Nixon was good, he was bad too, very bad, and he beats any candidate today…

June 28, 2015

It’s almost like having history turned on its head or everything you ever thought you knew being shown as wrong  — or is it?

I’m describing my reaction to a book I have begun to read about Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States, who became the only American president to resign his office, doing so into his second term after winning by a landslide, as the result of the Watergate scandal, in which it was shown, among many other things, he approved a break-in of the Democratic campaign headquarters.

Unless you were a die-hard Nixon supporter, if you are my age (65) or older you know that man as a slime ball they called “Tricky Dick” or the guy who proclaimed to the people when he was on the ropes “I’m not a crook”, when the evidence already indicated he was dirty as heck.

But I’ve begun reading something that seems so far to portray him in an at times more favorable or and at least much more sympathetic light, although admitting from the start he had a dark side that eventually became his downfall.

And really some of this is not new to me — in fact the book is not new research, just a compilation of anecdotes and bits from the archives and passages from other books over the years on one of our most controversial political personages ever.

The book is: “Being Nixon, A Man Divided,” by Evan Thomas. I caught wind of the book by an interview I chanced to hear on the radio (NPR I’m sure). Thomas is a self-described Eastern Establishment reporter who covered Nixon and seems to own up to the fact that he and many of his colleagues did not always give Nixon a fair shake. Answering an interviewer’s question he acknowledges that in some way the book may be the result of a guilt feeling on his part.

A lot of the book is about Nixon’s strange loner personality and quirks. But heck everyone comes off a little strange when observed up close or perhaps in private, or to borrow a phrase from one of those bar girls in the movie Fargo, he was “stranger than most”.

In my young adulthood I really came to detest Nixon. I followed him along with all current events from a young age. However, as interested in current events as I was and in politics in general, I missed out on the whole presidential campaign of 1968. I had just joined the army. I was standing in a chow line on an icy November morning in Baumholder, Germany when I saw the headline on a Stars and Stripes newspaper that Nixon had won the presidency.

So I missed out on the whole thing of him having a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War, a war that was becoming unpopular among much of the American public, not just the standard war protestors, and was becoming more so every day as we saw our combat deaths in the hundreds each week reported on TV, adding up thousands over the decade it was waged, eventually resulting in some 60,000 American war dead. And with that we saw how innocent civilians, including little children, were being killed or gravely wounded. There was that iconic photo of the little girl running naked along with many other children after being hit by a fiery napalm attack performed by American aircraft. And we saw the senseless battles on the TV news where we would take a hill in conventional war fashion in this unconventional war just to give it up afterwards because it had no value to anyone — never mind all the soldiers and marines killed in the process.

(Actually that iconic shot of the little girl I mentioned happened on Nixon’s watch in 1972.)

But Nixon, the Republican challenger in the 1968 presidential race, had a plan to end the war, or so he led everyone to believe (the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, was stuck with Lyndon Johnson’s unsuccessful war legacy). It had become a war owned by the Democrats since LBJ had committed regular forces to it where there had just been a relative handful of advisors.

But Nixon’s plan to end the war history seems to show was not that at all or at least Henry Kissinger could not work it out at the Paris Peace Talks. And Nixon refused to pull out. He was stuck to the Vietnam tar baby just like LBJ. Nixon did not want to be the one who lost the war. He wanted to withdraw through some kind of peace accord — “peace with honor”. So the war dragged on and more American soldiers died and more were gravely wounded.

In the end, we quit with little to no honor, but when you dig yourself into a hole you have to quit digging at some point if you ever think you might have a chance to get out.

(I always must interject that it was not our troops who lost the war but the leadership, civilian and military, and in reality it was the kind of war where real victory, due to circumstances beyond our control, was likely unattainable.)

Nixon was obsessed with the anti-war movement and had his henchmen do all kind of illegal things to stop it, to include breaking into a psychiatrist’s office to discredit Danielle Ellsberg who leaked the “Pentagon Papers” to the press, the secret U.S. government documents that showed the government knew we were losing the war despite its own propaganda to the American people that we were winning. You remember, the inflated enemy body counts and all.

And I have gotten off track here. What I was trying to say, even though this is not all completely new to me, the book I am reading tells of Nixon’s humble beginnings and his scholarship and his patriotism and his early concern and actions on civil rights, both on a personal level and governmental level. And it tells of his intense interest in and knowledge of world affairs and how he reportedly impressed world leaders, surprising them that he was not just some low-class dunderhead as they had been led to believe by what they had read.

(A more recent Republican president brought no such surprise to world leaders.)

It tells of how he and his wife were snubbed by the establishment or the upper crust in social and political circles.

I’m a sap maybe for sob stories, but parts of this almost have me in tears and rooting for the underdog.

So far, except for the early-on qualification that in the end he did dark things, the book is a glowing account of a most committed public servant. I don’t know how the book concludes, but really we all know how it ends. I mean we know the guy did bad, bad things. If nothing else he admits it himself on the Watergate tapes.

History probably shows a lot of historical icons or heroes did underhanded and even immoral things in private — I think the trick is keeping it secret — damn near impossible these days.

Like I say, the early chapters in this book had me feeling so much sympathy and even righteous anger on behalf of a misunderstood and much maligned hero. But then I was jolted back into reality — I did not skip forward, but I happened to read a synopsis of Nixon’s sins by Woodward and Bernstein, authors of “All the President’s Men”. I also refreshed my memory via other articles on the internet.

Even though Nixon always portrayed himself as a political conservative, some have noted that he turned out to be one of our more liberal presidents in many ways. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and he made amends with Communist China among other things (not because he became communist but because it was seen as a better way to deal with our communist foes at the time).

Nixon had a penchant for digging up dirt against his opponents in political races. And that’s what led to the Watergate scandal. But, law-breaking notwithstanding, that is how politics is played and if you are too pure for that you just don’t want to win bad enough. Just ask Mike Dukakis.

Of course actual lying or plainly distorting your opponent’s record is wrong. Or how would Nixon put it? “I could do that but it would be wrong,” Just like he famously proclaimed: “I’m not a crook.”

And still:

If Nixon were the Republican candidate today I might be tempted to vote for him. There are few to none in that crowd of  GOP candidates today who could even come close to him in love of country and fair-mindedness (despite his bigoted outbursts on those tapes) and understanding of world affairs.

P.s.

I told you I watched stuff when I was just a youngster:

Boy did Nixon stand up to and in fact get the better of that fat little bully Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate.

I was so proud of him. What happened Dick?


If we suffered Vietnam-style casualty rates the war would be over, won or not, and war and oil usually do mix…

June 2, 2009

War has become so blase that the fact that four more U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan did not make any headlines.

ADD 1: If you really wanted to gauge public opinion of the war on terror, just imagine what it might be if we had casualties on the scale of the Vietnam War. During a two-week period in April  in Vietnam in 1968 the U.S. suffered 752 combat deaths. In Iraq in 2007 the U.S. had 334 deaths over a four-month period, and that was considered alarming. In Vietnam that high of a casualty rate with no end in sight turned public opinion steadfastly against the war. I hate to be cynical, but the public seems to be able to put up with lower casualty numbers, regardless of the justification or practicability of a war. I realized that the Democratic party victories in the congressional elections of 2006 and the presidential election of 2008 were seen as a kind of referendum that was negative on our war policy, but I notice that the war on terror continues, seemingly much as it would have under Bush/Cheney if they could have continued or even John McCain (of course the referendum was more related to the economy during the presidential election and Obama did admit in his campaign that he would push harder in Afghanistan). If the public mood was as anti-war as it became in the early 70s, we would be done with the whole thing, right or wrong.

And back to where I began with this blog:

I first read the fact that there had been four more combat deaths in Afghanistan while reading my morning newspaper on Tuesday in the ninth paragraph (on the jump page) down in a somewhat oblique reference in a story. Admittedly, the paper long ago gave up trying to be the latest in news on the national and world front. But you would think the death of four U.S. service personnel would rate a little higher priority. But maybe that was kind of the point of the story. It was something about the military using the latest communication tool for those with short attention spans, Twitter.

News that U.S. and Afghan forces had killed four “militants”  (I guess that’s what we call the enemy) was put out via Twitter by the military, according to the story, as a way to reach an audience that gets its news outside the traditional sources.

Let’s cut through the bull here – the military is using news selectively for propaganda to reach young people to ra ra ra the war (and I realize morale is important, but so is honest and complete info). Conveniently, as the story indicates, the fact the four service people were killed was not tweeted. Supposedly, according to the story, that was because, well, I did not get this part, something about that all has to go through NATO command.

But using that story and then searching the internet, I finally gathered that there had been four more U.S. combat deaths.

Now in traditional wars, four deaths in one day is not really big news unless you might turn it around and say that ONLY four were killed. Back in the old-time wars thousands were killed in a day or even less than a day. Then we went to hundreds, and today in our wars we go to things like one, none, seven, four, that kind of thing. But it all adds up and it seems to go on forever.

(The latest figures I got off of Wikipedia show there have been at least 4,296 U.S. combat deaths in the Iraq war since 2003, and 677 in Afghanistan since 2001 (I don’t think this includes the latest deaths, and of course there are deaths from other nations’ forces and the of Iraqis themselves and thousands wounded.)

And maybe too close attention to the negative gets in the way of the mission. Maybe that is why we lost the Vietnam War. We concentrated on our losses and not our wins – that often seems to be the new history (revisionist?) of the whole thing I see these days. I just watched an Vietnam War documentary and that’s partly why I’m blogging this today. But I am not a convert yet. I still think Vietnam was a deadly mistake for us and also a shame because we sacrificed so many without having a clear cut purpose or resolve. I hope we are not replaying history in another part of the world now.

No we probably should not have screaming headlines that say FOUR KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN. But at the same time we should not get so numb or jaded about the war effort that we just put it all out of our mind.

The fact that the Military would see fit to brag that we killed four enemy, but leave out that we lost four of our own reminds me why we need independent reporting so we can get the full picture.

And I go back and forth here because I realize that just as the government and military can be biased and misleading in its reporting, so can so-called independent sources.

I have to admit that the tone of the reporting on television and the newspapers and news magazines for the most part during most of the Vietnam War seemed negative against the war. We were told that we seemed to be meddling in the affairs of a nation that had a corrupt government and had a civil war going on (what would have we thought if England, who leaned toward the confederacy in its feelings, had interfered in our own Civil War?). But the civil war in Vietnam was being aided and abetted by the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent communist China. But the idea of North and South Vietnam was basically an artificial one – after all they were all Vietnamese and it was a Cold War construct that created a North and South, just like the two Koreas. We were told that there were no front lines and that despite our overwhelming fire power (most of the time), the enemy seemed to be inexhaustible, anywhere and everwhere, and could take heavy losses and come back forever. We were also told our own government would not let our forces go all the way (and I guess that was because the public had been convinced that wars could be controlled, as if run by a rheostat device or a light dimmer – escalate, de-escalate, which begs the question, why not just turn them off then?).

Probably our biggest mistake in Vietnam was not to do everything we could to disrupt the supply lines and go to the source of supply in North Vietnam. We finally did do some of that late in the war, but by that time support at home for the war was depleted. I actually have to credit Richard Nixon for some of his actions – but it was too late and not carried far enough, because as I mentioned, public support was gone. I think he must have thought that somehow we could stave off the enemy a little longer and that South Vietnamese forces would fight on their own and in the meantime we could get out and haver “peace with honor” (Nixon’s own words)). But without our continued involvement and with the fact that their government was corrupt, there was no hope.

Okay, so much history. Maybe only useful to history buffs. But could we apply this to today? Do we really know what we are trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan? Personally, as much as I follow current events, I keep asking that question.

(In the beginning – the first Gulf War, it was all about oil, and if we are honest, even though we have 9/11 to consider, doesn’t oil still become the bottom line here? And if does, does that make it wrong? Why do we not want to admit it?  And see Add 2 at the end of this blog.)

George W’s (and dark Dick Cheney’s) concept seemed to be of an all-encompassing never-ending war against not a particular force or group or nation, but a concept (U.S. vs. Concept) called “terror,” or as W pronounced in “Terrr”.

President Obama seems to be trying to extricate us from Iraq (ever so carefully), but has vowed to fight on in Afghanistan. He would have never have got the support of the electorate if he had simply just run as an updated version of George McGovern and Vietnam. Americans were nearly always divided on Vietnam and seem to be on this one, but all out surrender is not to our liking (even if we did essentially quit Vietnam).

But even if we were able to subdue those who seem to support terror against us in Afghanistan, who is to say the forces of terror will not pop up somewhere else?

Bottom line here:

The reason we fought in Vietnam was that we had a well entrenched Cold War policy of containment of communism and along with that we followed the “domino theory” that said if one country falls, they all will. China fell, South Korea would have if not for our defense of it, and no one wanted to be blamed for losing South Vietnam (even though in the end we did lose it).

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we find all these years later that communism, although a terrible form of government as practiced, with its totalitarianism and its police state mentality, crumbled seemingly by itself from its inefficiencies and failure to catch the imagination of the people it subdued. Seems given a chance most of them want capitalism and the goodies and freedom that come with it – although there is some indication that some former communist citizens miss the social safety net – in Russia, the former East Germany, as examples. But the last major power to still have communism, China, seems to be evolving into a capitalist society, with only the old-line government officials holding out.

Had we known all this (and we couldn’t have), we could have avoided conflict and just waited it out, perhaps. Of course the fact that the Soviet Union decided to spend so much of its resources fighting us in places such as Vietnam, which was really a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, helped lead it to its demise. It essentially went bankrupt (oops, I shouldn’t mention that, a country going bankrupt).

And isn’t it ironic that after another proxy war where we fueled the insurgents in Afghanistan against their Soviet neighbors who also expressed concerns about disruptive forces there, we find ourselves fighting many of those same insurgents we once aided, to include Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive.

A lot of disjointed thoughts here maybe. But I got this idea originally because I was reading a book about Pearl Harbor and the fact that we conducted a policy that led to it (not that we were in the wrong – that can be debated). And I thought about how in World War II we fought a costly war with Japan only to become good buddies later and then for a time we were even threatened by their own prosperity that we helped create (that role has now gone to China, whom we saved from Japan).

It’s all about making sure we really know what we are trying to do and what the consequences might be and deciding whether we should continually try to fight the whole world or whether we should try to live in peace, but keep our defenses strong. The general public can remain in ignorant bliss in all of this and leave it to the politicians, but there are risks.

Add 2:

I made a reference to fighting for oil earlier in this blog. Related to that I recall I blogged some months ago, possibly in August, that here we have been fighting in Iraq and we know it has something (a lot) to do with the fact that most of the world’s oil is in that region and meanwhile China has signed a deal for oil with the government we helped install there after executing Saddam Hussein. I just ran across an article on the web (dated April Fools Day, but it’s apparently too true) that says our main rival for world oil, China, has indeed finalized an agreement to develop an oil field in Iraq that is expected to produce 25,000 barrels per day for the first three years and 115,000 barrels per day for the following six years . China had initiated the deal in the 1990s when Hussein was in power.

So, yes, it is about oil, but whose oil? Seems like if we fight for oil, we should get it all. (I don’t recall China helping us out in Iraq).

But kind of related to the idea of fighting for oil, I ran across this in a history of the Vietnam War on Wikipedia: “Because of the vast Dutch oil discoveries in nearby Indonesia, first the French, then the Americans, wanted to explore the broad Vietnamese contenental shelf.” Today Vietnam is not listed as a top oil exporter, but it is an exporter. It installed its first oil refinery in February.

P.s. It occurs to me in all of this that the thinking of policy makers seems to have been that the U.S. can fight wars if casualty numbers can be kept down low enough that there will be no significant public backlash. We all would like to minimize casualties, but in so doing we run the risk of both prolonging wars (thus raising casualty rates) and being unsuccessful in the long run.


I agree and disagree with McCain (and Obama) on Afghanistan war policy…

March 29, 2009

Just watched Sen. John McCain on Meet the Press and had thoughts that maybe he should have been elected after all.  And maybe if his own party would have done more to support him, he could have won, maybe.

But while I agree with his contention that although he agrees generally with President Obama’s approach in Afghanistan, he, McCain, would favor an even more aggressive approach, I think even McCain is not aggressive enough.

And sorry for the previous awkward sentence; I’m writing this on the fly.

If you read my last blog (just scroll down), you will see that I would propose we either go all out or cut out. While McCain favors more troops than Obama, he suggested that we don’t need to move on Pakistan even though it is aiding and abetting, harboring if you will, our enemy.

I do give McCain credit for saying that Obama should warn the American people that we have a long and hard road ahead there and that there will be a high level of casualties.

And please don’t think I am some type of war hawk. Actually, I would prefer that we cut our losses and get out. But I know that is not going to happen. At least I don’t think so.

I actually think that Mr. Obama has another Vietnam on his hands. And unfortunately, much of the electorate now does not understand, or even care, about the history and legacy of  Vietnam.

It has always been my belief that we could have won in Vietnam, but we might have then been left with a burden.

Even though Vietnam was partly an insurgency, it was also a conventional war with regular North Vietnamese Army troops, pith helmets and uniforms and all, and even tanks, invading South Vietnam. We never effectively cut off the North Vietnamese supply lines, even though we could have, albeit with great cost. But we expended great costs anyway for no favorable result.

Late in the Vietnam War President Nixon did at least one right thing, but failed to follow up — the public mood had turned decidedly against the war by then. He mined Haiphong Harbor, temporarily preventing Soviet supply ships from delivering war materials to the North.  Even though the Soviets threatened directly or indirectly (I don’t recall) nuclear confrontation with us, they backed down, as they always did during the Cold War.

The only logical approach in Afghanistan would be to call up the military draft, throw as many troops in as possible, and support them with our new sophisticated weapons and go for all out victory, which would be complete control of the territory. If the enemy is hiding in the border areas of Pakistan, then we must attack there too.

There is a prevailing thought that in this modern day and age, facing a hard-to-find and even to identify enemy that seems to come out of nowhere and then disperse so we can’t find and kill them, that we have to employ smarter tactics with fewer forces.  I know, I don’t get that either.

Historically, down through the centuries, no one has ever been successful in conquering Afghanistan, not even the once no.2  super power of  the Earth the Soviet Union. That should be instructive.

So the choice is to try to win or realize we can’t and get out.

Obama claimed this week that we are no longer attempting nation building in or image in Afghanistan, but McCain seemed to imply that we should. That worries me.

The only nation we need to build  — or rebuild and maintain — is our own.

McCain seemed reasonable on his economic policy suggestions, but he is in the comfortable position of not having to take the heat as Mr. Obama must.

Again, while I really do not prefer the war option, I would suggest if we choose to stay and fight, then we must go all out with military conscription.

We could solve our unemployment problem overnight and ramp up our sagging industrial sector, which could then in a future peacetime be maintained to keep us self sufficient as a nation.

What we probably should do though is cut our losses over there and pour all of our resources into rebuilding our own economy — while maintaining a strong defense, as opposed to offense — and turn ourselves back into a nation of producers of things rather than consumers of the world who buy our way into insolvency.

P.s.

The reason I doubt we could ever win the hearts and minds of the population in Afghanistan is that they are so backward that they are easy prey for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who help them a little at times, but promise them that all will be better in the great Islamic after life.

After we won World War II, the Germans were more easily subdued because they were already a modern industrial nation with a culture a parrallel to ours. And even Japan, although Asian, was a modern western type industrial nation. And both societies were not broken up into tribes.

P.s. P.s.

Please check out my German-American blog where I’ve composed my own version of the Hansel and Gretel story with a suspect German translation at: http://vonwalther.wordpress.com

Danke


Don’t want restrictions, don’t take the money…

February 4, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

I don’t mean this to be the refute Tom Sullivan blog site, but I see he’s at it again defending the money hogs who ruined their companies or investment banks by poor investments and outrageous salaries and then hoodwinked lawmakers and the public into granting them bailout welfare.

Mr. Sullivan, a right wing radio voice on the Fox network, is dead set against any rules on compensation tied to bailout money. He is also claiming that the Obama administration is attempting to go beyond attaching strings to bailout money by attempting to limit compensation in businesses not even taking part in the bailouts. I don’t know about that latter part – I have not yet read about such a move, but I would be against it.

But the way I see it is that any business entity accepting bailout money has to accept the rules that might go along with it. While I have heard the charge that bailouts were forced upon banks, I am not aware of the validity of that. I would say if you don’t want to be hamstrung by the government, don’t take the bailout money.

Mr. Sullivan also claims the new name for the USA under the Obama administration is the United Socialists of America.

All I know is that when push came to shove a few months ago, capitalism, in the name of both the Bush administration and nervous investors, blinked and our government did move toward socialism.

I have often heard the charge lately that over the years leading up to our current economic meltdown the liberals in government pressured banks and other lending institutions to offer sub prime loans, those shaky instruments that seem to be the primary cause of our economic disaster. But from what I am aware of there is guilt all around. Liberals liked the idea of easy loans to get more folks into homes and some who called themselves conservatives loved the idea of making tons of money on ever escalating mortgage values, and folks who in times past could not have even dreamed of home ownership (a misnomer since the banks and all the derivative investors really own the homes in the sub prime category) were not complaining.

Lobbyists for the mortgage industry got government to change the rules to allow the sub prime loans and liberals thought it was great too (I know, I’m repeating myself).

Real or traditional conservatives may have been a little more circumspect or downright distrustful of new rules that allowed people to supposedly buy homes with nothing down and then sometimes immediately sell them at ever inflating prices. But during those days when so many people were making so much money, one almost seemed foolish to complain.

But it all came down on us and now the recriminations.

In general I do agree with Mr. Sullivan that the government should not be telling private business entities how to run their affairs and it should not be setting the payroll, and along those lines, it should follow, perhaps, that government should not be handing out money to private entities. But if it must, it can hardly be expected to do so without strings attached.

I have not yet heard an explanation of why CEO’s and others are constantly rewarded for poor performance, except sometimes the apologists claim or imply that the poor performance was somehow the government’s fault. Modern conservatives hate the government, except when they want handouts or they decide people (usually other people) should spill their blood for the cause of capitalism.

It does seem our government is moving into some form of socialism, which is called a “left wing” ideology, but ironically it began a few months ago when a right wing administration started the move toward the left.

Right now the electorate is panicky enough not to concentrate on esoteric right wing, left wing ideology discussions, it just wants something that works.

Personally, I am not sure how effective government intervention in economics ever is. A young, just out of school, instructor taught the only economics class I ever took. He said that the business cycle always goes up and down and government has little effect (except possibly to make things marginally better or worse – I actually added this last part, but I think it went along with his attitude).

I know Richard Nixon (supposedly a conservative), a Republican, did impose limited and temporary wage and price controls back in 1971, with, I think, no major effect one way or the other.

That’s why I think government’s role should be more one of emergency relief rather than administrator of the economy. But I would tend to agree with those who argue government should not do things that discourage investment and the opportunity for individuals to increase their own personal wealth, but then again, who would argue with that?


Some presidential inaugural comparisons…

January 20, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

The first inaugural ceremony I ever watched was Eisenhower’s second in 1957. I was eight years old and in third grade and my mom let me stay home from school and watch it on TV. It was her idea, not mine (I did not object). I’m not sure why she wanted me to watch, but maybe it was because the local high school band was in the inaugural parade, and we did see them on TV (my sister was in high school at the time, but I don’t recall that she stayed home).

While I did see the Tulare, Ca. Union High School Redskin Marching Band, I was just as interested in seeing the street cars in Washington DC, shown on the television. They reminded me of the ones in my hometown of San Francisco. I understand DC abandoned them by 1963. They were replaced with buses. We were already going off track way back then.

I haven’t really keyed in on inaugurals since, but I don’t recall there being so much excitement for one in my lifetime as there is for the one for Barack Obama. Of course it is an historical occasion, him being the first black American president – and no doubt you’ve heard that fact mentioned several times today and yesterday and will tomorrow.

I also watched John F. Kennedy’s inaugural in 1961. The only things I really remember about that one was the fact that he wore a top hat and I thought it looked funny on him. And despite the fact that he did wear that hat for the ceremony, he may have been the first president to go around hatless on most other occasions (that marked a generational change). He had that unique Kennedy brush (I just made up that description as far as I know) hairdo and was forever moving the hair out of his eyes with one hand. It was a cold day for his inaugural I recall too. You could see the breath come out of his mouth.

And I remember the line in his inaugural speech: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” And it seems as if that might be appropriate now. And I recall that funny, but pleasing, and stylish the way he did it, Kennedy/Massachusetts accent. In later speeches he would talk about Cuba, but it came out like “Cuber”. And if you impersonate him (which I think I have down pat) you have to use the phrase: “well, just let me say this about tha(e)t”. I don’t know if he ever actually used that phrase, but I think he did.

I do know that folks were excited about Kennedy because of his youth and the promise that a new generation was taking over and the nation would be revitalized. I was too young to realize what the public mood was, but I guess the go-go of the post war boom and the Fabulous Fifties had warn down somewhat and it seemed like the aged set of which Eisenhower was part needed to be replaced with new and younger blood.

It was a tight race between Kennedy and Richard Nixon, so not everyone was so enthused, I’m sure. But I do recall that the new occupants of the White House, the glamorous young man and his glamorous and refined and charming wife, and the two adorable kids, brought the element of celebrity (and family too) and even idol worship to the presidential home and office. In fact, as the time wore on, some worried that we had created a new royalty in the Kennedys and the whole affair was named Camelot, after a popular play at the time about the mythical King Arthur.

And while in conservative right wing and still predominantly white country where I live the tone seems somewhat subdued (and many folks don’t get too excited around here about any politics), the current television coverage indicates this Obama thing is Camelot and then some.

With the nation truly facing what may be its biggest economic crisis ever, one that I think could dwarf even the Great Depression, and the fact it is waging wars in the Middle East and faces constant terrorist threats (even if Bush, playing on the real 9/11, exaggerated some, common sense tells us they are there), there are great expectations for Mr. Obama, President Obama by the time most read this.

While the adulation being poured on our new President Obama may already be wearing thin with some or certainly soon will be, if that is what it takes to inspire a nation to rise from the ruins of irresponsibility or terribly bad luck or whatever, I say so be it.

P.s. I think much of the news coverage is being indulgent with the emphasis on what this all means to Black America and that this is somehow finally a movement toward addressing the wrongs of slavery. And convenient it is that the inauguration of the first black president comes the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But after today (Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2008, Inauguration Day) we need to move on and address how all of us will survive. We are greatly weakened by a failing economic system. We are facing somewhat of a new economic order on the world scale. And we have enemies who would like to exploit this situation. The last president inaccurately described himself as a “uniter not a divider”. Our new one promises to take over that mantra and make good on it – so far so good.


Local reporter fails to get Watergate fame…

December 19, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

The death of Deep Throat of Watergate fame brings me back to the time I was assigned to what you might call an investigative journalism piece. It did not bring me fame as it did Woodward and Bernstein, instead it piled on to the frustrations that would bedevil me throughout what I always refer to as my “so-called career in journalism”.

