His Own Worst Enemy
Evan Thomas, a pillar of what you would call the “eastern liberal establishment” has written a very sympathetic biography of Richard Nixon. As someone who both hated and respected Richard Nixon, Evans helped me understand the many aspects of Richard Nixon that made him such a confounding personality.
He was an introvert in an extrovert business. He could be a strategic genius, especially with respect to China, and at the same time be narrow and vindictive. To be sure he had real enemies who hated him for his doggedness in bringing the spy, Alger Hiss, to justice. For the liberals of his day that was Nixon’s greatest sin. And Nixon was correct in believing that the press had a double standard by continually giving Kennedy free passes while continually holding his feet to the fire with even the smallest of transgressions.
Nevertheless when Nixon’s “evil” side took over when he ordered his minions to run roughshod over the Constitution in what became known as the Watergate Affair where he was rightly impeached. In this sordid episode we see him seeking into a depression induced paranoia fueled by alcohol.
Although he did not cover himself with glory in Vietnam, his policies that were highly criticized at the time can now be better understood with the passage of time. For example the bombing of Laos and the invasion of Cambodia were, given the circumstances, military necessities.
Evans covers Nixon from his humble beginnings in Whittier, California to his graduating third in his Duke University Law School class where he achieved success by working hard and always being prepared. Those traits became a hallmark of his later career including his success at poker while in the U.S. Navy.
Evans portrays Nixon as a caring father and sometimes oblivious husband to Pat, who he loved very much. We get much insight into his character from his daughter Julie. We also learn that Nixon could be kind when he sent a letter to Thomas Eagleton’s teenage son after Eagleton was dumped from the Democratic ticket in 1972. Both father and son were touched by Nixon’s humanity.
In contrast we see his dark side where he appears to have enlisted Anna Chennault to torpedo the Paris peace talks ahead of the 1968 election by offering South Vietnamese President Thieu a better deal than what Lyndon Johnson had on the table.
In sum Evans sheds a great deal of light on one of the most influential politicians of the second half of the 20th Century and reads very well to boot.
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