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?


A political evolution observed in my home area

October 31, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

I live in Republican country, kind of a stranger in a strange land, except that but for a few relatively brief periods I have resided here for virtually all of my adult as well as adolescent life.

This area, California’s Sacramento Valley, was not always such a Republican stronghold, but particularly where I live now, at the northern end of the valley, the narrative goes something like this:

Back when I was an adolescent, this area was more heavily Democratic. That was when the local sawmills were going full blast and there was a lot of union membership. In fact my only brief period as a union member was when I worked at a mill and I was nominally a member of the Woodworkers of America. It was a union shop. I never went to a meeting – don’t recall being invited – and I didn’t even know who my shop steward was.

But at any rate, unions tend to support the Democrats, because over the years, the Democrats have been supportive of organized labor, the idea of labor being organized being anathema to Republican pro-business interest thinking.

Interestingly to me, though, I recall that in the Nixon era, the Teamsters backed the Republican administration because they saw it as a counter to the anti-Vietnam War, commie-pinko welfare fraud crowd (that is not my belief system, just what I think is a blunt, but accurate portrayal of the mind set of the times). I guess it goes back to 1968 when there was a rift in the Democratic Party between basically the political left side of the party and the middle to right side of the party.

It really came to a head in 1972 when George McGovern, a World War II combat veteran, but an anti-Vietnam War crusader and a symbol for pacifism, became the Democratic Party candidate. He lost in a landslide to Republican Richard Nixon, who then began his second term, only to wind up being the first and only, so far, president to resign office (for the younger set, look up the Watergate scandal – that’s why all the modern scandals carry a nickname that ends in gate).

Nixon capitalized on the bad feelings and fear over the race riots of the 60s, the split in the electorate over the Vietnam War, and the worries about the break down in morality and law and order. In an odd twist in politics, the openly racist south up until the 60s was led by primarily conservative Democrats (an animal that has recently come back from extinction, but minus the racism, I think). But the passage of the civil rights legislation in the 60s thanks to more progressive Democrats led those Dixie Democrats to switch to the Republican side. The Party of Lincoln, who had freed the slaves, had now become the anti-civil rights party – politics is strange. Actually, the flip flop of the parties began back in the 1930s with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but I’m going too much and too far back into history here.

Another thing happened in my home area over the past many decades. San Francisco Bay area and Southern California folks, many of them good Democratic union members, retired here in droves bringing their real-estate equity (remember that?) with them, enjoying the mountains and the wide open spaces and the ability to buy nice houses and/or beautiful tracts to land with their urban home equity.

Funny thing happened. They transformed themselves from workers to landed gentry who had something to protect. They became Republicans.

Also, I know a guy who was raised here. As a very young man, he became a carpenter. He went through the union apprenticeship program because at the time, he explained, you needed to be a union member to get a job. But over time, he became disenchanted with the union. Union reps, as he tells it, would come out on hot days in their air conditioned cars, make him stop what he was doing and demand to see his union card. He once got bawled out by a union rep for helping a concrete man who was racing against time to get done before the cement set up. The rep said my carpenter friend was working out of his job classification. He also did not care for the union reps calling him and telling him how to vote (although I don’t think he was ever an active voter). He also did not like waiting around a union hall for work. He left the union and had no problem getting work the rest of his career (and I’ve known him the whole time and can attest to that part). And he was paid well (although no union benefits). There’s more to this story, but I’ll leave that out – I was only trying to set the scene as I have known it, not tell one man’s life story.

For several decades now we have had Republican congressmen and state legislators up here. But this time around, a Democrat is giving the solidly-entrenched Republican rubber stamp for Bush guy a serious challenge. The Democrat could ( I emphasize could ) win. The local newspaper, which has endorsed Republicans consistently for the past several decades, chickened out this year and announced that what with its new localcentric format it has decided not to endorse at the presidential level, citing the fact they couldn’t get an interview with Obama or McCain (really). They did endorse the Republican congressman, though.

That Republican congressman serves in a district that once was represented by a Democrat who brought a lot of pork (people liked the taste of that other white meat then) back to the home district – you know wasteful pork, such as strengthening the Sacramento River levees for flood protection.

And that Republican congressman also was preceded by another Democrat who went on to become one of California’s U.S. Senators. He was Clair Engle. He helped break a Republican filibuster, a move that led to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was afflicted with cancer, was partially paralyzed and a brain tumor left him unable to speak. But when the Senate clerk called his name, he slowly raised an arm and pointed to his eye (meaning, “aye” or “yes”).

Sen. Engle died a month and a half later at age 52. I remember when his coffin lay in state under the rotunda of the Tehama County Courthouse. I was a high school student in that county at the time.