Before I reminisce more, I’ll update anyone who did not take note that it was reported today that Mark Felt who was the former FBI agent and the legendary Deep Throat of Watergate fame has died at the age of 95. Felt was the secret inside source that provided the Washington Post investigative duo of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with so much invaluable info for news stories broke by their newspaper the Washington Post which led to coverage by other news outlets that eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as president of the United States.

During my years as a newspaper reporter I did little to no actual investigative reporting. There was little time and nearly no interest at the outfits where I worked. The closest I ever came was a story I tried to do on a controversy involving a drowned boy, an ambulance driver/deputy coroner/real estate agent (who advertised heavily with our newspaper and threatened to sue it and me if we mentioned his name, on what grounds, I don’t know), and the fact that the boy was not taken immediately to the hospital, and that then he was eventually revived, but died later.

It was quite a story, but we never published more than the minimal details of the immediate incident – no investigative piece.

I was assigned by my editor to look deeper into the matter and I did. Actually, beside the fact that the ambulance driver decided not to take the boy immediately to the hospital, pronouncing him dead at the scene, and then instead stopped and talked to witnesses in order to fill out his coroner’s report, I found nothing too startling, although I guess all that was startling enough.

My investigation was done, as I recall, basically on my own time, in addition to my normal news beat duties, although, since I had a fairly free hand on how I conducted my work, it would be hard to differentiate between normal job time and my own time. I don’t recall I was paid overtime, though.

Except for a weekend drive by, I don’t recall that I did much touring of the actual scene of the incident. But I did make a lot of phone calls and I did do an interview over at the Sheriff’s Department.

I do distinctly remember receiving the phone call from that ambulance driver, who was also the deputy coroner and a real estate salesman, who ran a long list of classified ads in our paper each day.

“If you use my name in your story I’ll sue you and the newspaper,” he gruffly warned me over the phone.

While I was assured by both the editor and the general manager of the newspaper that his threat would not interfere with our reportage, such was not the case.

When I finally submitted my story, the editor told me he would have to first submit it in turn to the general manager (this had never happened before). He did. We kept waiting for the big man’s decision. It never came, or maybe in reality I should say it did come. The result was the story never saw the light of day. I left that job in disgust a month or more after doing that story, not just over that, but many other things.

Sometime after I left, they published an editorial that claimed the newspaper had done an exhaustive investigation on the drowning incident and had concluded there was no wrongdoing. Not only was my aborted story not an exhaustive investigation, I must admit, but the newspaper did not bother to share with the readers what they supposedly found other than, no story here folks, let’s move along.

After being away from town for several years, I came back and served for awhile as a radio reporter. New on the beat, I introduced myself to a honcho at the Sheriff’s Department, one I had interviewed on the drowning story. Either he had a bad memory, a strange sense of humor, or I just don’t make that much of an impression on folks, but he proceeded to let me know something:

“We have a pretty good relationship with the press here, an understanding. A few years ago we had a story about a drowning that was too hot to handle. I lived next to the general manager of the newspaper and we agreed to have the story killed.”


We don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore

July 28, 2008

(copyright)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

It’s often said that everyone remembers where he or she was when Kennedy was shot or on 9/11.

I do, certainly, but I also remember my car radio being on during the Watergate hearings that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. And I remember sitting in the living room and watching Nixon give his resignation speech.

I was never a Nixon fan, but have come to at least understand something more about him through the years. And those two events trigger memories in my mind that have nothing to do with him, but instead my own life and its events, but I don’t want to go into that, except to say that maybe it reminds me of the beginnings of an adult life I have lived that had no real planning. Nixon, on the other hand, was a man with a plan, win elections at all costs and get power. He did that, then was forced to give up the power, lost his prestige for awhile, and then gained it back, at least to some extent, before he died.

What brought this to mind, was that I checked out a DVD of an A&E Biography episode of Richard Nixon from the library the other day. It was a reasonably good summary of his life, telling some of the good and some of the bad. I guess you could say he was kind of like that girl in the nursery rhyme, when he was good, he was, well, pretty good, and when he was bad, he was very, very, bad.

Actually, I followed most of Nixon’s political career from the time I was just a little tyke and he was vice president of the United States, through it all, including his humiliatingly unsuccessful run for governor of California, the one in which he made the cry baby ending with “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” The biography piece made me understand his sentiments a little bit (no one, especially the press, liked him or gave him an even break). Far from ending his political career, as many thought at the time, it actually may have helped it. From then on anyone who was suspicious of what they felt was an elitist, too liberal media, could identify with pull-yourself-up from- your-own-bootstraps Dick Nixon. He was the hard-working young man, son of equally hard-working, self-supporting parents, who had their own small business. He was among the top in his class, but could not afford to go to Harvard, even though he received a scholarship – living expenses would be too much.

