In Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, Fawn Brodie argues that Richard Nixon had a troubled marriage with his wife, Pat. This is not new in terms of the books about Nixon that I have read. Brodie stops short of believing that Nixon was physically abusive of his wife, for Brodie states on page 454 that “There are also unsubstantiated reports that the resulting private quarrel at home was searing and violent.” But she does depict Nixon as rather dismissive and lacking in affection towards Pat.
I’d like to share three items about this topic.
1. In my post here, I asked about what the reaction of Nixon’s daughters was to their parents’ relationship. I wondered how Julie and Tricia could be so supportive of their father, if he was as bad of a husband as many writers say. I’m planning to read Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s biography of her mother, Pat Nixon, after I finish Brodie’s book, so it will be interesting to see what Julie writes. On page 455, though, Brodie states the following:
“Julie, then fifteen, and Tricia, seventeen, it must be remembered, had been brought up with parents who were inordinately proud of the family tradition of self-control and who continually tailored the facade of family happiness…Of Julie’s wretchedness we learn more from Earl Mazo than from her father. He was told that she said, ‘All I want is for everyone to love everyone and be happy. I can’t study or do anything when one of us is not happy.'”
The context here was the family’s discussion about whether Nixon would run for Governor of California in 1962. Pat was against it, Tricia was for it, and Julie said that she would support whatever her father decided.
It was after Nixon lost that particular election that he allegedly got violent with Pat. The “unsubstantiated reports” that Brodie mentioned on page 454 were about this alleged incident. Anthony Summers, on page 233 of The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, portrays Julie’s recollection of this time frame as rather shadowy—-as if Julie remembered something, but was in the dark about what was really taking place:
“Pat, Julie was to write, was watching television in the den when the television ran the ‘kick around’ speech. At the point where Nixon attacked the press, she shouted ‘Bravo!’ When her father came home, Julie recalled, ‘We were waiting tearfully in the hallway at the front door. Mother spoke first. She said brokenly, ‘Oh, Dick.’ He was so overcome with emotion that he brushed past and went outside to the backyard. That afternoon was the first and the only time my parents gave way to their emotions simultaneously, and it bewildered Tricia and me….’
“Domestic life for a top politician is rarely what most families would consider normal. What happened to bewilder the children that sad Wednesday in November 1962, however, may have been something they never learned of as children.”
I don’t know Julie, but I doubt that she would publicly endorse Summers’ narration. I’m interested in reading Julie’s book to see what she does say about her parents’ relationship, however. Some of the reviews on Amazon dismiss her book, implying that it is a rather idealized portrait of her parents. But I have read books that are quite critical of Nixon, and they treat Julie’s book with a measure of respect—-as if her voice is important—-and some of the passages that they cite from her book seem to me to be rather honest, in that Julie acknowledges that things were not always rosy in her parents’ marriage. I’ll see what my impressions of her book are!
(UPDATE: Brodie later in her book speculates that Julie became angry with her father, especially near the end of Watergate, and Brodie notes that Julie wrote a biography about her mother Pat, not her father.)
2. Columnist Jack Anderson was a thorn in Richard Nixon’s side. There were even people in Nixon’s Administration who wanted to assassinate Anderson, if you can imagine that! Don Fulsom, in his anti-Nixon book, praises Anderson as a champion of righteousness, a muckraker, and an inspiration to muckrakers. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I read in Brodie’s book that Anderson argued that Richard Nixon actually had a good marriage. After quoting people who claimed otherwise, Brodie states on pages 467-468:
“Jack Anderson, on the other hand, privy to much Washington gossip, described the Nixon marriage as a good one. He believed Nixon ‘loved his family very much.’
“[‘]At no time have I ever had a suspicion, save from irresponsible sources trying to make something out of nothing, that Nixon did not love her or in any way degraded her. He held his wife in esteem and affection as far as I have been able to learn. She apparently had a healthy attitude about him…a little like my wife. Whenever I get to thinking that I’m important she always says the right thing to pull me right back down to earth.[‘]
“‘Nixon’s closeness to his wife,’ Anderson said, ‘was the only healthy thing about him.'” Brodie’s source for this is her own interview with Anderson on April 19, 1975.
How could Anderson’s impression be so different from that of many others—-eyewitnesses, journalists, etc.? Perhaps Anderson saw something different—-he highlighted the affection between Nixon and his wife rather than making a big deal out of what many deemed to be Nixon’s slights or signs of disrespect. And, since Anderson mentions his own marriage, perhaps he was looking at Nixon’s marriage through those lens: he believed that there was enough similarity between the marriages, that he may have projected elements of his own marriage onto that of the Nixons. I’m just speculating here!
3. I recently watched a clip in which Frank Gannon asked Nixon why he did not mention Pat in his speech to the White House staff after he had resigned from the Presidency. Some have made a big deal about this, since Nixon in that speech was reading about the death of Theodore Roosevelt’s wife, without even mentioning his own. Was Nixon slighting or disregarding Pat? Nixon clearly indicated to Gannon that he did not care for that claim, then he went on to say that he did not mention Pat out of consideration for her. He realized that she was saddened by the resignation, and he feared that she would break down publicly had he mentioned her in his speech. Unfortunately, I cannot find that clip right now.