Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Anthony Summers

Nixon Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 15 2016.

Colman's Column3

Mendacity and Madness

mad

The Madman on the Stair

Joseph Laitin, of the Office of Management and Budget, told Anthony Summers, author of The Arrogance of Power, that he was on his way to a meeting in the West Wing with Treasury Secretary George Schultz in spring 1974. “Just as I was about to ascend the stairway, a guy came running down the stairs two at a time. He had a frantic look on his face, wild-eyed like a madman. And he bowled me over … before I could pick myself up, six athletic-looking young men leapt over me, pursuing him. I suddenly realised that they were Secret Service agents, that I’d been knocked over by the president of the United States”.

Many people speculated about Nixon’s mental health. Someone who had served with Nixon in the Navy said he had “severe ups and downs” even in the 1940s. Nixon had once “loved” JFK but soon grew to detest him, convinced, with good reason, that Kennedy had beaten him fraudulently in the 1960 presidential election. Kennedy came to regard Nixon as “mentally unsound”. Frank Sinatra, who was campaigning for JFK, wanted to get publicity for a report that Nixon was seeing a psychiatrist. Pat Brown, Nixon’s opponent in the election for governor of California said: “This is a very peculiar fellow.  … I really think he’s psychotic … an able man but he’s nuts …” BBC correspondent Charles Wheeler was Nixon’s guide to East Berlin and described him as “weird …Totally mad.”

Nixon first visited Dr Arnold Hutschnecker, a specialist in psychosomatic illnesses, in 1951, after reading the doctor’s best-selling book, The Will to Live.  Hutschnecker continued to meet Nixon sporadically until shortly before Nixon died. He visited the president twice at the White House and was the only mental health professional known to have treated a president. Although he would not talk about it while Nixon was alive, Hutschnecker had discussed the treatment in several interviews. In the 1950s, he suggested that ”mental health certificates should be required for political leaders, similar to the Wasserman test demanded by states before marriage.”

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Nixon admitted that he started using sleeping pills in the late 40s. Over a long period soon after becoming president, he also consumed, without prescription or medical supervision, large quantities of an anti-epileptic drug called Dilantin. A doctor consulted by Anthony Summers was alarmed that anyone in a position of responsibility, particularly one with access to the nuclear button, was taking Dilantin and drinking alcohol.

Lies and Ethics

Nixon’s lawyer during the Watergate affair, Fred Buzhardt, later remembered him as “the most transparent liar” he had ever met. Even during his farewell speech after he had resigned he embarked on a bizarre stream-of-consciousness in which he claimed that he was not educated and had no personal wealth in fact, he had a good law degree and was very rich. Barry Goldwater, who had long believed Nixon was insane, said when he was trying to persuade him to resign during Watergate: “The danger in this whole thing was his constant telling lies”. Nixon himself said to one of his aides before meeting Mormon elders: “Whatever I say in there, don’t you believe a word of it…” This reminds me of something Rauf Hakeem said in a 2007 interview: “The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.” Like Hakeem, Nixon believed that “dissembling” and “hypocrisy” were part of political life. Kissinger thought Nixon convinced himself by his distortions.

inoperative

The tendency was already there in his student debating days when his debating coach was disturbed by his “ability to slide round an argument rather than meet it head on. There was something mean in him, mean in the way he put his questions, argued his points”.

In his first days working for the law firm Wingert and Bewley he made a blunder in court which led to the firm being sued for negligence and Judge Alfred Paonessa sternly reprimanded Nixon: “Mr Nixon, I have serious doubts about your ethical qualifications to practise law in this state of California. I am seriously thinking of turning this matter over to the Bar Association to have you disbarred”.

used-car

Madman with a Button

Sometimes Nixon used madness as a political strategy. He told Kissinger to tell the Soviet ambassador that he had lost his senses and might use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Nixon’s Watergate nemesis Senator Sam Ervin said that the main issue was not that the president was a crook – most rational people had long accepted that: “A certain thumb moving towards a certain red button, a certain question of sanity … Query: if the man who holds the thumb over the button is mad …”. Nixon  was heard boasting that he could press a button and in 20 minutes 50 million Russians would be dead.

brezhnev

When Soviet-backed Arab troops moved into Israel there was a real prospect of world war as Kissinger believed that Soviet troops would be sent in. Nixon did not attend a single meeting on the conflict during the first week. US troops and nuclear weapons were being lined up. Nixon was unavailable – drunk or sleeping. At one point, he had to be rescued from an overflowing bath tub. It was alleged that he had hit his wife. He was wandering the corridors of the White House talking to portraits of former presidents.

madman-diplomacy

Violence

Nixon’s anger sometimes tipped over into violence. At a rally in Southern California, he spotted a Democratic party activist who had plagued him. He strode over and slapped her in the face. He physically attacked the producer of a TV programme because he allowed college students to ask him difficult questions. On the same tour, he punched someone in the face. His aide Bob Haldeman recalls that, on a tour of Iowa, a military aide called Don Hughes was sitting in the car seat in front of Nixon. Nixon, frustrated by the way the tour was going, repeatedly kicked with both feet the back of the seat in front of him.  The next time the car stopped Hughes got out and silently walked away. There is film evidence of Nixon manhandling press secretary Ron Ziegler in New Orleans and he seemed drunk when he gave a speech afterwards.

 

Envy, Vengeance and Prejudices

Nixon’s aide Alexander Butterfield recalls the president shaking with anger when talking about the “Georgetown set”. “Did one of those dirty bastards ever invite me to his f***ing men’s club or his goddamn country club? Not once”. Journalist Hugh Sidey could not detect any human bond between Nixon and his wife but Gloria Steinem saw why Richard and Pat bonded although he was cold to her and beat her. “They were together in their resentment of glamorous people who had it easy…”.

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Nixon ordered the army to spy on the young veteran who exposed the massacre at My Lai and griped for hours about the negative publicity: “It’s those dirty rotten Jews from New York who are behind it”.

 

garment

Although he worked with Jews like Kissinger and Leonard Garment, Nixon used the word “kike” and sent an aide to investigate a “Jewish cabal” at the Bureau of Labour Statistics and complained that there were too many Jews at the IRS. Women in government were a pain in the neck; Italians were all dishonest, as were Mexicans. He often referred to African-Americans as “Jigaboos”.

 

jigaboo

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With Martin Luther King in 1957

 

A convicted murderer, William Gilday, claimed that he was hired by Nixon aides to carry out dirty tricks, including the ultimate dirty trick of murder. Among those Gilday  was incited to kill were Edward Kennedy and George Wallace. When Wallace was shot, he had to withdraw from the presidential race that Nixon won.

wallace

Wallace harboured suspicions of Nixon’s involvement. Journalists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson infuriated Nixon with their reporting of secret funding. Gordon Liddy said he was charged with finding ways of stopping them. Liddy came to the conclusion that the only way would be to kill them.

More on Nixon’s crimes  – and his connections with organised crime – next week.

 

Nixon Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 8 2016. Unfortunately, the final paragraphs were missing.

Colman's Column3

So much is being written about the election of Donald Trump that I have decided not to add to the verbiage at this point. I have plenty more to say about the Trump phenomenon but I will wait until some dust has settled. The idea occurred to me to write a series about mad American presidents.

nixons_the_one_portrait_1968

Wise and Humane Rulers

Justice Davis wrote in a Supreme Court judgement in 1866, that the nation has “no right to expect that it will always have wise and humane rulers, sincerely attached to the principles of the Constitution. Wicked men, ambitious of power, with hatred of liberty and contempt of law, may fill the place once occupied by Washington and Lincoln.” That is similar to the argument I used against the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution in 2010. It is interesting to note that Richard M Nixon gave serious thought to changing the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution in order to allow himself a third term (and more). The 25th Amendment, which deals with the succession when a sitting president is impaired, was given much study  during Nixon’s presidency.

As long ago as 1973, people were seriously questioning whether the institution of the presidency could work. American journalist Max Lerner wrote:  “A man with poor judgment, an impetuous man, a sick man, a power-mad man, each would be dangerous in the post. Even an able, sensitive man needs stronger safeguards around him than exist today.”

The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon by Anthony Summers was published in 2000 and provides a very detailed forensic picture of Nixon’s many failings. There have been attempts to rehabilitate Nixon. I recently read Evan Thomas’s Nixon: A Man Divided and was almost feeling sorry for the old brute. That feeling did not last until the end of the book.

Dick Deterred

When I was learning about mad presidents on my American Studies course, one of my contemporaries at Manchester University was the playwright David Edgar. He made his name with a brilliant play about the rise of fascism in Britain, Destiny, and won global fame with his work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, an 8½ hour-long adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel. In 1973, he imagined what Shakespeare might have made of Richard Nixon in his play Dick Deterred, the basic joke of which is to cast Nixon as the villainous Richard III.

Now is this winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this Texan bum
And all the crowds who never dodged the draft
Deserting are the bosoms of Saigon
Our brows now bound with wreaths of compromise
Our bruised armies are demobilized
Our napalm bombs are changed to Paris meetings
Our My Lai massacres to diplomatic measures
But I, that am not shaped for aught but tricks
Nor made to court an amorous CBS
I that am rudely stamped, and want capacity
To strut before a wanton East Coast liberal…

dickdeterred

Mendacity

The ‘M’ in Richard M Nixon should stand for mendacity. An editorial in the London Spectator in 1973 noted that in two centuries American history had come full circle “from George Washington, who could not tell a lie, to Richard Nixon, who cannot tell the truth.” Novelist George V Higgins wrote in 1974: “He became a virtuoso of deception, a wizard as a manipulator of reality and facts, and of the nation’s trust.” Like Bill Clinton, Nixon was not bothered that people who were loyal to him suffered because of his mendacity. Because of Nixon’s lies fourteen of his associates went to prison but he was pardoned.

Tricky Dicky’s Dirty Tricks

Jerry Voorhis was a highly-respected Democrat from California who served five terms in the House of Representatives from 1937 to 1947. Nixon defeated Voorhis in 1946 in a campaign cited as an example of Nixon’s use of red-baiting during his political rise despite the fact that Voorhis “temperamentally and philosophically loathed” Communism and was described by Senator Paul Douglas as “a political saint”.

voorhis

Nixon’s defeat of Voorhis was achieved under the guidance of Murray Chotiner. Chotiner explained his philosophy: “I believe in all sincerity that if you do not deflate the opposition candidate before your own campaign gets started, the odds are you are doomed to defeat.” Nixon hired Chotiner again to organise his 1950 Senate campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas.

gahagan-douglas

Chotiner distorted Douglas’s liberal voting record, printed the accusations on pink paper to hint at communist sympathy and referred to her as the “Pink Lady”.

25 Apr 1956, Beverly Hills, California, USA --- Murray M. Chotiner, campaign manager for Vice-President Richard Nixon in the 1952 campaign, looks at a subpoena requesting his presence in Washington for questioning regarding his alleged legal services for a blacklisted government contractor. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

25 Apr 1956, Beverly Hills, California, USA — Murray M. Chotiner, campaign manager for Vice-President Richard Nixon in the 1952 campaign, looks at a subpoena requesting his presence in Washington for questioning regarding his alleged legal services for a blacklisted government contractor. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Chotiner next managed Nixon’s 1952 vice presidential campaign and helped Nixon through allegations of antisemitism (it helped that Chotiner was a Jew) and revelations that there were privately run funds to pay Nixon’s political expenses—revelations that the candidate decisively overcame with his televised Checkers speech. (More on that later.)

Chotiner was investigated in 1956 by Congress on suspicion of influence-peddling. Under questioning by subcommittee counsel Robert F Kennedy, Chotiner disclosed that he had been retained by New Jersey mobster Marco Regnelli in an attempt to stave off a deportation order.  (More on Nixon and organised crime later.) Nixon distanced himself for a while but recalled Chotiner to work on his unsuccessful 1962 campaign for Governor of California, and again for his successful 1968 presidential bid. Chotiner was able to place a “mole” on Hubert Humphrey’s campaign press plane who reported on comments made by the Democratic candidate and his staff, and made evaluations of their morale.

Chotiner was still around at the time of Watergate, but during the Nixon presidency, Donald Segretti was the main dirty tricks man and indeed coined the phrase.

Donald Segretti

The 1972 presidential campaign is remembered as one of the dirtiest in modern times. Segretti’s operatives began their attacks during the Democratic primaries. They printed fliers attacking Maine Senator Ed Muskie’s stance on Israel and put them under the windshield wipers of cars outside synagogues, making it look like John Lindsay was the culprit. They stole Citizens for Muskie stationery and sent out a letter accusing Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of fathering an illegitimate child with a teenager and falsely claiming that he had been arrested for homosexuality in the 1950s.

Paranoia Strikes Deep

The Nixon White House was paranoid. In 1969, Nixon’s staff compiled a list of two hundred politicians, actors, academics and other well-known figures who were considered enemies. http://www.enemieslist.info/list1.php. Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen and Gregory Peck are there, as is, inevitably, Jane Fonda. There was a short list of people targeted for immediate retribution. The IRS, FBI and CIA were directed by the president to harass and dig up dirt on “enemies”. Some celebrities were not listed but harassed anyway, John Lennon, for example.

Wiretaps were used without judicial warrant, not only on opponents, but on members of the government, as factions vied for prominence within the administration. Kissinger ordered wiretaps of officials suspected of leaking to the press; attorney general John Mitchell tapped John Sear, a rival for Nixon’s attention; chief of staff Alexander Haig ordered a tap on speechwriter William Safire; the Joint Chiefs of Staff set a navy ensign to spy on Kissinger at the same time that Kissinger had a spy watching Secretary of Defense Melvyn Laird.

Mental Health

Henry Kissinger said Nixon was the “strangest man I ever met” and aide Alexander Butterfield found him “a strange, strange fellow”. Evan Thomas sympathetically described his social awkwardness, his physical clumsiness, his tin ear for normal behaviour. As a boy, Nixon was a friendless loner but was elected to several leadership positions in high school through sheer determination. He was constantly proving himself. The dark side of all this is that he felt venomous hatred for those who succeeded easily and stylishly. He was self-pitying, jealous, vengeful and resentful. Elizabeth Drew writes: “He was often openly angry, not infrequently depressed, and more than occasionally drunk on the job, but his daughters loved him and remain fiercely loyal.”

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