He lost one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history to Jack Kennedy, who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth and never had to work at a real job (had the handy trust fund), and was handsome to boot.

But both Nixon and Kennedy served in the U.S. Congress together and probably had more in common than not – they were reportedly even friends. They were both World War II veterans, both having served in the Pacific theater. While Nixon served ably as a supply officer, Kennedy commanded a PT boat and may have turned a mishap into a heroic adventure (thanks to the influence of his father) chronicled in print and film, PT 109. Some say it was pure bravery and others just a screw up.

I was too young to have known about Nixon when he was running for congress and then the U.S. Senate. I know he made his reputation as a communist baiter, accusing opponents of being either communists or communist sympathizers. He of course gained fame in the Alger Hiss case, going after a state department employee with accusations of communist espionage. Hiss did eventually do some time on perjury charges. I always heard the story of how he tarred Democratic opponent Helen Douglas in a race for the U.S. Senate as a communist sympathizer. Come to find out, what was left out, is that some in her own party had tagged her with being a communist sympathizer in the primary. Nixon picked up on that tactic and ran with it.

I watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates, but the only thing I really remember is that both seemed to pretty much say the same thing, and they vowed to defend the islands of Quemoy and Matsu against the Red Chinese. Kennedy was more handsome, folks thought (and Nixon was pale from a bout of flu or something). And Kennedy was a smoother talker. But Nixon could give a fairly good political speech and debate performance himself (in fact it is said that listeners on radio thought he won the debates).

And even earlier than that, I now recall, I saw him go toe to toe with the Soviet Union’s Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate. He certainly got the best of that, grinning, country-bumpkin looking fat man, I always thought.

I was unhappy with Nixon over how he drug out the Vietnam War after promising to end it. But in reality I thought he pulled off one of the best tactics in that war and I’ve never seen it get the recognition it should have received. He ordered the mining of North Viet Nam’s major port, Haiphong Harbor. Just as in Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis, the Russian supply ships turned around. Nixon proved once again that when you stand up to the Russians, they will blink. Had Lyndon Johnson used and stuck with such tactics, Vietnam, as awful a mistake as it was, might have turned out better. As for Nixon’s infamous incursion into Cambodia, I don’t know. In a war, you have to go after the enemy where you find them (Barack Obama has talked of going into Pakistan).

Nixon never cared for domestic affairs. He loved the world stage, always playing the part of a statesman. He could have contested the razor close and suspicious election of 1960, but thought it best for the nation not to.

His downfall was the Watergate break-in. Seems to me he should have just faced it, blamed it on over-zealous supporters, and put it behind him. I think the story would never have gained legs had it not been for the cover-up, which the secret tapes proved he directed.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton should have resigned out of respect for the office over the Lewinsky affair.

And George W. Bush has managed to make the United States look evil and indifferent to world opinion and at the same time incompetent. Bush has as much as said that he cares not what others think. He is simply the “Decider.”

In today’s atmosphere, Nixon wouldn’t even of had to have resigned. Sure everyone, even his own party and many of his once admirers were fed up with him. But, look at George W. Bush, he just gives a silly smile and presses on, knowing that he can leave his mess to his successor, in what may well be the final revenge on the Democrats and the nation itself for its lack of respect for the “Decider.”

During Nixon’s time, the Republicans, the Party of Lincoln, who freed the slaves, came up with the cynical Southern Strategy of appealing to bigotry, racism and white backlash to replace the Southern Democrats. But Nixon also presided over the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

He fostered better relations with the old Soviet Union and went to Communist China to open diplomatic relations with that nation.

On the down side, Nixon did set the precedent for the presidency as a dictatorship.

The current Bush has outdone him. Bush openly defies the Constitution with his signing statements that proclaim he does not have to follow laws he does not agree with. Bush has presided over an administration that uses warrantless searches, spies on citizens, and throws people into jail without trial or even habeas corpus.

There was a time toward the premature end of the Nixon presidency that some feared he would use the ongoing Vietnam War as an excuse to declare martial law. But even Nixon backed down when he saw the handwriting on the wall and more importantly when some influential lawmakers from his own party visited him in private.

Nixon wrongly used his executive powers to investigate his enemies, sometimes sicking the IRS on them (whether others ever did such things, I don’t know).

Nixon was a loner, dark, and devious, and more of a statesman than the past two presidents could have ever hoped to have been.