Monday, March 27, 2023

Zachary Jonathan Jacobson's "On Nixon's Madness"

Zachary Jonathan Jacobson is the author of On Nixon’s Madness: An Emotional History. He received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in U.S. History with a focus on the Cold War. He is a Community Scholar with the Society of U.S. Intellectual History and the American Institute of Thought at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Chronicle of Higher Education as well as journals including Presidential Studies Quarterly and Cold War History. He is currently writing The Saints and the Navigators: A Storied History of the Early Cold War.

Jacobson applied the "Page 99 Test" to On Nixon’s Madness and reported the following:
Rather than expound on the many themes of On Nixon's Madness, half of page 99 is taken up with a photograph of First Lady Pat Nixon on a diplomatic trip to a Polynesian village in January 1972, poised, bedecked in a crown of flowers. On first glance Pat appears to live up to her image as "Plastic Pat," ever a plastered smile across her face, her posture "stiff as an asparagus." Like her husband, Pat was a great performer. Her husband called her one of the great actresses of her time. Her cheeriness appears instrumental, a political trick to fashion the pleasing image of a satisfied wife. During her husband's time in office, she indeed garnered laurels for the Housemaker of the Year and Mother of the Year. Yet as I write in this book, as for Richard's pleasant stories of his childhood, Pat's sentimental sheen served not just political ends but a way to protect her from more unsettling feeling. "Plastic Pat" was not forever poised. She did not grow up in Camelot but in a dirt-poor tent community with a mother who died young and an abusive father. Pat soon learned how to take care of herself. She had little choice. She developed a constricted, ascetic ethos from early on to persevere and never to complain. On Nixon’s Madness examines the complications of such an ethos for both Nixons. Contrary to the former president’s image as a grump nonpareil, he also relished in the sentimental, time and again demanding from his speechwriters more schmaltz in his speeches, more stories of “warm instead of brittle,” of impossibly good children. Like Pat, Richard had a terribly difficult childhood that he found difficult to remember in the raw. As he told Kissinger, “Like Lot’s wife, Henry, never look back.” As this book explores, for both Richard and Nixon, their sentimentalism allowed them to emote a tremendous amount of care to the American people and, at the same time, protect them from more troubling feeling that might overwhelm.
Visit Zachary Jonathan Jacobson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue