Fifty-six years ago in the historical rear view mirror, the four Kennedy-Nixon debates were the first presidential debates and set the precedent for presidential debates, although the next would not occur until 1976 between Ford and Carter. In the first debate Kennedy, who secretly suffered from numerous ailments, radiated health and vigor. Nixon looked terrible in comparison, having been hospitalized for two weeks in August over an infected knee and having not regained the weight he lost during his recovery. Nixon insisted on campaigning until the time of the debate and refused to wear television makeup. Nixon’s mother called him after the debate and asked him if he was ill. After the debate, polls indicated that Kennedy went from a slight deficit to a slight lead. Continue reading
Hard to believe that it is 57 years since the Kitchen Debate between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschchev. The US scored one of the biggest propaganda coups of the Cold War by building a typical American house, cut in half for easy viewing, at the American National Exhibit at Sokolniki Park in Moscow in 1959. This was part of an agreement where the Soviets staged an exhibit in New York the same year. Ordinary Soviets flocked to see it and were awed at the technology in the house featuring the latest labor saving and recreational devices in 1959. They were floored at the contention of the Americans that this was a typical house that an average American could afford. The impromptu debate between Khruschchev redounded greatly to the benefit of Nixon who came across to American audiences as an able champion of their cause. Khruschchev was also impressed by Nixon, so much so that he later claimed that he did everything in his power to defeat Nixon when Nixon ran for President in 1960. Continue reading
The “Checkers Speech” given by Richard Nixon which allowed him to stay on the ticket as Vice-President on September 23, 1952. The speech got its name from Nixon’s use of the pet dog given to his daughters, Checkers, to gain sympathy by stating that the girls had gotten fond of the dog and he would not return it. The speech was classic Nixon: go on the offensive, self-pitying, maudlin and oh so effective. Nixon was never a great orator, but until Watergate he never lost the touch of appealing to the average American. His high brow, usually left wing, critics savaged him, but Nixon never forgot that the purpose of a political speech is persuasion.
A classic anti-Nixon poster asked if you would buy a used car from him. For most of his career, Nixon could have sold a car with a shot transmission and four bald tires to a substantial segment of the American population and they would have thanked him for it. Whence this power? I think Nixon early tapped into the resentment that a growing number of average Americans had toward the chattering classes that were rapidly losing touch with them, and looked down on them. That Nixon privately shared many of the views of the chattering classes that despised him as the ultimate enemy is one of the greater ironies of American political life during Nixon’s career.
The “Checkers Speech” will always be remembered for this peroration:
One other thing I probably should tell you because if we don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me too, we did get something—a gift—after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.
The whole scandal arose because of accusations that Nixon had a private slush fund provided by donors. It is amusing to contemplate considering his future, but Nixon was absolutely innocent of wrong-doing. Having private donors pay for campaign expenses, including travel costs and postage, was completely legal at the time. Continue reading
Hard to believe that it is forty years since the infamous “I am not a crook” news conference of President Nixon. The video clip gives a taste of the surreal quality of those times. For the sake of attempting to cover up a politically inspired burglary in a presidential election that the Democrats were busily throwing away, Nixon in 1972 embarked on a cover-up that eventually destroyed his Presidency, with his resignation in disgrace coming in August of 1974.
Greek tragedy is too mild a term to apply when discussing the presidency of Nixon. Dealt a bad hand in Vietnam, he extricated the country from Vietnam while building up the South Vietnamese military to the extent that they could hold their own against the North Vietnamese, as long as supplies kept flowing from the US and their ground forces were supported by American air power. His diplomatic opening to Red China was a masterful, if fairly obvious, strategic win over the Soviets. Talks with the Soviets helped lower the temperature of the Cold War. Domestically Nixon was the liberal Republican he always was, with wage and price controls and an expansion of the Federal government.
The ironic thing about Nixon is that he was hated by liberals and the elite media, yet on domestic policy questions he was in virtual lockstep with them, including on abortion which he was privately in favor of, although he publicly opposed it. The intense hatred went back to Nixon’s early political career where he used anti-communism to win both his House seat and his Senate seat. Nixon also committed the unforgivable sin of being right about Alger Hiss being a Soviet agent. Continue reading
Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.
Richard Milhous Nixon
With the IRS scandal and the revelation that the current administration has been secretly obtaining phone records of the press, the Obama administration is taking on a distinctly Nixonian flavor, as I experience a feeling of deja vu from four decades ago. I am not the only one seeing it. So does a liberal Democrat Congressman from Massachusetts:
US Representative Michael E. Capuano on Monday said he was troubled by reports that the Internal Revenue Service had aggressively pursued conservative organizations, and called them reminiscient of the Nixon administration.
On the growing focus in Congress on the attacks on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya last year, Capuano said the death of four Americans there raised “legitimate questions.” But he said, based on the information available, he expected the issue to end up becoming “the typical right-left type of nonsense you see on one station, but eventually falls off the others.”
He said the recent reports that IRS targeted small-government groups for extra scrutiny were in a different category. Asked to discuss the reports, Capuano said that if the accounts were true, “There’s no way in the world, I’m going to defend that. Hell, I spent my youth vilifying the Nixon administration for doing the same thing.” Continue reading
One hears rather often that George W. Bush has ended his presidency with record low approval ratings. Some articles I’ve read have said (apparently incorrectly) that they are the lowest ever.
The above was sent to me yesterday, and it provides an interesting comparison. Two presidents left office with approvals as low as Bush’s: Truman, who faced a struggling post-war economy and a increasingly difficult situation in the Korean War; and Nixon, who was in the middle of being impeached when he resigned.
History has been far kinder to Truman, overall, than Nixon. Indeed, I suspect that few people know that Truman ended his presidency as unpopular as Nixon and Bush. Certainly, I hadn’t realized it. It remains to be seen whether, in 50 years time, Bush will be seen as more like the former or the latter.