cabinet table. But Agnew did not take Nixon’s calls.
A characteristic of Nixon throughout Witcover’s book is that Nixon did not like to confront people directly, sending intermediaries to do that for him. Plus, according to Witcover’s narrative, Nixon, when he was interacting with people who wanted from him something that he was not willing to provide them, tended to give them the run-around rather than a straight answer. Witcover does not say this, but my hunch, based on other books that I have read by and about Richard Nixon, is that Nixon’s relationship with his father had something to do with this. Nixon’s father, Frank Nixon, was an opinionated and confrontational man. Frank would get into arguments with Nixon’s brothers, and Nixon says in his memoirs that this influenced him (Richard) to desire peace. Nixon probably learned that he didn’t like confrontation, and so Nixon came to avoid it by sending intermediaries to confront for him, and by giving people the run-around when they confronted him.
I think also of Bruce Mazlish’s claim in In Search of Nixon that Nixon sees himself as a fair-minded man. In my opinion, Nixon regarded himself as a compassionate person, and that could have been why he was reaching out to Agnew even after Agnew left the Vice-Presidency. And yet, Nixon also seems to have seen himself as a political realist. That’s how he could undermine Agnew behind the scenes (if it’s true that he did that), while reaching out to Agnew when Agnew was down.
I’d like to close this post with a moving story from wikipedia’s article about Agnew: “As a gesture of reconciliation, Nixon’s daughters invited Agnew to attend Nixon’s funeral in 1994, and Agnew accepted. In 1996, when Agnew died, Nixon’s daughters returned the favor by attending Agnew’s funeral.” According to Witcover, Agnew did not want to attend Nixon’s funeral because of his bitterness towards Nixon, but Agnew was persuaded to do so because he had been Nixon’s Vice-President, so his absence from the funeral would be conspicuous. I think that it was a class act for Nixon’s daughters to then attend Agnew’s funeral after Agnew died.