Really? I think Nixon is easily the most interesting and complex US president of the 20th century; his parent's (and particularly mother's) deeply held Quaker beliefs had a profound impact on Nixon's character. From 1952 to 1972, '64 was the only year Nixon wasn't on the national ticket of the Republican party in the Presidential election; it's an enormous shame that a figure who was so ubiquitous in American national political life is so overlooked and not the subject of far more study and debate.
I would strongly encourage you to watch Oliver Stone's Nixon (excellent movie, better than JFK imho), and read Conrad Black's biography.
I'm actually doing my masters dissertation on Nixon, Thatcher and Howard. All three came from middle-class entrepreneurial backgrounds (Thatcher's parents were grocers, Nixon's were grocers and gas station owners, Howard's owned a gas station), Thatcher and Howard were Methodist in background, Nixon Quaker in background.
All three came from non-traditional backgrounds for conservative leaders (insofar as they weren't wealthy, establishment figures), and had to overcome and depose a far more patrician mentor or rival (Rockefeller, Heath and Fraser) All three strongly identified with the middle class and small-business owners, and had amazing political instincts in terms of what the electorate wanted. All three were dominant figures in their parties for decades, and were brought down by hubris.
Sorry, a bit of a tangent there, but there are the most extraordinary parralels. You can absolutely see how religious (and economic background) background affects a leader's approach; Carter and Clinton's Southern Baptist roots, George Bush's patrician episcopalianism, and so on. Provides an extraordinary insight into their worldview.
Nixon was one of the most intelligent men to hold the office of President, but even his admirerers saw him as flawed by his paranoia of personal enemies.
No doubt he had a degree of paranoia, and a massive chip on his shoulder, but there also was a degree to which his political opponents in the Democratic Party and Rockefeller Republicans made Nixon's personal characteristics the issue; his background, his physical appearance, etc.
It wasn't just Nixon the Orthogonian quixotically tilting at Franklin windmills his whole life ; Harry Truman said, "If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell" (which puts paid to the idea that American politics is somehow more partisan than it used to be.. though this was pretty extreme even for the time).
They played it personally because they knew Nixon would take it personally, but there was still a degree to which it was extremely distasteful. I also don't think Nixon gets nearly enough credit for holding the Republican Party together during the 1950s. He was an emphatic anti-communist, but never McCarthyite; he certainly played politics rough, but Helen Gaghan Douglas, Jerry Voorhies and Alger Hiss were more than fair targets.
As much as I have enormous respect for Eisenhower, he also treated Nixon very shabbily, and Nixon made many of the important decisions and undertook many of the important jobs (Kitchen debate?) while Eisenhower was out playing golf with his rich friends.
I do think he was treated quite poorly in many ways, by many in his own party and the Democratic Party
Quakers have a very strong pacifist tradition - very different from Nixon's secret bombings of Cambodia.
I don't think that's entirely fair. Nixon was committed to ending the Vietnam war from the time he took office; however, he did not believe the US could simply walk away from its south Vietnamese commitments with its honour intact.
What was occurring in 1967 and 1968 was an absolute bloodbath for the Americans and South Vietnamese (you're talking about hundreds of US soldiers KIA a week at some points) was because the Vietcong had a privileged sanctuary and supply line in Laos and Cambodia.
Continuing to fight the North Vietnamese and Vietcong on the ground, allowing them unlimited resupply and reinforcements to reach the battlefield in complete safety by staying on one side of a border would be extremely foolish and costly. As it happens, by 1972, Nixon had reduced the forces in Vietnam by 90% (from around 500,000 troops in 1968 to 50,000 just before re-election).
The North Vietnamese become pretty serious about negotiating after Linebacker and Linebacker II, and a peace agreement was reached. Nixon had agreed to provide air support to protect South Vietnam in the event of a Northern invasion after withdrawal. The war was pretty much at a stalemate and winding down around 1973. However, Congress' total prohibition on support to South Vietnam meant that the air support that would have deterred the North was absent, and they walked straight in to South Vietnam.
I'm a non-interventionist so I don't believe they should have been there in the first place, but Nixon handled it as well as anybody could have excepting total withdrawal ordered in January 1969 (which would have resulted in serious repercussions for US credibility around the world). The ignominy really belongs to the US government for forbearing the use of any force to protect what 50,000 American lives had been lost fighting to protect (a non-communist South Vietnam).
When you look at Nixon's other achievements, reduction in military spending, ending the draft, opening relations in China, arms reductions and detente with the Soviet Union, creating the EPA and having passed an enormous amount of environmental protection legislation, pushing desegregation to fruition, and so on. The fact that this was simultaneous to extremely unconstitional wiretapping, tax violations (for campaign finance rather than to stuff his pockets), centralising power in the Presidency, and generally acting despotically makes him all the more interesting and complex.
George Fox's view of human nature was very positive ("The Inner Light is the doctrine that there is something Divine, ‘Something of God’ in the human soul"). In light of what we know about Nixon, he seemed to have a Calvinistic view of human nature (ex: William James' "Religion of the Sin Sick Soul").
That's an interesting observation, though I do think Nixon had a very strong belief in the goodness of who he saw as "his people", the moderate American middle-class. I think he did have a very poor view of what he saw as the corrupt, dissolute Eastern establishment, and people who he saw as being ungrateful and irresponsible (antiwar college students, hippies, and so on).
I do also think that his families Quaker Republican background had an enormous influence on his commitment to civil rights and desegregation.
I am sure your Masters research is very rewarding. Nixon is certainly a worthy subject to study!
Cheers, thanks :-) I'm enjoying it very much, all three of these leaders were extraordinary people, and the more I read about Nixon, the more he surprises me (even as I feel I've begun to get a pretty good sense of him over the last 6 months).