It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do this. But I seem to be the only person in our neck of the political woods who can call out the person of Patrick Joseph Buchanan on the very rare instance when he’s far more wrong than right.
We are here tonight to celebrate the centennial of a statesman, a profile in courage and an extraordinary man we are all proud to have served: the 37th president of the United States, Richard Milhous Nixon.
Years ago, Meg Greenfield of The Washington Post wrote that she belonged to what she called “the Nixon generation.”
“What distinguishes us as a group,” she said, is that “we are too young to remember a time when Richard Nixon was not on the political scene, and too old reasonably to expect that we shall see one.” Greenfield was distressed about this.
Yet her thesis rings true. We are the Nixon Generation. We were born into and lived through what Bob Dole called “the Age of Nixon.”
And what a time it was—and what a man he was.
Home from the war in 1946, Richard Nixon was elected to the 80th Congress and swiftly became its most famous member. For he would exhibit early on an attribute that would mark his whole life: perseverance.
Because he believed a disheveled ex-communist named Whittaker Chambers, and because he distrusted an establishment icon, Alger Hiss, Rep. Nixon persevered to expose the wartime treason of Hiss.
By 1948, he was an American hero, so popular the Democratic Party did not field a candidate against him. In 1950, he captured a Senate seat with the largest majority in the history of California.
Yet the same people who just loved Harry Truman’s “Give ‘Em Hell” campaign of 1948 whined that Nixon played too rough.
In the Taft-Eisenhower battle of 1952, an internationalist, the Boss stood with Ike and, at 39, was the vice presidential nominee—and a man of destiny.
That should have been the first warning sign. For his reputation today, you’d think that PJB would have wanted Taft to win.
Then it was that the establishment first moved to bring him down. They hyped a phony story about a political fund, alleged it was for Sen. Nixon’s personal benefit, and instigated a hue and cry for Gen. Eisenhower to drop him from the ticket.
Water off our backs? He was still a globalist.
Nixon’s decision to defend his record and integrity in the “Checkers” speech, though mocked by his enemies, remains the most brilliant use of television by a political figure in the 20th century.
And he never really denied the accusations. All he really said is that he’s keeping the dog. Should have been more foreboding.
In the 1950s, he redefined the vice presidency as a force in foreign policy, braved a lynch mob in Caracas, became the first vice president to travel behind the Iron Curtain and confronted Nikita Khrushchev’s bluster in the “Kitchen Debate.”
That really doesn’t impress me much.
By 1960, he had no serious challenger for the nomination.
Vice-Presidents of fairly successful two-term Presidents almost never have serious competition for their own party’s nomination to replace the term limited out President. Bush 41 did have it somewhat rough to win the 1988 Republican nomination, but even if he didn’t have Lee Atwater to fend off Bob Dole et al., I don’t think there ever was a real path to the nomination for anyone other than George H.W. Bush that year. That he faced any opposition at all should have been a warning sign. Bush 41 was the same kind of globalist as Nixon.
After the closest election in a century, about which there hung the aroma of vote fraud in Texas and Illinois, he went home to California to run for governor. After a brutal primary, he was gaining on Gov. Brown when the Cuban missile crisis broke his momentum, and the Boss went down to his second defeat—and looked to be out for the count.
Pat Brown was always going to win that election. Nixon was just simply away from California for too long, and Brown was too popular. Look what happened to Brown four years later. But look who is California Governor now, ironically.
Believing he had nothing to lose, he came down from his suite the morning after that defeat to deliver to the press words that will live in infamy. As Cactus Jack Garner said, “He gave it to ’em with the bark on.”
He was now thought to be finished. ABC put together an instant documentary titled, “The Political Obituary of Richard M. Nixon.” The featured interview in the obituary was political analyst Alger Hiss.
But, as Mark Twain said, reports of his death were premature.
Moving his family to New York to practice law, Richard Nixon entered what he would call his wilderness years.
They weren’t his wilderness years. They were his sucking the Rockefeller ring years.
But after the Goldwater-Rockefeller bloodbath in 1964, with the party bitterly divided, the Boss volunteered to introduce the nominee at the Cow Palace and did so in one of the finest addresses he ever delivered.
But after he brought that contentious convention together with his introduction, Sen. Goldwater proceeded to tear it apart again, declaring, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
Oh, God, Pat. Don’t tell me you’re pw3ning Goldwater. Below, you’ll read the case that Nixon begat Reagan. When in reality, Goldwater was far more responsible for greasing the skids for Reagan. I contend that George Wallace was more of a skid greaser for Reagan than Nixon was.
Dwight Chapin was in the limo that carried the Boss away from the Cow Palace. He has told me what the Boss said about Sen. Goldwater’s speech. But there is no need to repeat those discouraging words here.
Ironically, four years later, Goldwater (still in the Senate, would remain there until 1987 when he retired and John McCain replaced him), would be a big public backer of Nixon, and would mostly defend Nixon even through the worst of Watergate, and even long after.
