On page 233 of In the Arena, Richard Nixon quotes Senator Frank Carlson saying to him in 1952, “Dick, you’re controversial, but everybody likes Pat.” Pat Nixon was Richard Nixon’s wife.
In my blog posts thus far for My Year (or More) of Nixon, I have not blogged much about Pat Nixon’s warmth, her hospitality, and her humanitarian activities. I’ve blogged about such things as her introversion, her toughness and tenacity, her capabilities as a public speaker, her intelligence, and her sharp wit, but not really her kindness. But her kindness does stand out to me in what I have read about her. Not only did she open up the White House so that all kinds of people could tour it, and not only did she visit schools, orphanages, a leper colony, and a refugee camp in her travels abroad. But, as I read Monica Crowley’s narration in Nixon in Winter of her interactions with Mrs. Nixon, Pat’s warmth and hospitality were salient to me. They seemed to me to be genuine aspects of who she was.
There are two images of Pat Nixon that I’ve encountered in popular culture. The first is that of Alex Keaton in Family Ties. Pat Nixon was the sort of woman whom Alex wanted to marry: someone who was warm and supportive. When Alex told Lauren, a psychology student who was interviewing him, about the type of woman he was looking for, Lauren’s response was (if my memory is correct), “Are you looking for a woman, or a cocker-spaniel?” Many see Pat Nixon as someone who stood by her man and did not have much of an identity of her own.
The second image of Pat that I’ve encountered in popular culture is Joan Allen’s portrayal of her in Oliver Stone’s Nixon. That Pat was very bitter. She did not care for being in public life, and she was not afraid to tell Nixon off. She supported her husband, but it was a very reluctant, if not contemptible, support. She was also tough. She told her daughter Julie that they must not surrender to their enemies.
Alex’s vision of Pat Nixon had warmth, but she did not have much toughness, intelligence, or even a mind of her own. Oliver Stone’s image of Pat was tough and had strong opinions, but she lacked warmth, hospitality, or compassion for those outside of her immediate family. Both images, in my opinion, are incomplete. My impression is that Pat Nixon was warm and hospitable, but that she was also strong-willed and tough.