On page 69 of Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession, Daniel Frick states:
“The ‘completely pragmatic’ and ‘cynical’ reactions of the Watergate president do not harmonize with the young man whose Quaker family taught him the difference between right and wrong (RN, 628). Nor do justifying political espionage and lying to Congress and the public illustrate any of the personality traits enshrined in the orthodox success ethic. Horatio Alger’s heroes never said, ‘Everybody does it.'”
The tension between morality and cynical pragmatism that Frick highlights is also present on page 93 of Anthony Summers’ The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon: “Looking back, [Nixon’s long, yet occasional, therapist, Dr. Arnold] Hutschnecker suspected Nixon had ‘guilt feelings’ for having pursued politics in the vindictive style of his father rather than on the ‘saintly’ path of his mother. Nixon’s fervent wish, the doctor felt, was that someday he would be able to say to Hannah, ‘Mother, I have made peace. Now I am worthy of you.'”
Can one get ahead by taking the moral and ethical high ground? Or is something that a person once told me true: that an honest man cannot make it in this world? Granted, it is hard for a person to be moral when so many around him or her are immoral: perhaps they are not all breaking the law, but they are primarily looking out for themselves, and they don’t care whom they ruin or stomp on to advance. I think of the politicians Nixon ran against in 1946 and 1950: they were principled people, but Nixon was able to run roughshod over them because he was willing to go on the attack (sometimes fairly, and sometimes not) and to receive the benefits of support from wealthy special interests, who provided him with money. (I’m relying here on Roger Morris’ narrative, which I deem to be credible.) Did those politicians accomplish anything, for themselves or for others, by standing by their principles? Perhaps not, even though they may have felt better about themselves than Nixon did (at least according to Hutschnecker’s analysis of what Nixon felt). But we do need more politicians who are principled and who take on the special interests, otherwise our country will stay in the same wretched condition. I’ll also add that people can get ahead by being good, on some level, for, when a person has a reputation for honesty, that can attract customers and employers, both of whom do not want to be taken advantage of.