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The Big Book

Richard Nixon ‘wanted to be a good prince’

Kai Ryssdal, Mukta Mohan, and Daisy Palacios Jul 2, 2015
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“Nixon's become kind of a cartoon to us," says author Evan Thomas. "We think he's wicked and evil. I just didn't believe that.”
National Archive/Newsmakers

Nobody includes Richard Nixon on their list of the country’s best presidents, but Nixon had a lasting impact both politically and economically. Author Evan Thomas looks at the psyche of this anxious introvert and takes readers deep into Nixon’s mind in his latest book “Being Nixon: A Man Divided.”

“Nixon’s become kind of a cartoon to us. We think he’s wicked and evil. I just didn’t believe that,” says Thomas. “He wanted to be a good person. Late at night, he would take his yellow pad — his aides called his yellow pad his best friend, because he liked being alone with his yellow pad — and he would write notes to himself about who he wanted to be.”

Nixon aimed to be compassionate, joyful, generous … all of which he was not, or at least not often.

“Nixon was an intellectual, he really was. He read deeply and widely, but mostly about international affairs,” he says. “For some reason, he neglected economics to his grief, and actually to the grief of all of us, because the stupidest thing he did was wage and price controls, which had a real cost.”

Nixon may have failed as a president in many ways, especially for breaking the Constitution, Thomas says, but he did make a lasting impact in other regards, such as opening up China, expanding Social Security benefits for the disabled, the Clean Air Act, arms control of the Soviets. Nixon was an activist … clever and Machiavellian.

“Machiavelli wanted to be a good prince. Nixon wanted to be a good prince. He wasn’t always a good prince, but he wanted to be.”

Read an excerpt from “Being Nixon”:

 

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