Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Evan Thomas

Nixon Part Five

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday January 5 2017

Colman's Column3

A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.

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Nixon inspired   widespread loathing and derision; I recall a sketch on Monty Python Live at Drury Lane in the early 70s; a group of men are gathered around a bar: “Have you heard the news? Nixon’s had an arsehole transplant. The arsehole rejected him”.  We must balance this with the more positive view presented in Evan Thomas’s biography, Being Nixon: A Man Divided.

Nixon’s Good Points

Chekhov’s criterion for calling a man good was a daughter’s affection and Nixon’s daughters Tricia and Julie certainly seemed to have a genuine deep love for him, which was reciprocated.

tricia-and-julie

Thomas believes that, despite the references to ‘jigaboos’ and ‘jungle bunnies’ on the Watergate tapes, Nixon was not a racist. When Nixon was at Duke University, he made sure that a black student called William Brock was welcomed into his fraternity, at a time when almost all fraternities around the country were segregated.  Nixon spoke out about segregation in Durham, and one of his classmates recalled: “He looked upon the issue as a moral issue”.

 

One of his classmates at Duke, Fred Cady, had been disabled with polio. Every day, Nixon carried him up the steps to class. Those who worked closely with him in later years regarded him as kind and considerate. He was shy and introverted by nature and did not like confrontation. Chuck Colson said that Nixon could be “brutally cold, calculating, a manipulator of power”—but “could never bring himself to point out to a secretary her misspellings”. Nevertheless, he showed great courage facing angry mobs who were spitting and throwing rocks on his foreign tours as vice president.

 

In Thomas’s judgement, Nixon, even as a congressman and a senator, had a long-range vision that most of his congressional peers lacked. He voted for the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe because he understood that the Republican Party was doomed to irrelevance if it regressed to pre–World War II isolationism.

 

China

 

There were certainly achievements. In April 1971, Nixon approved a trip to China by the US Ping-Pong team and announced a plan to ease travel and trade restrictions. At the same time, his national security advisor Henry Kissinger was making secret trips to Beijing.

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Nixon said that one of his long-term aims was the normalization of relations with China. His foreign policy was bogged down by the seemingly intractable Vietnam war and he was trying to find ways of containing the Soviet Union. Nixon saw advantages in improving relations with both China and the Soviet Union; he hoped that détente would put pressure on the North Vietnamese to end the Vietnam War.

Until Nixon’s 1972 visit, China was a pariah country like today’s North Korea and Nixon could claim credit for its isolation. His anti-communist stance when running for Congress against Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas, his support for Senator Joe McCarthy, his pursuit of Alger Hiss, helped him domestically to get away with approaching China. In 1964, he categorically stated that “it would be disastrous to the cause of freedom” for the US to recognize Red China, but he did it anyway. His record of anti-Communism gave him the credentials for making the bold move of establishing normal relations.

nixon-in-china-poster

In 1972, China had a reasonably educated work force of nearly a billion willing to work for low wages. China was not burdened by environmental and health and safety regulations such as those being introduced in the US by Nixon himself. The Chinese leadership   was ready to take the   opportunity offered by Nixon through opening up of Western markets. His initiative hastened China’s technological advance through western transfers and gave China the means to fend off potential unrest by employing millions in an expanding economy. China’s military progress benefited from the huge forex reserves accumulated from the massive exports of cheap Chinese products and China used those reserves to acquire the latest military technology.

Critics have questioned whether Nixon’s initiative was such a good thing either for the Chinese people or for the US economy. As of October 2016, the US debt to China is $1.115 trillion.  China’s role as America’s largest banker gives it leverage. US presidents who followed Nixon did not try to reverse his China policy. Even Bill Clinton became an enthusiastic supporter of trade with China once he took lessons in foreign policy from Nixon in early 1993. Even before he was inaugurated, Donald Trump was calling China an enemy, an “absolute abuser of the United States.”

Liberal Policies

Defenders of Nixon point out that he could have cancelled LBJ’s Great Society welfare programmes, but instead enlarged them. From 1970 to 1975, spending on human resource services exceeded spending for defence for the first time since World War II. Unemployment benefits were extended; social security benefits went up. The Nixon administration expanded the enforcement of affirmative action and signed legislation which banned sexual discrimination in education. He also supported the Constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18 and abolished the draft.

Even while he was being undermined by Watergate, Nixon was proposing a comprehensive national health insurance scheme which was not significantly different from the one that Barack Obama finally pushed through. In May 1974, such a massive piece of social welfare legislation had no chance of success in Congress.

 

He set up the Environmental Protection Agency. This is an example of Nixon’s pragmatism rather than liberalism. Nixon was not interested in environmental issues and delegated them to his aides, saying at one point: “Just keep me out of trouble on environmental issues.” He called the environmental movement “crap” for “clowns.” Nixon spoke of himself as a conservative who wanted smaller government. With an activist Democratic Congress, he recognised the need for compromise.

Some commentators are cynical about Nixon and de-segregation. Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” was to appeal to racial prejudice in the South and among blue-collar workers in the North and West. Nixon told an aide: “I think if we can keep liberal writers convinced that we are doing what the Court requires, and our conservative friends we are not doing any more than what the Court requires, I think we can walk this tightrope until November, 1972.”

In two landmark decisions with Nixon’s appointees providing 4 of the 5 votes, the Supreme Court effectively held that school systems could be separate and unequal as long as this was accomplished through tax policy and the arbitrary drawing of district boundaries rather than through direct pupil assignment. Nixon instructed government agencies to go only as far as required by court orders and no further.

Project Wizard – Rehabilitation

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Elizabeth Drew referred to the inevitable process whereby historians try to find a new angle by rehabilitating a previously scorned figure. Nixon was himself at the forefront of rehabilitation attempts in what was termed Project Wizard. The plan succeeded to a great extent.

Everyone who was anyone on the New York scene wanted to be invited to the dinners (fine Chinese food served by Chinese staff) Nixon gave in his New York brownstone. He made more trips to China and travelled around the US making speeches about great leaders he had known, and wrote many books and op-eds. By late 1979, Gallup ranked him as one of the ten most-admired people in the world.

However, was deluding himself in thinking that he could return to real influence. After Reagan was re-elected, Nixon really believed that he had earned a high-level position in the administration.  Reagan aides were incredulous. Nixon threatened Bill Clinton that if he were not paid proper respect as a foreign-affairs expert he would write an op-ed in a major newspaper attacking the president’s handling of foreign policy. It never occurred to him that many found him a nuisance.

 

fiveprez

Five presidents attended Nixon’s funeral—he got some respect when he was dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nixon Part Three

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Thursday December 22 2016

Colman's Column3

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”.

Oops!

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.

Friends

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.

nix-rebozo

Gambling

navy

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.

Cuba

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.

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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.

Mob Connections.

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?”

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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”.

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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.

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Next week – Nixon’s further crimes.

 

 

 

 

 

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