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One quality Richard Nixon possessed that seemed to be acknowledged by friend and foe alike was a capacity to think deeply and long on difficult questions. From his days as a young man at Duke Law student with ” an iron butt” to his old age, a widower, staying up underlining passages in texts on classical philosophy, Nixon appears most at ease with himself when he was wrestling with problems alone.

Even on the famous Nixon tapes, which are slowly being released and transcribed by the National Archives ( and are mostly being ignored, except perhaps by historian Stanley Kutler , Chicago Tribune reporter James Warren and the odd grad student), Nixon is at his most revealing when he is engaged in a monologue with a trusted aide or one of his few personal confidant. If Nixon was equal to his predecessor LBJ in deviousness and casual profainity, he had none of Johnson’s garrulous extroversion and manic need to make a human connection. Nixon viewed small talk with distate and emotional scenes with dread. Relentlessly, Nixon pressed H.R. Haldeman to reduce his level of contact with Congressmen, Cabinet appointees and even his own White House Staff.

Nixon’s preference for self-imposed isolation and his analytical bent paid dividends in terms of insight. I offer a sampling of Richard Nixon, drawn from many sources, in his own words:

“…our diplomats have a pervasive tendency to negotiate with themselves on behalf of the Soviets. Every hardline negotiation option discussed within the U.S. government encounters a chorus of derision on the grounds that ‘ the Russians will never accept it’ “.

“Our first task is to distinguish between vital interests, critical interests and peripheral interests….strategy means means making choices, and making choices means enforcing a set of strategic priorities”

” What we do outside our negotiating sessions is as important as what we do inside them “

” Democratic government is an art that requires vision”
“Public opinion polls are useful if a politician uses them to them only to to learn approximately what the people are thinking, so he can talk to them more intelligently”

“Public opinion responds to threats, not oportunities. It is easy to mobilize support to meet a clear threat but difficult to rally to seize a fleeting opportunity. If our leaders put foreign policy on the backburner until world events produce a new threat, our moment of opportunity will have vanished”

“…reaction and response to a crisis are uniquely personal in the sense that it depends on what an individual brings to bear on the situation”
“Reading can be particularly useful in times of crisis. It is then that a leader most needs perspective. If he is to keep his mind focused on his long-range goals, he must step back from the problems of the present. Reading helps him do that. He may not find the answer to his problem in what he reads, but new thoughts will refrsh his mind and permit him to tackle problems with renewed energy

“Small states love to play a role – that’s why we used Ceaucescu with North Vietnam. He was a good channel.”
[ Ed. Note: Ceaucescu was also used by Nixon to contact China before using Yayah Khan of Pakistan. Khan received few rewards for his troubles but Ceaucescu was richly rewarded by Nixon with access to trade, diplomatic honors and Western credits]

“This is what the Chinese have done. They have scrapped the economic side [ of Communism] in order to hang on to the political side. This is why the hardliners in China, like Li Peng, want to isolate China and the reason why they want the United States to isolate them. Then their political power is ensured. They won’t have to worry about all this corrupting Western influence”

” The Chinese will watch what the United States does elsewhere in the world just as carefully as they watch what we do in China.”

“The toughest personnel choice he [ the President] has to make is between a friend who is loyal but not competent and someone else who is competent but not necessarily a friend”

” In the last forty years, the upper crust of America in terms of education, money
and power has lost its sense of direction in the world.”

Coming soon, Part III: Nixon’s Long Shadow.

2 Responses to “”

  1. robert Says:

    When did Nixon say the thing about the last forty years? Mid to late eighties?

  2. mark Says:

    Hi Robert,

    Yes, circa 1989-1990.

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