The “New” Richard Nixon Tapes: A Bad Reputation Deserved
The American press and American public — with the exception of some steadfast loyalists — now have Nixon to kick around some more.
And for good reason.
The release of some 200 hours of Nixon White House recordings is going to provide a treasure chest of inside glimpses into the man who helped usher in the politics of polarization and who helped dismember 1950s-early-1960s consensus politics — a trend that many hope will be reversed with the new, presumably more post-partisan Obama administration. Tidbits trickling out now about Nixon as preserved on tape aren’t exactly going to bolster Nixon’s image among the public — or among historians who’ll shape future generations’ perceptions.
Journalists are now going through tapes and the parts that have come out so far (within just a few hours) are revealing. NBC offers these:
– On July 1, 1971, Nixon instructs Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to have someone break into the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.:
“I can’t have a high-minded lawyer … I want a son-of-a-b—-. I want someone just as tough as I am. … We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy that will use any means. We are going to use any means… . Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institution cleaned out and have it cleaned out in a way that has somebody else take the blame.”
– On April 4, 1972, Nixon discusses the press with Haldeman:
NIXON: “Return the calls to those poor dumb bastards … who I know are our friends. Now do it … We made the same mistake [Dwight] Eisenhower made, but not as bad as Eisenhower made, because he sucked the Times too much … G-d damn it, don’t talk to them for a while. Will you enforce that now?’
HALDEMAN: “I’ll try.”
– On May 18, 1972, Nixon talks to Henry Kissinger about the National Security Adviser’s meeting with Ivy League college presidents regarding the war in Vietnam:
NIXON: “The Ivy League presidents? Why, I’ll never let those sons-of-b—— in the White House again. Never, never, never. They’re finished. The Ivy League schools are finished … Henry, I would never have had them in. Don’t do that again … They came out against us when it was tough … Don’t ever go to an Ivy League school again, ever. Never, never, never.”
– On Nov. 14, 1972, Nixon talks with his aide Charles Colson about his landslide re-election victory over Democrat George McGovern:
NIXON: “What in the hell did you think of McGovern’s statement on the election? Wasn’t that the sour grapes crap again?”
COLSON: “Well, it’s unbelievable, the arrogance of the guy … God, what a bad man. Just awfully glad we got him buried and put away for good. I think he is.”
NIXON: “Oh, he’s buried. He’s buried.”
– On Dec. 9, 1972, Nixon talks to Colson about the appointment of building trades union leader Peter Brennan as secretary of labor:
NIXON: “The idea, they finally think the appointment of a working man makes them think we’re for the working man.”
COLSON: “That’s precisely it.”
NIXON: “They talk about all the tokenism. We appoint blacks, and they don’t think we’re for blacks. Mexicans. They don’t think we’re for Mexicans. But a working man, by golly, that is really something.”
Today’s release was the 12th of Nixon White House tapes since 1980. Approximately 2,217 hours of tape recordings are now available to the public.
CBS offers a link so you can explore some of the 60,000 new pages of Nixon material and 200 hours of tapes yourself. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal offers THIS TIDBIT of Nixon trying to create some diversity in his cabinet — although his discussion is not exactly PC.
What to make of all of this? There will be some aspects that will likely enhance Nixon’s image in the eyes of historians in terms of foreign and domestic policy. But the taped glimpses into how the man really talked and the attitudes he truly displayed will continue to cement his status as one of the most flawed Presidents in terms of actions and character.
This is a key aspect of American presidencies that’s often forgotten in the heat of the moment as some partisans (of the President’s party) defend him and other partisans (of the opposition party) diss him. A presidency’s true nature is seldom known during the presidency or even immediately afterward. The true nature emerges as historical documents, investigative journalism pieces and detailed histories come to light.
And Nixon is not proving to be prettier as the more light from many years ago seeps out and shines on him.
Being “like Nixon” has being the ultimate insult to hurl at a President (perhaps second is being “like Carter.”). Fox News’ Chris Wallace recently got a lot of publicity by challenging the effort to “Nixonize” President George Bush. The most notable continuing strand with Nixon tapes both new and old: a lot is about Nixon, how he perceived himself and wanted to be perceived, how his enemies were out to get him and about how he wanted to get back at his hated enemies.
Expect more quotes to emerge in the media in coming days……
UPDATE: Hardball just ran this segment on the tapes: