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Jewish World Review April 8, 2002 / 27 Nisan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

What Nixon's best
friend couldn't buy | The dispute between Richard Nixon's daughters over a $19 million gift from their father's best friend is fascinating in a way that has nothing to do with the money, and nothing to do with the daughters.

The Nixon daughters -- Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox -- are battling each other in court over what will be done with the estimated-as-high-as $19 million bequeathed to the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation by Bebe Rebozo. Rebozo, a wealthy Florida businessman who died in 1998, was often said to be Nixon's best friend -- one of the few people in the world in whose presence Nixon could relax and be himself.

Nixon's daughters -- who, according to several news reports, barely speak -- have a deep difference of opinion about who should control the $19 million that Rebozo left to the Nixon Library. Julie Nixon Eisenhower believes the money should be controlled by the library's board; Tricia Nixon Cox wants the money controlled by a small group dominated by the Nixon family.

There are important issues here about the independence of presidential libraries, and the objectivity with which those libraries reflect history.

But to me, the most intriguing thing about all of this is:

Nixon's best friend gave $19 million to the Nixon Library.

And Nixon didn't even let the best friend call him by his first name.

At least that's Nixon's version of it. I got to know him a little bit during the final years of his life, and during a conversation we had about the formality of Nixon's personal style, the subject of Rebozo came up.

Nixon had been a little wary even discussing his motives for the way he acted: "I have never been one to do a very effective job of psychoanalysis," he told me. "I don't try to psychoanalyze others, and so I'm not that good at psychoanalyzing myself. I think, frankly, that those who engage in that activity -- much of it is superficial and contrived, and most of it is useless."

But, he conceded, it was important to him not to ever appear to be "one of the guys." Nixon said: "A president must not be one of the crowd. He must maintain a certain figure. People want him to be that way. They don't want him to be down there saying, `Look, I'm the same as you.' . . .

"In all the years I was in the White House, I never recall running around in a sport shirt, let alone a T-shirt. Or sneakers and the rest."

He said he almost never let other people know how he was truly feeling: "I never wanted to be buddy-buddy. . . . Even with close friends. I don't believe in letting your hair down, confiding this and that and the other thing -- saying, `Gee, I couldn't sleep' . . . I believe you should keep your troubles to yourself.

"That's just the way I am. Some people are different. Some people think it's good therapy to sit with a close friend and, you know, just spill your guts . . . [to] reveal their inner psyche -- whether they were breast-fed, or bottle-fed. Not me. No way."

I told him that most Americans, even at the end of his career, still felt they didn't know him.

"Yeah, it's true," Nixon said. "And it's not necessary for them to know."

This is when I brought up Rebozo. Certainly, I said to Nixon, his best friends were allowed to treat him differently -- were allowed, for example, to call him by his first name.

"No," Nixon said. "They didn't. Even my close friends like Rebozo, for example, did not refer to me that way."

I told him I found that difficult to believe. When Nixon and Rebozo were out on a fishing boat, and Rebozo wanted to offer Nixon a beer -- did Nixon actually require his best friend to say, `Would you like a beer, Mr. President?'"

"Yep," Nixon said. "That's right. That's the way."

So -- by Nixon's own accounting -- Rebozo might have thought highly enough of him that he would leave $19 million to the Nixon library, but even that wasn't enough, when the two men were alive, to buy Rebozo the right to call his best friend by his first name.

"When I'm writing a speech or working on a book or dictating or so forth, I'm always wearing a coat and tie," Nixon told me. "Even when I'm alone. If I were to take it off, probably I would catch cold. That's the way it is."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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