RICHARD NIXON: The Shaping of His Character by Fawn M. Brodie

RICHARD NIXON: The Shaping of His Character

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Q: Why was Nixon a crook in the White House? A: Because he grew up in the family market and never resolved the problem of ""what was 'mine and thine.'"" That's a sample, merely, of the ingredients of this goulash--the most voluminous dossier yet on the origin and history of Nixon's perfidies. The late professor Brodie, author of the ""intimate"" Jefferson biography identifying him as the father of Sally Hemings' children, does herself no credit by starting with presumptions and then seeking out grounds for them; by snatching up single, stray incidents as ""causes""; by groping wildly in their absence. ""Whether Frank Nixon kicked his son or not is not as certain,"" she writes (it's not really known at all), ""as that Nixon felt himself to be kicked around by his father."" Viz., the famous post-defeat utterance, ""You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more""; and other, lesser-known remarks. And even Nixon-haters from the Jerry Voorhis days will have to be appalled by the misappropriation of psychological analysis: at every step the man is made to look contemptible--now pathetic, now monstrous. The analysis itself, even when it achieves some focus, doesn't cohere: the death of Nixon's teasing, popular older brother--after a long bout with tuberculosis--occasions a veritable crossfire of theories (from exhilaration at his own survival, to dread ""that he must pay a price for not dying,"" to emotion-numbing anxiety that he might not have done enough, to the conviction, since the death ""made escape from Whittier possible,"" that death must be ""his ally""). Once launched into Nixon's political career, the tenor of the book changes somewhat: Brodie has said that this will be the first ""fully documented record of the evolution of Nixon's lying""; and while the ""evolution"" isn't quite apparent--examples of flagrant, escalating lying dot the opening chapters--the extent is. Present, too, are all the dirty tricks--before the presidency, which the book doesn't touch--and all the financial manipulations, etc. that have turned up in print anywhere. There's even a chapter of Pat and Rebozo gossip with hardly a pretense of purposefulness. The conclusions: ""Nixon had a severely defective or almost nonexistent conscience""; and other commonplaces. There's enough dirt--about others, as well--to arouse some interest; but the treatment is as distasteful as the subject-matter.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1981
ISBN: 0393335038
Publisher: Norton