8/8/13 - richard nixon's mother

In today's encore selection -- Hannah Nixon, mother of Richard Nixon, who was president of the United States from 1969 until his resignation in 1974:

"Nixon called Hannah Nixon a saint. People remembered her as soft-spoken and pious. ... History dotes upon her honesty. But that doesn't quite cover it. For even while instructing her sons that lying was the most unpardonable sin, on one subject she lied often, especially later in life: on the subject of her second son.

"To understand this we must explain the deaths of his brothers. It is a psychobiographical theme in the lives of successful men: the deaths of siblings. The first one to die was the youngest, Arthur, who came down with what might have been tubercular meningitis. Twelve-year-old Richard was given reason to believe that a concussion from a schoolyard rock thrown to Arthur's head that Richard had been unable to prevent had been a contributing factor. Older brothers are supposed to protect younger ones. Richard was convulsed by his failure, and the loss.

Richard Nixon's family: Francis A. Nixon and Hannah Nixon with
children: L-R: Harold, Donald, and Richard. 1916

"Then, the second brother. Richard hadn't been the favorite son. The golden boy, the one on whom great hopes were pinned, was the oldest, Harold -- handsome, well-rounded, graceful. ... Harold became even more the center of the family universe when he came down with tuberculosis. After Hannah set up a second household for him to recuperate, in the hot dry air of Prescott, Arizona, Richard was left behind with two other brothers, under the care of their [disciplinarian] father. It was the middle of the Depression. The family almost went bankrupt. Richard was sent to Arizona to help with the boarders Hannah brought in to keep the family afloat. The work was endless, dirty, unrewarding sepulchral. When Harold died, Hannah once told Ladies' Home Journal, Richard 'sank into a deep impenetrable silence. ... From that time on it seemed that he was trying to be three sons in one, striving even harder than before to make up to his father and me for our loss.'

"Hannah would come to recast Richard in her mind as an impregnable figure of destiny, bringer of miracles. When he became famous, she began to report that Richard had been born the day of an eclipse (he wasn't), that his ragged and forlorn family had sold land upon which oil was found immediately afterward (they hadn't). The exaggerations she got away with drove home for her son the lesson that a lie unexposed does no harm, that a soul viewed as a saint can also lie. And her swooning (though she withheld praise in his presence) drove home a lesson the politician was predisposed to internalize: that he was a figure of destiny impregnable."


Rick Perlstein


Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America


Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Copyright 2008 by Rick Perlstein


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