As Vice-President, Richard Nixon visited Latin America, and he faced down angry mobs in some of the Latin American countries. When Nixon returned home to the United States, his favorability rating increased, and many esteemed him as a hero. Some cynics, however, maintained that Nixon was deliberately placing himself in grave danger to make himself into a hero, thereby transforming himself into a more electable candidate for President.
The latter view seems to be held by Fawn Brodie, in Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, and Anthony Summers, in The Shadows of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. Summers claims that Nixon was warned that he would encounter danger in certain areas. Brodie states on page 364 that “Had [Nixon] confined himself to wreath-laying and negotiations there might have been only five instead of six crises for his first book”, but Nixon had an “appetite for publicity [and] delight in confrontation.”
Brodie also discusses the reasons that Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were unpopular in certain Latin American countries: the Eisenhower Administration’s apparent endorsement of dictators; the small amount of foreign aid that the U.S. gave to the region; “U.S. tariffs on lead, zinc, and wool, and the dumping of American cotton on the world market” (page 363); and the Eisenhower Administration’s apparent lack of concern for Latin America. As Brodie states on page 363, “[Secretary of State John Foster] Dulles in 1954 had attended an Inter-American Conference in Caracas called to ventilate the hemisphere’s appalling economic problems, but had stayed only long enough to introduce a resolution against Communism.”
Brodie contrasts Nixon’s accounts of certain events with the recollections of other eyewitnesses. For example, Nixon said that when he visited a Catholic University he was warmly received, whereas someone else stated that Nixon’s reception was rather mixed. Brodie simply states that the stories differ, but my hunch is that she is hesitant to swallow Nixon’s version of the story in its entirety, since she has argued in her book that Nixon had a tendency to lie.
What especially stood out to me in reading Summers’ book was his argument that Nixon treated his wife, Pat, with callous unconcern on the trip. Summers states on pages 169-170:
“The ‘detachment’ Nixon ascribed to himself extended also to his attitude to the long-suffering Pat. He had made no move to shield her as they stood through the playing of the Venezuelan national anthem in a shower of spit. He had then insisted that Pat’s car drive immediately behind his, breaking the Secret Service’s cardinal rule that only agents travel in the follow-up car. ‘One remark made by Mr. Nixon stayed with me from this terrible episode,’ said Secret Service chief Baughman. ‘The agent inside Mr. Nixon’s car said to the Vice President after the motorcade had started to roll again: ‘I hope Mrs. Nixon gets through.’ To which Mr. Nixon replied, ‘If she doesn’t, it can’t be helped.'”
Baughman’s testimony should not be dismissed, but there is another side to the story. Brodie depicts Nixon showing concern for Pat. Nixon and Vernon Walters differ on whether Nixon went to see if Pat was all right, or if Nixon sent Walters to check on Pat. But both are expressions of concern, on some level.