I also remember when my family took a trip to Washington D.C. and we had lunch in the Capitol building with our Democratic congressman.

Then a few years later I was taking a journalism class near where I now live and the local newspaper editor talked to us. I asked him if that sometimes when he wrote an editorial he might go against what he thought might be local opinion. He said he did not think that would be wise. While this area has gone Republican in these past many decades, his successors have seemed to follow suit.

One thing I have noticed this election cycle is that there are more pro-Democrat letters to the editor in the newspaper than usual.

But local voter registration statistics still show my county and the ones directly to the south to be Republican strongholds.

I think there will be a lot of moaning and groaning come next Wednesday morning.

But come the first of the year, it will be all happiness what with the diehards being able to blame all of our woes on the opposition rather than their own man.

P.s. I have more often than not devoted this blog to political issues, I guess, but when I began I tried not to come down too partisan or one-sided. I like to analyze things, and besides what is the use of preaching to the choir? But sometimes it is hard to be completely neutral when you find yourself citing the ridiculous to seem objective. I did cast my absentee vote a few days ago. Anyone who is undecided by this time probably should not even bother to vote – well unless they are voting for my chosen candidates.

———-

CORRECTION: 

In a previous blog I stated that the Catholic-run hospital in my city is a for-profit operation. I was wrong. It is run by Catholic Healthcare West, a non-profit organization. And I feel obligated to add that my wife and my mother were treated at another one of their hospitals and received excellent care. I can also attest to the fact that in my wife’s case they were extremely cooperative in the billing for insurance and a representative told me not to worry, that regardless of our coverage, my wife would get the best care. Fortunatley we had good coverage and my wife did receive excellent care, and I am eternally grateful. I regreat the error in stating their business arrangement. A family member corrected me. I was not contacted by the good sisters or anyone connected with them.


Obama may have to overcome to win….

August 28, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

If Barack Obama loses this presidential race it may well be due to white voters of all education and economic levels who just can’t get themselves to vote a black man into the White House and even more so due to blue-collar workers my age, 59, and older who have memories of the riots and looting of the 60s.

And if that sounds racist, I’m sorry.

I definitely am not saying that Obama should not win because of the color of his skin and surely he is not to blame for the 60s.

Right now it looks as if it will be a tight race, perhaps the closest ever, so any little thing can win it or lose it for either Obama or John McCain.

But if you’re my age or older you remember George Wallace and his calls in the 60s for law and order and his rants against hippies and commies and black rioters.

Wallace was a little too much on the fringe (even though he did get a lot of votes) to make it to the White House, but his sentiments helped Richard Nixon get there.

The post Vietnam generations have no way of understanding what it was like in the 60s. We were truly a nation divided, even families were divided.

You had the Vietnam war, which kind of snuck up on everyone and had generally good support at first, but as it dragged on and it became apparent that we were not getting anywhere and that we did not have any clear plan for victory and perhaps not even a definition for victory, and that we were slaughtering many of the people we were supposedly trying to help, that support waned. Sound familiar?

At the same time, while as a whole the nation supported the idea of ensuring civil rights that had been so long denied to black people even after their ancestors were emancipated from slavery a hundred years before, we all were aghast and even scared by the rioting and looting by black mobs in the major urban centers. And of course it is not fair to law-abiding blacks who get blamed for the actions of those who don’t obey the law, but that’s the way it was.

And there’s something else going on here too. Sometimes it helps to read literature. Read a book such as “Accordion Crimes,” by Annie Proulx, and you will find that especially in the working class circles throughout our history there has been fierce competition between ethnic and racial groups, not just white vs. black.

And how do you think the landed aristocracy of the South got regular poor down home boys to fight for their, the plantation owners, right to hold black human beings as slaves? And how did the upper class whites get those same folks and their ancestors to support segregation and discrimination after the Civil War? They appealed to the fear of loss of jobs and places to live and even places to farm due to a newly liberated class of people.

Obama, as one news story I read noted, does not even have slave ancestors, and I add, he is only half black, but he is, of course, by appearance simply a black man. So that is something, even though not really fair at all, he has to overcome.

I actually think that with each new generation the remnants of racial prejudice are dying out – well at least the prejudice against blacks. Nowadays we have illegal immigration and even legal immigration and outsourcing and that could be a whole new ball of wax.

Obama has some kind of gift that has brought him to where he is today and with his speech tonight he may be able to overcome. I think he is right not to emphasize his race (and not to run from it, either). He needs to come across with the issues and put out the message that he has better judgment than the crowd that is running things today.

He does seem to think things through, rather than shoot from the hip, and I think that could indeed be refreshing and good for the nation.

We’ll tune in tonight.


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.