In my post today about Conrad Black’s Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, I will talk about Richard Nixon’s relationship with French President Charles de Gaulle. Here are some passages, but I will not provide context for them, since I don’t want to get into the weeds of de Gaulle’s geopolitical views.
Page 389: “Eisenhower and his immediate successors did not…figure out how to deal with de Gaulle (but Nixon did).”
Page 589: After discussing the deteriorating relationship between France and the U.S. under President Lyndon Johnson, Black says that “Nixon was the sixth American president de Gaulle dealt with, and his relationship promised to be the most productive and amicable of all.”
Page 604: “[Nixon] invited de Gaulle to come to the United States and added, ‘In this age of mediocre leaders in most of the world, America’s spirit needs your presence.’ It’s doubtful that the rancorous students…would have found much balm in de Gaulle’s grandiloquence or erudition, but what Nixon meant was that he would have valued it himself.”
Nixon did not exactly have the best social skills in the world, but he still got along with Charles de Gaulle, at a level far beyond what other U.S. Presidents did. This, according to Conrad Black, was no easy task. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson did not really know how they should deal with de Gaulle. It wasn’t always a matter of a lack of mutual cordiality, mind you. Johnson apparently did not have a good relationship with de Gaulle, but Black states that de Gaulle “liked but disagreed with Kennedy”, and that de Gaulle’s “relations with Eisenhower…had been cordial but inconclusive” (page 588). According to Black, de Gaulle had the same sort of relationship with Truman that he had with Eisenhower, and his relations with FDR “were just warming up…after a very difficult start, when Roosevelt died” (page 588). But de Gaulle had a good relationship with Nixon.
And Nixon apparently had a genuine regard and admiration for de Gaulle. As Black says on page 604, Nixon wanted de Gaulle to come to the United States because Nixon felt that he needed him, amidst all of the turmoil that the United States was experiencing at the time.
Sometimes, it’s the case that a socially-awkward person can succeed in developing and maintaining a rapport with a particular individual, whereas those who are expert charmers either struggle to do so, or flat out fail. Why is this? There are probably a variety of reasons. First of all, a particular individual may be able to smell BS a mile away, and he’s not open to being manipulated by charmers. He’d prefer the company of someone who is low-key and yet real, especially if that person has a genuinely high regard for him. Second, perhaps de Gaulle and Nixon were drawn to each other on account of their similar personalities. As Nixon says in Leaders, de Gaulle was quite reserved. So was Nixon.