I have three items for my blog post today about Richard Nixon’s In the Arena.
1. On pages 147-148, Nixon talks about the importance of remembering people’s names and their backgrounds. Nixon refers to Jim Farley, who “remembered not only names and faces but, even more impressive, usually people’s background, family, the places they lived, and jobs.” Nixon says that he himself, as a Congressman and later a Senator, “could almost unerringly remember the names of hundreds of county chairmen, city chairmen, precinct chairmen, volunteer workers, newspaper reporters and publishers, and prominent business people.” As President, Nixon relates, he was not as good at remembering names, since there were more names to remember. But Nixon made an effort to study the guest list before a social event so that he could refresh his memory about “guests’ names, occupations, family backgrounds, and hometowns.” Nixon says that people were pleased with this and probably wondered how Nixon could remember so many people’s names and backgrounds.
I wrote a post over four years ago, What Is Your Name?, which was about how my therapist was teaching me social skills, and one skill that he taught me was the value of remembering people’s names and using them in conversation. Whenever I told my therapist that I had a conversation with a person and asked that person about something I remembered was going on in his or her life, the therapist thought that was a good thing. Not only do people like for us to remember their names, but also some of the things that are going on in their lives. Asking someone about that conveys that you care, and it also provides material for a conversation (which is not exactly easy for me to come up with).
What my therapist taught me about the importance of knowing and using people’s names was a milestone for me, socially-speaking. I’m certainly in a better place now than I was when I did not know many people’s names, and really did not care. But I still feel that there is much for me to learn in terms of social skills. For example, I may know people’s names, but I don’t know much else about them, and that hinders me from doing the small-talk that is essential for forming connections with people.
2. On page 155, Nixon mentions Paul Getty (whom I presume is this guy). Getty’s secretary told Nixon that Getty would sit for an hour each afternoon doing nothing but thinking. Nixon narrates that Getty then “would get up and place a phone call or two which might add several hundred million dollars to his estate.” Nixon says, “I don’t know if that is a sure way to become a billionaire, but it would be worth a try.”
I think that it’s a good idea to set aside time to think—-to get out of the hustle and bustle so that one can look at things from more distance. I can’t really testify that setting aside time for thinking has worked wonders for me. In the past, as someone who walked to where I needed to go, my time walking was my thinking time. But my mind usually degenerated into bitterness during those times—-resentments about the past and present, fears about the future, etc. At the same time, I can’t rule out that I got ideas during those times thinking: ideas for papers or blog posts, or ideas on things I needed to do.
3. On page 188, Nixon says about his debates as a Congressional candidate against Congressman Jerry Voorhis that “The debates were not about communism, as some ‘historians’ have struggled to demonstrate, but about the economy.” This is not the first time in In the Arena that Nixon takes on what people say about his past. On page 70, Nixon says: “I would not recognize my father from the grotesque caricatures that have appeared in some of the media. They picture him as a crude, uneducated oaf who did not have the respect of his sons and was disliked by most who knew him. If they had been privileged to know him as I did, they would have painted a very different picture.”
On Nixon’s 1946 Congressional race, the historians I read do narrate that the economy was an important issue in that election. There were businesspeople who were tired of the New Deal’s regulations, and they did not particularly care for the wage and price controls that Nixon goes on to criticize on page 188, since those hindered their business. They wanted to support some viable candidate who would challenge Jerry Voorhis, a New Deal Democrat. But historians also say that Nixon in that election used Communism as an issue: that Nixon accused Voorhis of having the endorsement of a union in which there were Communists. Voorhis says that Nixon was unfairly using a Red-baiting strategy against him (see here). Nixon in volume 1 of his memoirs himself says that he did not think that Voorhis was sensitive enough to the issue of Communist infiltration, since Voorhis had the support of the Los Angeles branch of NC-PAC, which had Communists within it (see here).
On Nixon’s father, I’ve not yet read anyone who claimed that Frank Nixon was a “crude, uneducated oaf who did not have the respect of his sons and was disliked by most who knew him.” Maybe I will encounter this caricature in the future, but I haven’t so far. I have read portrayals of Frank Nixon as rather abusive and as opinionated and confrontational. Nixon himself, in his memoirs, narrates that his father’s fights with Nixon’s brothers made Nixon want peace. But those whom I have read also portray Frank Nixon as an intelligent man, one who loved learning about politics and who had strong convictions about what went on in the world, one who could inspire people in his Sunday school class.