I finished Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s Pat Nixon: The Untold Story.
1. Julie recounts that her mother as First Lady was devoted to reading and responding to her mail, and to helping people whenever she could. On page 323, Julie tells about a time that her mother helped a first-time offender who was having difficulty finding work:
“An impoverished young girl wrote Mrs. Nixon and confided she had been caught shoplifting and had been unable since then to get a job. An impersonal letter expressing ‘concern’ was attached to the girl’s letter and then placed in one of the bulging brown folders of mail destined for the small wooden table for messages outside Mrs. Nixon’s bedroom. When my mother got to the letter, she wrote across the top, ‘Gwen, this is fine but it doesn’t really help her, does it?’ Rewritten, the letter referred the girl to a Civil Service rehabilitation program for first-time offenders, and eventually she was employed. One more person had been helped.”
I love this story for three reasons. First, Mrs. Nixon helped someone whom not everyone would want to help. Her attitude was not “She made her bed, now let her sleep in it.” Some may criticize Julie’s book by saying that it portrays her mother as a saint. Frankly, after reading a couple of books that portray Pat as a chain-smoking drunk or as an empty shell of a woman, seeing Pat’s altruism highlighted is quite refreshing. Second, it interests me that Mrs. Nixon referred the young lady to a government program. That reinforces in my mind that we don’t have to choose between the government helping people and people helping people, for both can work together as a team. Mrs. Nixon apparently had that mindset in this case, even though it seems to me (from what Julie says) that Pat Nixon held a number of politically conservative positions. Third, Pat used her power for good. Why have power if it won’t be used for good? Pat’s power, in this case, was that she had access to information that many people probably did not have: that there was a government program that could help first-time offenders get a job.
2. On page 149, Julie summarizes Pat Nixon’s views about the controversial Red-hunting Senator, Joseph McCarthy:
“My mother wanted to believe that Joe McCarthy had his facts straight and that those he charged as being Communists would soon be out of government. The experience of the Hiss case had convinced her that the issue of Communist infiltration was a real one. Moreover, during her 1953 world trip, she had been disturbed by the number of State Department officials, most of them long-term careerists, who seemed to be lukewarm advocates of our own government and apologists for local insurgencies and, occasionally, Communism. Some had gone so far as to tell her outright that the people of the country where they served would be better off under Communism. Even as growing numbers of Americans questioned McCarthy’s sincerity, my mother resolved not to do so, but she soon recognized that with his reckless charges, sloppy research, and insatiable desire for headlines, he was his own worse enemy.”
I like this passage because it gives insight into Pat’s political views, and the basis for one of her positions. Personally, I’m doubtful that the State Department people who expressed some sympathy towards Communism were themselves card-carrying Communists, but my guess is that they were well-meaning people who thought that Communism was better for the poor than the poverty that they were experiencing. Was it still dangerous for the U.S. to have such people in the State Department, when the Cold War was going on? Well, I don’t condone Communism, for I recognize that it was (and, to some extent, still is) a tyrannical and brutal system. Still, I do believe that there should have been people in the government who were compassionate towards the poor, who recognized the existence of systemic problems, and who tried to see Third World countries as something more than pawns in the Cold War. I don’t entirely know what the U.S. could have done in situations where peasants were mobilizing into Communist movements as a way to ameliorate their conditions: How could the U.S. have addressed humanitarian concerns, while still fighting Communism? My impression is that this was easier said than done! Not long ago, I watched a movie called Path to War, which was about America’s growing involvement in the Vietnam War during the Lyndon Johnson Administration. Johnson desired to help Vietnam in a humanitarian sense, but Ho Chi Minh did not want that help, according to Johnson in the movie.
3. On pages 446-447, Julie criticizes the book The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which portrayed Pat Nixon as one who drank heavily and the marriage between Richard and Pat as cold. Julie is skeptical about the authors’ claim that they only included stories that were confirmed by at least two sources. She quotes Ray Price, who said that this means that “if two people have heard the same rumor, [the writers] weave a story around it, wrap it in manufactured detail and sprinkle it with quotation marks, and present the story as fact” (Price’s words). Julie also quotes a public statement made by her husband David Eisenhower, who was interviewed by one of The Final Days‘ authors. When David was asked about the interview by the Washington Post, the Post distorted David’s response, Julie quotes David as saying. David denied to the Post that the Nixons had an unhappy marriage, saying that such a notion was “a general characterization of that relationship which would require forty-five minutes to rebut, forty-five minutes the reporter and I did not have” (David’s words). The Post, however, just quoted David’s statement that the notion was “a general characterization”. David went on in his public statement to say that “The Nixon family is a close family”, and that “The love and respect of each for all is a beautiful thing.”
I’ve read a couple of anti-Nixon books that use material from interviews. A question that enters my mind after reading Julie’s account on pages 446-447 is: Did they quote their sources accurately? I don’t know. I don’t dismiss everything that they said, for some quotes are hard to put into a positive or a neutral context: if a quote looks negative about Nixon, it looks negative about Nixon, and I can’t envision a context for that quote that would make it positive! At the same time, I am open to the possibility that there may be more to people’s thoughts than what they expressed on one or more occasions to an interviewer.