Almost all the other name Republicans abandoned Goldwater. The Old Man stood by him. He traveled the nation, working longer and harder for Goldwater and the party than the senator himself.
After the crushing defeat that fall, the Republican Party was reduced to one-half of the Democratic Party’s strength: 140 House seats, 32 senate seats, 17 governors. The Republican Party was a house divided and a house in ruins. It was an open question whether it would survive
And now began the greatest comeback in American political history.
When I arrived in New York to join the Boss in January 1966, his staff consisted of three people: I occupied one desk in the office outside his own. A second occupant was Rose Woods, and the third, a “Miss Ryan”—more exactly Patricia Ryan Nixon, the future first lady of the United States, from whom I used to bum cigarettes.
And also, the silent silent partner, the Rockefeller family.
The altarpiece of that year was Richard Nixon’s six-weeks war against what LBJ called “My Congress.” Alone of the national Republicans, the Boss campaigned across the country—in 35 states and 80 congressional districts. In November, his bold prediction of a 40-seat Republican gain in the House proved conservative. We won 47.
That might not have been Nixon’s actual doings as it was just a matter of midterm circumstance. Nixon just stood around and took credit for it, and expected the people he campaigned for to pay him back two years later, when in reality he probably had very little to do with it. Compare 1966’s “WTF” mentality to 1964’s utopian promises, and with the 1966 midterms being the “sixth year” midterm of what could have been said to be a combo JFK-LBJ Administration, and of course the Republicans were going to make gains.
After a year off, traveling the world, came the campaign of 1968, the most divisive year in American history since the Civil War.
Consider all that happened that year.
As we flew to New Hampshire the last day of January, the siege of Khe Sanh was at its height, and the Tet Offensive had just begun. Four weeks later, Gov. Romney quit the race. Sen. Eugene McCarthy then stunned the nation by capturing 42 percent of the vote against Lyndon Johnson. And Robert Kennedy declared for president.
On March 31, the Boss asked me to monitor the president’s speech on Vietnam on a car radio at LaGuardia—to brief him when he arrived back from visiting Julie at Smith. At the end of the speech, President Johnson announced he would not run again.
Four days after this political earthquake, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Washington and 100 other cities exploded in riots that lasted days and required tens of thousands of troops.
In early June, a week after our Oregon primary victory, I got a 3 a.m. call from our Bible Building headquarters. Robert Kennedy had been shot in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen. I called the Boss. Julie and David had been watching TV and already awakened him.
That August, the Democratic Party came apart in a bloody brawl between police and protesters in the streets of Chicago. And so it went in that dramatic and divisive year. But at its end, Richard Nixon was president of the United States.
George Wallace almost put a big monkey wrench in that. Change 1% of the vote in North Carolina and South Carolina, and nobody gets to 270 ECs and the election goes to the House. Strom Thurmond, who changed parties in 1964, was by 1968 a machine Republican, and promised the voters of the Carolinas that they could trust Nixon.
Now, consider the city he came to, and the hostility he found.
The nation had been torn apart by a half decade of assassinations and riots, crime and campus anarchy. Thirty thousand American were dead in Vietnam, and half a million U.S. soldiers were tied down in an endless war. America was coming apart.
Richard Nixon was the first president since Zachary Taylor to take the oath with both houses of Congress against him. The bureaucracy was deep-dyed Democratic. The press corps was 90 percent hostile. The Warren Court was at the peak of its power. And the Best and Brightest who had led us into Vietnam were deserting to join their children in protests against what they suddenly discovered was “Nixon’s War.”
As the presidential limousine came up Pennsylvania Avenue after the inaugural, it was showered with debris. As Shelley and I were entering the White House reviewing stand for the inaugural parade, the Secret Service asked us to step off the planks onto the muddy lawn, as the president was right behind us. As he passed by me, he looked over, and in the first words I ever heard from Richard Nixon as president of the United States, words I shall always remember, the president said,
“Buchanan, was that you throwing the eggs?”
Yet consider what he accomplished.
By the end of his first term, all U.S. troops were out of Vietnam, our POWs were on the way home, every provincial capital was in Saigon’s hands. He had ended the war with honor, as he promised.
He had negotiated and signed the greatest arms limitation treaty since the Washington Naval Agreement of 1922: SALT I and the ABM Treaty.
He had ended the implacable hostility between the United States and People’s Republic of China that had endured since Mao’s Revolution and the Korean War.
In his second term, he would order the strategic airlift that saved Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Israel never had a better friend, said Golda Meir.
Some PJB critics would be astounded by that line, and of PJB’s support of the openly pro-Israel action on the part of an American President. Ironically, Nixon and Billy Graham were later revealed on secret White House tapes to be telling N-word jokes and Jew jokes to each other.
