I started Fawn Brodie’s Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character. This is largely characterized as a negative work about Richard Nixon, and it has been criticized for some of its conclusions as well as for its psychological analysis. I decided to read it, however, because it talks a lot about Richard Nixon’s early life, and this is a subject that is actually my favorite part of the books about Richard Nixon that I have read.
I’m thinking of departing from my usual practice of blogging about what I read each day. There are some days when I notice more than one item in my reading that I would like to blog about, but there are other days when I don’t see any topic in my reading that I would like to blog about. I may just write about whatever passage I want, without regard for whether it is in that day’s reading, or was in a previous day’s reading.
On page 26, Brodie says the following:
“Walking along the edge of the law. Some Americans always saw this in Nixon, but many more saw sincerity, piety, small-town virtue, and a disarming na[i]vet[e]. Nixon’s extraordinary success in hiding his dishonesty over the years has to do in part with the nature of his lying…Oscar Wilde, in his essay ‘The Decay of Lying,’ wrote that ‘the aim of the liar is simply to charm, to delight, to give pleasure. He is the very basis of civilized society, and without him a dinner party, even at the mansions of the great, is as dull as a lecture at the Royal Society.’ ‘Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things,’ he concluded, ‘is the proper aim of Art.'”
Brodie goes on to say that “Nixon never lied to delight, although there is evidence that he delighted in lying.” But I can identify with what she says about Richard Nixon’s appeal. When many people see Richard Nixon, they think he’s a deceiver, with his shifty eyes and his equivocations. Maybe there’s truth to that. What I see is someone like Ward Cleaver: fair-minded, compassionate, wise, sincere, unafraid to be himself. And I have to admit: there is a part of me that enjoys reading his stories about his life. They seem to evoke 1950’s myths.
At the same time, I also identify with what many consider to be the “real” Nixon: insecure, and bad at interacting with people. I tend to admire Nixon for rising to a position of prominence, even though he had flaws. Yet, the way that he politically rose is not exactly admirable to me, for essentially he rose by shredding his political opponents to pieces. His handling of the Hiss case is something that I admire more, however, for, even according to some of the anti-Nixon narratives, Nixon’s political career was on the line when he was going after Alger Hiss. Nixon was taking a risk, in short.
I guess that I’m the sort of person who likes a mixture of myth and realism. I like a story that is beautiful and inspiring, while also acknowledging people’s flaws. I’m a romantic realist! Still, I want to know when the myth is inaccurate, even if that may be disappointing to me.