Despite an abundance of literature on Richard Nixon, the man behind the most spectacular crash-and-burn career of modern political history has remained an enigma. What lay behind his obsessive hunger for power and control, his paranoid attacks against enemies real and perceived, his refusal to accept defeat? Why did a man who had achieved so much feel so unfulfilled even at the height of his power? And what drove the president responsible for such triumphs as the opening of relations with China to the depths of the most devastating political scandal in American history?
Richard Nixon: A Psychobiography is the first thoroughgoing psychological portrait of the 37th president, drawing upon telling interviews with Nixon intimates, published and archived materials, while employing a rigorous psychoanalytic methodology. Tracing the development of Nixon's complex psyche, the authors provide new insight not only into his unconscious motivations but also into the way they influenced his political actions, whether shrewd or disastrous.
The authors explore Nixon's difficult upbringing—his mean-spirited, abusive father and often-absent mother; episodic physical trauma and mental deprivation; the tragic deaths of his two brothers; his rejection by the first woman he hoped to marry; and the long pursuit of his eventual wife, Pat. Nixon emerges as a narcissistic man with an extraordinary sense of purpose, yet one who suffered from inner conflicts and self-destructive tendencies. His desire to heal difficult political conflicts and his need to punish himself continually were attempts to reconcile the crippling contradiction between a grandiose self image and an impoverished private sense of worth. Projecting his own devalued self image onto others, attempting to control and destroy them, Nixon surrendered to the excessive suspiciousness that would eventually lead to his downfall.
Here are the three faces of Nixon's complex psyche—the grandiose persona, which manifested itself in bold policy moves like "The New Federalism" and the China initiative; the peacemaker, whose desire to heal internal conflicts can be seen in the policies of détente and the "Southern" desegregation strategy; and the paranoid degraded self, which struck out against those who had humiliated him and was responsible for the bombing of Cambodia and the Watergate break-in.
This probing analysis makes intelligible the moments in Nixon's presidency that have provoked much speculation but few answers, from his attempt to talk to Vietnam war protesters during a pre-dawn visit to the Lincoln Memorial to his keeping of the White House tapes. A more nuanced, more humanized Nixon emerges in a book that also provides compelling evidence that the politics of a nation is subject to the unconscious needs, fears, and fantasies of its leaders.