On page 509 of Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, author Stephen Ambrose quotes President Richard Nixon’s thoughts about the conflict between his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, and his Secretary of State, William Rogers. Nixon said:
“I’m sorry about how Henry and Bill go at each other…It’s really deep-seated. Henry thinks Bill isn’t very deep, and Bill thinks Henry is power-crazy. And in a sense, they’re both right. Ego is something we all have, and either you grow out of it or it takes you over. I’ve grown out of it. It’s really a compensation for an inferiority complex. Henry has that, of course—-and Bill has it too.”
This stood out to me for three reasons.
1. Nixon here has a negative attitude towards the conflict between Kissinger and Rogers, when, earlier in the book, Ambrose argues that Nixon actually wanted conflict between his aides, for a variety of reasons, one being that Nixon figured that they wouldn’t go after him if they were going after each other.
2. I got a laugh out of Nixon’s statement that he himself had outgrown ego. Even in Monica Crowley’s Nixon Off the Record, which narrates Nixon’s pontifications during the 1990’s, Nixon strikes me as one who has quite an ego: he is upset when people don’t ask for his advice or when he is not given proper credit for something he did as President. But he really eats it up when he is consulted or praised.
I thought about a German lady I once knew. She said that she was not the type of person who took things personally, that she didn’t have a thin skin. Yet, she often did take things personally! Self-image and reality don’t always match up. But maybe thinking that we’re good at something makes us better than we would be if we were negative about ourselves.
3. What Nixon said about the inferiority complex feeding into ego reminded me of a story that Lou Cannon told about Ronald Reagan: that Reagan as an actor sometimes cared more about the quality of a scene than whether he was in the spotlight. That is a secure person! The thing is, not everyone is like that. I’m not like that. How can one become like that?