Nixon Tape Release Further Soils Richard Nixon’s Soiled Reputation (UPDATED)
The release of yet more of the secret recordings that eventually proved to be President Richard Nixon’s undoing will give historians yet more material that won’t help his legacy: more evidence as previous recording suggest and a bit of a bigot:
Richard M. Nixon made disparaging remarks about Jews, blacks, Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans in a series of extended conversations with top aides and his personal secretary, recorded in the Oval Office 16 months before he resigned as president.
On the other hand, his defenders can probably use this to say he was fair: he disaraged (almost) everyone. The remarks are spinkled amid 265 hours of recordings released by the Nixon Presidential Library this week. The NY Times notes that previous recording captured Nixon’s “animosity toward Jews, including those who served in his administration like Henry A. Kissinger, his national security adviser, these tapes suggest an added layer of complexity to Nixon’s feeling. He and his aides seem to make a distinction between Israeli Jews, whom Nixon admired, and American Jews.”
And, indeed, when you read the comments — as bigoted as they may be — there does seem to be a “layer” that shows Nixon had conflicted feelings (such as the possiblity he might like Joe Gandelman better if Joe Gandelman was an Israeli):
In a conversation Feb. 13, 1973, with Charles W. Colson, a senior adviser who had just told Nixon that he had always had “a little prejudice,” Nixon said he was not prejudiced but continued: “I’ve just recognized that, you know, all people have certain traits.”
“The Jews have certain traits,” he said. “The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.”
Nixon continued: “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but,” and his voice trailed off.
A moment later, Nixon returned to Jews: “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”
At another point, in a long and wandering conversation with Rose Mary Woods, his personal secretary, that veered from whom to invite to a state dinner to whether Ms. Woods should get her hair done, Nixon offered sharp skepticism at the views of William P. Rogers, his secretary of state, about the future of black Africans.
“Bill Rogers has got — to his credit it’s a decent feeling — but somewhat sort of a blind spot on the black thing because he’s been in New York,” Nixon said. “He says well, ‘They are coming along, and that after all they are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart.’ So forth and so on.
“My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years,” he said. “I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that’s the only thing that’s going to do it, Rose.”
It’s also worth quoting one more chunk which further underscores his conflicted views about Jews. The Times piece details how then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, visited and thanked Nixon for the way he treated her and Israel. (In fact, she was later widely quoted as saying Israel had no greater friend than Richard Nixon). But then on another subject including Jews, note this conversation he had with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger:
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”
In his discussion with Ms. Woods, Nixon laid down clear rules about who would be permitted to attend the state dinner for Meir — he called it “the Jewish dinner” — after learning that the White House was being besieged with requests to attend.
“I don’t want any Jew at that dinner who didn’t support us in that campaign,” he said. “Is that clear? No Jew who did not support us.”
Nixon listed many of his top Jewish advisers — among them, Mr. Kissinger and William Safire, who went on to become a columnist at The New York Times — and argued that they shared a common trait, of needing to compensate for an inferiority complex.
“What it is, is it’s the insecurity,” he said. “It’s the latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure. And that’s why they have to prove things.”
Nixon also strongly hinted that his reluctance to even consider amnesty for young Americans who went to Canada to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War was because, he told Mr. Colson, so many of them were Jewish.
“I didn’t notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam on any of those lists; I don’t know how the hell they avoid it,” he said, adding: “If you look at the Canadian-Swedish contingent, they were very disproportionately Jewish. The deserters.”’
A bigot? Yes. Complexities in his bigotry? Yes. A friend of Israel? Yes. More of an advocate of what later became called “compassionate conservatism” than many GOPers on the scene today? Yes. Has this further soiled his legacy? Yes.
UPDATE: Here’s a cross section of other reaction to this story.
Sixteen months before Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States, he was a fan of no one, especially not blacks, Jews, Italians or the Irish. We know this because much of it is on tape, but it’s just now that anyone is getting around to hearing the nastiness of his words thanks to new releases by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. So far, 265 hours of tape have been released with another 400 to go. It’s sort of like all of those posthumous albums by the Notorious B.I.G., except Nixon’s recordings probably have more bad words. But don’t worry: Nixon was totally down with Israeli Jews. And don’t call it “prejuidice” or, god forbid, “racism”: “I’ve just recognized that, you know, all people have certain traits.” Let’s learn about these traits.
Saving some of the best for last, more anti-Semitic recordings of Richard Nixon have been released. He had some odd opinions about blacks, too, but I don’t really understand them. All this stuff makes me kind of miss the good old days when the Republican Party wasn’t filled with kooks.
Well, now you know Obama’s really in trouble. The corpse of Richard Nixon is being dragged across the stage one more time.
(This is an interesting reaction echoed on a couple of conservative blogs but doesn’t hold up for one tiny tidbit: the recordings were released by the Nixon Presidential Library. They aren’t part of an investigative discovery by the New York Times. And the Times is not following White House instructions to find the most notable quotes in the transcript. If the quotes came in a “now it can be told” type story it could seriously be suggested that this is indeed a diversionary tactic. Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is also running excerpts. Unless Obama has a mole controlling the Nixon Presidential Library it can’t be suggested that this is an attempt to get attention away from the hapless Obama or change the subject. This is a story about more historical info that further sketches out an emerging portrait of Richard Nixon coming to light).
—Outside the Beltway’s Doug Mataconis, who always manages to put things into stand-back-and-seriously-analyze perspective:
Another round of tapes from Richard Nixon’s Oval Office recording system was released this week, and it reveals yet again the level of paranoia that our 37th President had sunk to…..One wonders what Nixon would think to know that, less than 50 years later, an African-American would be sitting in the same chair that he was at the time.
—Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Steet Journal’s Washington Wire is among those also running the story (not just the New York Times). Here’s its lead:
Documents released today by the Richard Nixon presidential library contain fresh details on the former president’s antipathy toward Jews, his interest in exposing more details of John F. Kennedy’s policy on Cuba and Vietnam, and his approach to the office that he was eventually forced to resign.
Mr. Nixon ordered his aides to exclude all Jewish-Americans from policy-making on Israel, according to formerly classified notes taken by then-chief of staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman on a meeting with the president in July 1971. “No Jew can handle the Israeli thing,” the notes read. Later in the one-page excerpt, Mr. Haldeman writes, “Forget the Jews — they’re against” the administration.
That stipulation explicitly includes then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger, with accompanying plans to keep him out of the loop: “get K. out of the play — Haig handle it,” says one note, referring to then-aide Alexander Haig.
You do see a fainter echo of this view today on the fringes of the debate among the likes of ultra-Nixonian realists like Stephen Walt, but even Walt believes that Americans Jews can prove their loyalty by adopting a sufficiently left-wing line on Israel. It’s hard to imagine any president today refusing to allow his own national security adviser to participate in Israel-related debates on account of being Jewish.
Meanwhile, Kissinger has pathetically defended Nixon against charges of anti-Semitism despite being excluded by Nixon from formulating Israel policy on the basis of his ethnicity.