This article was published in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 22 2016
Henry Kissinger frequently referred to Nixon as a madman but said: “Can you imagine what this man could have been if somebody had loved him? He would have been a great, great man had somebody loved him”.
Evan Thomas, in his somewhat sympathetic biography of Nixon, A Man Divided, almost makes one feel sorry for the man’s awkwardness. He was inept at anything requiring hand-eye coordination. When mounting the dais for his inauguration in January 1969 Nixon tripped and the ambassador from Ecuador noted that his last utterance before taking the oath was “Oops!” He frequently stabbed soldiers he was pinning medals on; at a treaty signing he forgot to take the cap off the pen and then dropped it, leaving aides to scramble around on the floor; he danced like a man with three left feet.
Stewart Alsop the columnist coined a new word Nixonophobia to describe the allergic reaction that many people, including Republicans, had to Nixon. When Nixon was vice-president in 1955, President Eisenhower had a heart attack. Party chairman Leonard Hall was asked what the Republicans would do if Ike died. Hall replied: “We would run him anyway. There is nothing in the Constitution that says the President must be alive”.
Nixon was generally uncomfortable with women and although he used his wife Pat to boost his career he was often cold and impatient with her in public. He would gallantly open doors for other women but march on through in front of Pat as if she were not there. Once she came into the room when he was preparing for a broadcast. He shouted: “Haven’t I told you never to bother me while I’m working?… Now get out”. There were credible allegations that he struck her in his drunken rages.
Many people commented that Nixon was lonely and friendless but he did develop a strong attachment to Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, a Florida businessman of Cuban origin who had grown rich from real estate. When he was 18 in 1931, Rebozo had followed an intense friendship with Donald Gunn by marrying Gunn’s sister Clare. The marriage was not consummated and was annulled. She married and had two children but her husband was killed in the war. Rebozo proposed to her again and she accepted but the second marriage only lasted two years. In middle age, Rebozo formalised what was described as “an antiseptic relationship” with his lawyer’s secretary. An airline steward claimed to have had a long sexual relationship with Rebozo and someone else said Rebozo had definitely been a member of Miami’s homosexual community.
When he was in the Navy, Nixon showed a flair for poker which enabled him to come home from the war $10,000 richer ($132,879.21 in 2016 value). There is evidence that Nixon lost his winning streak on a trip to Cuba with Dana Smith, a lawyer who was a friend of Nixon’s and managed a fund setup by businessmen for Nixon’s expenses. As well as doing Smith a favour with the IRS, Nixon, in August 1952, had written to the State Department about a problem with a gambling debt of $4,200 ($37,486.98 in 2016 value) run up by Smith at the Sans Souci casino in Havana. To cut a long story short, it seems that it was Nixon who lost the money not Smith. Witnesses claim that Nixon lost $50,000 ($446,273.58 in 2016 value) at the Hotel Nacional in the early 50s and Rebozo bailed him out. Rebozo was friendly with the owner of the Hotel Nacional, Meyer Lansky, the mobster. Nixon was granted complimentary facilities at the hotel. When Robert Kennedy was handed documents showing that Lansky had footed Nixon’s bill he did not use them because of the Mob connections of his own father and brother.
Nixon developed something of an obsession with the aborted attempt by the Kennedy administration to overthrow Castro with the Bay of Pigs fiasco. William Pawley was a staunch and rich right-wing Republican who had donated to Nixon’s campaigns. He had grown up in Cuba and detested Castro. His niece said that Pawley was for years “up to his eyebrows” in attempts to topple Castro and that Nixon was one of his key contacts. The last US ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsal, had no doubt that Nixon was “the father of the operation” to topple Castro.
Buying the President
Joe McGinniss wrote a book about the 1968 presidential campaign called The Selling of the President in which he described how Nixon was marketed with the help of the J Walter Thompson advertising agency and two television producers. His chief of staff Bob Haldeman came from the J Walter Thompson agency.
In a previous article, I described how Nixon, in his first Congressional election campaign, used dirty tricks to defeat Jerry Voorhis. Voorhis had made himself unpopular with big business by exposing shady deals and dodgy profits. Nixon’s opponent in his bid for the Senate, Helen Gahagan Douglas, was outspokenly anti-Communist but was also in favour of limiting the power of big business including the oil industry. Nixon was very different, having made friends in the oil industry in the 1940s. At a meeting in 1946 of 75 executives, Fred Ortman said they had found just the man to beat Voorhis. “If he makes it, he has what it takes to go all the way. He says he can’t live on a congressman’s salary. Needs a lot more than that to match what he would get in private law practice… We’re going to help”. It is interesting to note that President-elect Donald Trump has named an oil executive as his Secretary of State.
Murray Chotiner, Nixon’s dirty tricks specialist, and his brother Jack Chotiner, were partners in a law firm which handled 221 bookmaking cases in a four-year period. The betting industry was controlled by organised crime. In his very first campaign, Nixon had taken money (initially five thousand dollars – $44,127.80 in 2016 value) from Mickey Cohen, a flamboyant gangster (and former partner of Bugsy Siegel) who operated in Nixon’s constituency. Cohen was getting his orders to support Nixon from notorious mobsters Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello. Cohen arranged a payment of $75,000 ($751,668.43 in 2016 value) for the campaign against Gahagan. Rackets investigator Walter Sheridan asked, “who would you invest your money in? Some politician named Clams Linguini? Or a nice Protestant boy from Whittier, California?”
There were allegations that Nixon accumulated vast funds with Rebozo’s help. His net worth tripled during his five years in the White House and investigative journalist Jack Anderson alleged that Rebozo and Nixon both had much more in Swiss bank accounts. A Swiss hotelier who was a fan of Nixon recalled that even during the 80s Nixon travelled to Zurich every year, sometimes with Pat, sometimes with Rebozo. Rebozo had connections with gangsters that Nixon must have been aware of.
Howard Hughes was not known as a philanthropist but he gave Nixon a large donation, brokered by Rebozo, and his problems with the IRS vanished. Terry Lenzner, who was the chief investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, speculated that it was Nixon’s desire to know what the Democrats knew about his dealings with Hughes that may have partially motivated the Watergate break-in. Anthony Summers in his biography of Nixon, The Arrogance of Power, presents evidence in the form of a photocopy of a neatly hand-written memo from Hughes setting out what he expected from Nixon in return for his donation to the 1968 campaign. He wanted the Vietnam war to continue so that he could recoup his losses on helicopters. He basically wanted whoever was president to be in his debt: “I Howard Hughes, can buy any man I want”.
During Nixon’s unsuccessful bid for the governorship of California in 1962, an official of his opponent Pat Brown, visited Mickey Cohen in Alcatraz and obtained a signed statement that Nixon had received Mob money in previous campaigns. Rebozo and Nixon were still dealing with Meyer Lansky during the 1968 presidential campaign.
Next week – Nixon’s further crimes.