Don’t forget about the other things: Enforcing affirmative action, temporarily refusing to enforce then turning around and enforcing school deseg mandates, sicking George Romney on white people who organized against the building of black housing projects, and that’s just the first course.
In November 1972, Richard Nixon was rewarded with the most sweeping landslide in history—49 states and 60 percent of the vote.
A dog would have won a landslide versus George McGovern.
Because of the campaigns he had conducted in ’66, ’68, ’70 and ’72, a party on its deathbed in 1964 was on its way to becoming The New Majority Party, America’s Party, which would capture the presidency and carry 40 or more states in four of the next five presidential elections.
The president’s memoirs begin, “I was born in a house my father built.” Well, the Republican Party in the last third of the 20th century was the house that Nixon built.
In domestic policy, he was the first environmental president, creating the Council on Environmental Quality and EPA.
More of a bug than a feature.
To battle the scourge of cancer, the created the National Cancer Institute.
To close the widening chasm between the generations and professionalize our military, he ended the draft.
He made six nominations to the Supreme Court. Four made it. Not a bad average, when you consider the Senate he had to deal with.
And two of them turned out to be outright libs.
As for our Southern strategy, when Richard Nixon first took the oath of office, 10 percent of Southern schools were desegregated. When he left, it was 70 percent.
Hooray for red team!
As Bob Dole said in his eulogy at Yorba Linda, it was the Age of Nixon. While Nixon was a dominant figure on the national stage in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, his influence lived on through the 20th century and into the 21st
Would there be a Gerald R. Ford presidential library, had it not been for Richard Nixon selecting this honorable and good man as vice president?
Would there be a George H.W. Bush presidential library, if Richard Nixon had not recognized the talent of this man who had just lost his second statewide race in Texas in 1970 and made him chairman of the Republican National Committee, then ambassador to the United Nations?
Oh my, what would have been lost to history but for Nixon priming the pump for great luminaries like Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
When Ronald Reagan came out of the West to launch his revolution, his first national security adviser and first domestic policy chief, Dick Allen and Marty Anderson, both came out of our ’68 campaign and White House staff.
Both of Reagan’s secretaries of state and his secretary of defense—Al Haig, George Shultz and Cap Weinberger—came out of the Nixon National Security Council or Nixon Cabinet.
The man Reagan chose as chief justice, William Rehnquist, had been put on the court by Richard Nixon.
Reagan’s choice as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was the domestic policy research coordinator in Nixon’s ’68 campaign.
Don’t forget, Reagan was an opponent of Nixon for the 1968 Republican nomination for President. Though in 1968, Reagan wasn’t even two years into being California Governor, so his ’68 campaign was mainly a “feet wet” sort of affair. I’m on the fence about Alan Greenspan.
In 1996, when Bob Dole was the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, he was being most closely pursued by two former members of Richard Nixon’s White House staff.
Lamar Alexander was one. And I forget the other guy.
So do I. Unless I don’t, because I helped “the other guy” win a state caucus that year, and then I know what happened four years later (Ezola Foster).
That brings back a memory of the 1992 election, after I had lost 10 straight primaries to President Bush. I called the Old Man in Saddle River. When he came on the line, I said: “Ten for ten. Not bad, eh, sir?” President Nixon paused and said: “Buchanan, you’re the only extremist I know with a sense of humor. Come on up, and bring Shelley with you.”
In 2001, George W. Bush chose as secretary of defense the man that Richard Nixon had picked to head up LBJ’s poverty agency, OEO, and to monitor wage and price controls, two plum assignments for a rising young Republican star, Donald Rumsfeld, before President Nixon named him the ambassador to NATO.
What would we have done without Don Rumsfeld?
Actually, what does any of this matter? Most Presidential Cabinet secretaries and other key senior personnel are basically recycled party hacks and apparatchiks. Of course a lot of ex-Nixon people would pop up again in future Republican administrations and wannabe administrations. Nixon won two terms, even though he didn’t finish the second. A lot of JFK-LBJ people filled the Carter WH. A lot of Carter people filled the Clinton WH. A lot of Clinton people currently fill the Obama WH.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that “it is required of a man that he share the action and passion of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”
Richard Nixon shared the action and passion of his time. Again and again, he came back from woundings, he came back from defeats. After he left the White House, he would write nine books on foreign policy and the great men he had known. There were many. For only Franklin Roosevelt equaled Richard Nixon in having been on five presidential tickets.
“Nine books,” which all of nine people read, none of which said much profound anyway.
As this centennial approached, the phone calls started coming in from the offspring of the old jackal pack, asking my thoughts on Watergate. My great regret is the Old Man is not here tonight so I can tell him my thoughts on his old tormenters. In the words of Nick Carraway to Gatsby:
“They were a rotten crowd,” sir. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
Nixon now more than ever!
Pat, methinks you suffer from selective memories. I know he was once your boss and all, but this is ridiculous.