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Sylvan LaChance Professor Fulsom November 7, 2013 Nixons Mental Health Since the administration of Richard Nixon, there

has been much speculation about various conditions or mental illnesses the President may have suffered from. For sure, Nixon made many questionable decisions that led to all this inquiry. Although I suspect that President Nixon had personality quirks that did not serve him or the country well during his time in office, the assigning of mental illness or disorder robs the President of certain agency, and somewhat excuses his actions on account of mental instability. One would assume that every president has questionable qualities that allow him to run for office. In every case, these qualities can be turned around into personality disorders or repression of childhood memories. Wanting to be the President of the United States, arguably the most stressful position in the world, probably requires a moderate amount of crazy, at the very least. The psyche of Richard Nixon is important in understanding his administration and his malevolent behavior, but we need to be careful of over-diagnosing. Nixon was shaped by his experiences just as anyone else, and that doesnt necessarily mean he had an innate psychological problem. If one were to research his childhood, many of his behaviors seem understandable. The death of his two brothers may have led him to form stronger fraternal ties in his adult life. Abuse from his father may have caused him to react similarly with his anger towards his own family. The absence of paternal love may

have left a void that Nixon tried desperately to fill with acceptance from others. In some ways, he pushed his need for love to the side and settled on respect. Every human being needs some sort of positive confirmation, and perhaps his inner desire for this went unsatiated. Throughout his presidency, it is clear that he is continuously looking for validation. He sounds so confident and sure of himself one minute, and the next he asks, dont you agree? as if the entire legitimacy of his own claim rests on the answer. He needs constant approval. This insecurity may have originated from childhood, from his lost races, or even from the complex he constructed from his feelings toward the Kennedy brothers. Insecurity goes hand in hand with many of Nixons other traits. The paranoia, the neuroticism, the anxiety and the depression can all be traced to an overwhelming feeling of insecurity. He was always trying to come out from underneath someone elses shadow. The apprehensive feeling of never being good enough and never being able to prove his worth tore away at him. And while this could be diagnosed by a therapist, his feelings dont seem to be irrational. They can be traced and they can be understood. His deep seeded insecurity is seen through many of his encounters. Calls to Haldeman the night he resigned prove that the President was very unsure of himself. He goes back and forth with propositions, proposing and rescinding in a moments notice. His impromptu trip to the Jefferson Memorial to speak with protesting students was also a sign of his insecurity. He wavered on his topics, speaking at length about nothing in particular, as if through a stream of consciousness. He lacked the confidence to directly engage with the students about their concerns. Instead, he

wanted to talk about football. In search of a purely human moment, Nixon tried to talk to the students about sports and other comparatively insignificant topics, as if he was trying to be the popular guy in high school. This quest for normalcy was never secured for Nixon. Nixon was reliant on others. Even his Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, said, Nixon was in need of protection from himself. When Palestinians hijacked an airplane and landed it in Jordan, the President ordered the bombing of a Jordanian airfield. Conveniently, Laird admitted, the weather that day was not good, and the Presidents wishes were not acted upon. In another debacle involving Palestinian hijackers, Nixon called Kissinger to demand the bombing of Damascus. Kissinger acknowledged the request but did nothing about it. There was a notion throughout his Presidency that his decisions were not the final word and that they needed to be monitored to a large degree. People in his administration felt that they could protect the President by avoiding action on his orders, while discussing alternate paths to pursue. While some of these demands seem very irrational, erratic and violent, they were immediate responses to crises. They are the foreign policy equivalent of hitting his wife when she upset him. Though the reaction may be irrational, I dont think his actual feelings were. His emotions were substantiated by his past. He was a smart man with a temper, and this temper was seen through his quick decisions. Nevertheless, the study of Richard Nixon begs the question: Should we require future candidates for the presidency to take a psychological test before assuming office? If a program like that had been in place decades ago, would Nixon have been seen as fit to rule the nation?