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Rothenberg, A.B. (1975). Why Nixon Taped Himself. Infantile Fantasies Behind Watergate. Psychoanal. Rev., 62(2):201-223.

(1975). Psychoanalytic Review, 62(2):201-223

Why Nixon Taped Himself. Infantile Fantasies Behind Watergate

Alan B. Rothenberg


In the end, Richard M. Nixon was convicted in the public mind by his own admissions on three of his White House tapes of April 23, 1973. Now that his guilt has been tacitly established by his acceptance of President Ford's pardon, the central question that remains unanswered is: Why did this once powerful man jeopardize his own safety in office by ordering electronic devices to record his private, often self-incriminating conversations which, he must have known, would bring his swift downfall if they were ever made public? As indeed they were. Was it the value of the tapes as tax deductions or collectors' items that lured him into ordering the tape recorders turned on for two years in the Oval Office? Was it the value of the tapes as blackmail to insure the loyalty and silence of his fellow conspirators? Such advantages to Mr. Nixon should have seemed petty compared to the enormous price these incriminating tapes would cost him should their existence and nature be discovered.

We must therefore look beyond such rational or mercenary explanations of his behavior if we are to find satisfactory answers to our central question. Psychoanalysis suggests that unconscious, infantile rather than conscious, realistic motives may have propelled Mr. Nixon and his associates into much of their misconduct. We shall turn, then, to psychoanalysis for a more penetrating illumination of some aspects of the worst political scandal in American history.



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