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Richard Nixon: A Psychobiography.

VAMIK D. VOLKAN, NORMAN ITZKOWITZ, AND ANDREW W. DOD, Richard Nixon: A Psychobiography (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 190 pp., including Notes, Bibliography, and Index. $27.50 cloth (ISBN 0-231-10854-0).

Hundreds of books, magazine articles, and TV programs have focused on Richard Nixon's life, and undoubtedly more will be added as time goes by. Yet, unanswered questions continue to surface.

As the authors of this psychobiography, who are psychoanalysts and historians, question and explain,

Why would a man with as much intelligence as Nixon had, and with the

ability to govern the most powerful nation on earth, behave at times

"irrationally" and in a self-destructive manner? Why did he collect

"historical firsts"? Why did he behave as a tough man, yet have anxiety

about firing a person who worked for him? Why did he appear very moralistic

and "clean" while he bypassed personal integrity and frequently used "dirty"

words while talking to his staff and others? Why did he order the bombing

of Cambodia when many of his aides advised him not to do so? Why did he

become "frantic" during the 1972 presidential campaign against Senator George

McGovern at a time when there seemed little doubt that he would win the

election? Why did Nixon hold on to the Watergate tapes instead of destroying

them? These questions point to Nixon's behavior that have remained a mystery.

Volkan, Itzkowitz, and Dod aver that the use of psychoanalysis, psychohistory, and psychobiography would provide insight to answer the questions by putting the subject theoretically on the couch, examining his life (especially the early stages), and determining therefore what makes the subject tick. In other words, what circumstances created the "bad" Nixon?

Wilbur Cohen, who has served every president since FDR, said at a conference, "To be President you need to have a good mother. The father doesn't matter. You need a good mother." While the formative years of infancy through adolescence are crucial to the development of the adult (and Nixon called his mother "a saint"), his early years were traumatic. Throughout much of his childhood he was devoid of his mother's presence. There were many physical separations when the young Nixon was displaced to the care of others. When he was only nine months old, his mother's mastoid operation placed him in his grandmother's house; at age twelve he was at his aunt's home, and there was still another separation when his brother Donald's eventually fatal illness caused his mother to leave with him for Arizona, again putting the young Richard on his own. This absence of "mother love" and the death of another brother, Harold, combined with an abusive father, conjoined to give him a "sense that danger existed in the environment, causing him to retain, as a defensive adaptation, a dominant, narcissistic suspicious orientation to life."

Psychologically, this narcissism created in him a feeling of self-importance, with dreams of great attainments and a need to be number one in all of his activities. This indispensable want and the resulting frustrations brought on psychosomatic illnesses throughout his adulthood. During his lifetime, amid times of stress, he suffered respiratory problems, phlebitis, sinus infections, susceptibility to pneumonia, and acute anxiety.

Nixon was a very complicated man. He had a great need for love and affection and strived to acquire them. He would humiliate himself to accept this emotional support. For example, he would drive his future wife to dates with other men and then wait to drive her home. But there was an inner resentment while doing these, to his mind, good deeds, and there evolved suspicion and animosity to others.

With all this, his feelings of grandiosity had to be served, but internally he had a diminished sense of self-worth that combined to cause frustration and ill-conceived actions that finally helped destroy him. The latest released tapes reveal these peculiar departments of a skilled politician.

The "real" Richard Nixon was a man of great, varied, successful, and unsuccessful deeds. His accomplishments, despite the ignominy of his resignation, have earned him a place of great prominence and importance in the history of the United States.

In character (and interestingly so) was his attempt, seemingly successful thus far, to resurrect his reputation, and his demise has not reduced this trend. His melancholic return to San Clemente was not the end of a career. He could not content himself with the attractions of a comfortable California life. The sea, golfing, the beach, and comfortable surroundings could not fill the needs and time of a driven man with the exultations of a Nixon. The authors, probably rightfully so, believe that he planned his recrudesce as he stepped on the plane returning him to California.

Psychoanalytic, psychohistory, and psychobiography analysis would have predicted this. His psychiatric image was such that he could not perpetually accept defeat but fought back to again become "number one." Before his death, his counsel was readily sought, and he became in the eyes of many an elder statesman.

This volume is an interesting, valuable study of one whose name will not disappear from the history books. His vast great accomplishments, including the opening of China and the Soviet Union, may very well diminish over time the asinine Watergate disaster.

While the authors learnedly try to explain this complex man in psychiatric terms, Nixon himself once wrote, "I happen to think that most of the so-called new science of psychobiography is pure baloney." Ever the controversial man!
COPYRIGHT 1998 Center for the Study of the Presidency
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Zwicker, Charles H.
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
Words:906
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