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                                     Personality and Political Behavior

The Young Nixon and His Rivals

As an analyst and manager at the Central Intelligence Agency for many years, Worthen specialized in the assessment of foreign leaders. The profiles he and his colleagues wrote were used to prepare American diplomats and other policymakers for encounters with their counterparts in governments around the world.

The most interesting aspect of this work was in determining how the personality of a foreign leader affected his or her political behavior. For example, it is hard to understand the policies of China’s government in the 1950s and 1960s without knowing something about the personality of Chairman Mao. And Libya’s actions on the international stage during the past forty years are not fully comprehensible without an understanding of the inner world of long-time President Moamar Qaddafi.

Since retiring from the CIA, Worthen has sought to apply that same approach to the study of American politicians. His first book, Governor James Rolph and the Great Depression in California, was about a man who was known less for his mastery of policy than for his humanity, personal magnetism, and sunny optimism. As mayor of San Francisco, Rolph deployed the politics of personality so well that he was elected to five terms in office. But his charismatic style was less effective on the larger stage of state politics, and his administration was unable to address the root causes of the economic calamity of the 1930s.

Twenty years later, four Republicans with vastly different personal styles dominated California’s political landscape. Worthen's second book, The Young Nixon and His California Rivals: Four California Republicans Eye the White House, 1946-1958, tells the story of Richard Nixon’s rivalry with Governor Earl Warren, Senator William Knowland, and Governor Goodwin Knight. The personalities of these four men were an incendiary mix, and they provided the motivating force for their twelve-year struggle for power.

Worthen's next book will analyze the power relationships among the men closest to President Dwight Eisenhower. The many strong personalities in Ike’s Cabinet and White House staff exerted a powerful influence on US domestic and foreign policies in the 1950s.

Photo Credits: Richard Nixon Presidential Library, Yorba Linda, CA

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