Wednesday, May 26, 2010


It is difficult to understand how anyone could work for someone as volatile and irrational as Nixon sometimes was. Most likely, Kissinger and others rationalized their collaboration as helping to save Nixon from himself. After all, he was a democratically elected president and they saw themselves as servign the national well-being by reining him in. Yet what seems so striking in the record is how often the people around Nixon catered to his outbursts and flights of fancy rather than calling him back to reality by challenging some of his most unsavory and unenforceable demands. It was a way to remain at Nixon's side but it was a disservice to sensible policy making. It also speaks volumes about the reluctance of high government officials to alienate a president and perhaps force their departure from an office they believe gives them the chance to shape history-making events.
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 316.
There can be little doubt that Kissinger and the other men in Nixon's close presidential circle saw that he was a lunatic. Although Nixon was extremely brilliant and had some good policy ideas, his paranoia, nervous breakdowns, alcoholism, and wild rants had to be of major concern. Certainly it would have been difficult to challenge the authority of a President - especially one as determined as Nixon was on retaliating against those he thought were out to get him. However, how many mistakes and poor decisions were executed or supported simply out of this fear? Even worse is the idea that some might be willing to cater to lunacy simply because they liked the taste of power they had in his inner circle at the highest level of authority in America. Disservice to the masses was allowable as long as it helped maintain their own status quo.

In this case, I think the real issue & problem lies with the supporting cast instead of the main actor. What Nixon needed was sensible truth & someone willing to speak it. The tragedy was the demise of a presidency because the supporting cast cared more about their ability to hang onto a role than shape correct policy. Of course stepping up and calling out a leader may get you fired, let go, or pushed the outer edges of obscurity. But that becomes a small price to pay to ensure that history will remember you as the one that stuck to your principles. Is it really worth accepting, dealing with, or even defending policies, decisions, and retaliations you disagree with simply to save your job? Is whatever amount of power you feel from your current position truly worth the compromise it takes to keep it? And who knows. Maybe, just maybe, in speaking up you will prevent a disaster and will earn even more respect from the commander in chief.