I finished The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. On page 455, we read Bruce Herschensohn’s reaction to Richard Nixon’s final speech to his White House staff: “That’s probably the real Nixon. It’s a shame he couldn’t have been like that more often.”
Was that the real Nixon? I remember reading in David Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow that there were people who did not think so. They thought that Nixon was positioning himself for a comeback, feeding people sentimentalism, as he had in the past. Some have pointed out the apparent errors in Nixon’s stories in that speech: Nixon’s father did not sell the lemon ranch before oil was found on it, for example, but rather the Nixons failed to purchase land on which oil was later found. Maybe Nixon was giving that speech to look better in the eyes of history, for he did insist that it be televised, and there were instructions about where his wife, his daughters, and his sons-in-law would stand. On the other hand, he put on his glasses at this event, something he rarely if ever did in public before. And there seemed to be tears in his eyes, and the fact that he let them be seen in public differed from a tendency he often had to want people to see him as tough. And yet, did not Nixon cry after giving the Checkers Speech, prompting one of his former acting teachers to remark that he was acting? Did Nixon recognize that a certain form of sentimentalism could look good to people?
Do people like us when we are vulnerable, when they see the real us? According to the Final Days, Nixon did not want it to be known that he cried when he was with Henry Kissinger on one occasion, under the pressures of the Watergate scandal. Many of us may want for people to see us as tough and as strong. We can identify with vulnerability, and even feel sorry for people who are vulnerable. But do we respect and admire vulnerability? Maybe we do when vulnerability appears to us in a particular package—-when it does not convey weakness or self-pity, for instance.
Of course, I cannot say “we,” as if I have some right to speak for everyone. I’m just stating my general observations and speculations, and what I am saying may not apply to a number of people.
I’d like to add my final impressions of The Final Days. At first, I liked the book on account of its descriptions of the legal reasoning of pro-Nixon and anti-Nixon people. But I came to enjoy it even more because of its narration of the relationships in its stories: the loving ones, the complex ones, etc.