Thursday, August 7, 2014

40 Years Later, It's Still the Party of Nixon

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual, and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.
--- George Washington (excerpt from his farewell address, September 19, 1796)

Saturday, August 9, 2014 will mark the 40th anniversary of one of the darkest days in U.S. history, and certainly one of the darkest days in the history of the Republican Party---the resignation of Richard Milhous Nixon as the 37th President of the United States. Although Lyndon B. Johnson came close to doing so by 1968, no other sitting U.S. president since Abraham Lincoln has created the level of genuine animosity and division between Republicans and Democrats the way that Nixon did during his tenure in the White House. And in the 40 years since his resignation following the aftermath of Watergate, Richard Nixon's legacy of animosity and division remains the driving force behind the Republican Party's desire for a permanent majority in Federal, State and local government at the expense of bipartisan democracy.

Rather than focus strictly on Watergate, I have decided to focus on Nixon's early years in politics (including his early years as president) in order to point out the parallels between the Republican Party then and now.

Nixon's Early Years in Politics...

Richard Nixon's career in politics began during the early days of "The Red Scare" immediately following Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency and the end of World War Two when in 1945 Republicans in California's 12th congressional district began searching for a consensus candidate who would run a strong campaign against Democratic incumbent Congressman Jerry Voorhis. After the committee failed to attract higher-profile candidates, a branch manager at the Bank of America in Whittier, California named Herman Perry suggested Nixon, a friend of the family whom he had served with on the Whittier College board of trustees before the war. After Nixon was selected by the committee and left the Navy in 1946, he and his wife Pat returned to Whittier where he campaigned extensively against Voorhis throughout the year. Nixon contended that Voorhis had been ineffective as a member of Congress and suggested that Voorhis' endorsement by a group linked to communists meant that he must have radical views. Nixon won the election, receiving 65,586 votes to Voorhis' 49,994.

As a member of Congress, Richard Nixon supported the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, a Federal law that monitors the activities and power of labor unions. Nixon also became a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). It was during this time that Nixon was able to reveal that a former State Department official named Alger Hiss had lied to HUAC about ever having been a communist after weeks of dramatic hearings.

In late 1949, Nixon announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate along with Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas in order to replace Democratic incumbent Sheridan Downey. After a vicious primary battle with Douglas in March of 1950, Downey withdrew and announced his retirement. L.A. Daily News publisher Manchester Boddy joined the race and attacked Douglas by accusing her of being a leftist and was the first to compare Douglas with New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio, who was accused of being a communist at the time.
Nixon would later use the same arguments against Douglas after she won her primary by defeating Boddy and would go on to win the election by a vote count of 2,183,454 to Douglas' 1,502,507. 

Nixon never regretted using such tactics in order to win the election. Instead, he defended his use of such tactics by stating that Douglas was "far too left" to represent California in the U.S. Senate. As a senator, Nixon took a prominent stance in opposing global communism, travelling frequently and speaking out against the threat. He also maintained friendly-but-distant relations with fellow anti-communist Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and criticized President Harry S. Truman for the handling of the Korean war.

Eisenhower and Nixon in the Oval Office 

After General Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for the presidency by Republicans in 1952, he had no preference for a vice presidential candidate. Officeholders and party officials recommended Nixon to Eisenhower, who agreed to the selection. Among the other candidates considered along with Nixon were Ohio Senator Robert Taft, New Jersey Governor Alfred Driscoll and Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen. On the campaign trail, Eisenhower spoke of his plans for the country while leaving the negative campaigning to Nixon.
In mid-September, the Republican ticket faced a serious crisis when it was reported by the media that Nixon had a private political fund that was maintained by his backers which reimbursed him for political expenses. Although the fund was not illegal, it exposed Nixon to allegations of a possible conflict of interest.

As pressure was building for Eisenhower to demand for Nixon's resignation from the ticket, Nixon went to address an audience of nearly 60 million TV viewers on September 23, 1952 in what would become known as "The Checkers Speech". The speech prompted an overwhelming outpouring of support for Nixon, which was best remembered for the gift that he received, but wouldn't return: "a little cocker spaniel dog... sent all the way from Texas. And our little girl---Tricia, the six year-old---named it 'Checkers'".
Following the success and popularity of "The Checkers Speech", Eisenhower decided to keep Nixon on the ticket, which in turn proved to be a victorious decision in the November election.

Richard Nixon would serve two terms as the 36th Vice President of the United States. In 1959, he announced his candidacy for president and won the Republican nomination the following year, only to end up losing to Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts in a close election. In 1962, local and national Republican leaders encouraged Nixon to challenge incumbent Pat Brown for the California Governor's race. Despite initial reluctance, Nixon entered the race.
The campaign was clouded by public suspicion that Nixon viewed the office of governor as a stepping-stone for another presidential run. There was also opposition from the far-right within the GOP, along with Nixon's own lack of interest in being California's governor. 
Despite Nixon's hope that a successful campaign would confirm his status as the nation's leading Republican at the time and would ensure that he remained a prominent figure in national politics, he lost to Brown by more than five percentage points, and the defeat was believed to be the end of Nixon's political career. Nixon blamed the media for favoring his opponent during an impromptu concession speech the following morning after the election, saying, "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

After a brief stint travelling through Europe, Nixon returned to the United States and would support Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater's candidacy for president in 1964, although Nixon personally believed that it would be very difficult for a Republican to defeat Democratic incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson following John F. Kennedy's assassination. Nixon was proven right in his assessment as Johnson would win by a landslide, and it would prove to be one of the worst defeats in the GOP's history.

Nixon's First Term as President (1969-1972)...
Nixon (right) with Vice Presidential nominee Spiro Agnew
 in 1968

At the end of 1967, Richard Nixon told his family that he was planning to run for president a second time. Nixon believed that with Democrats divided over the issue of the war in Vietnam, a Republican had a good chance of winning the presidency, although he expected the election to be as close as it was in 1960.
Following the Tet Offensive in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would neither seek nor accept the nomination for a second term after doing unexpectedly poor in the New Hampshire primary. Johnson's decision to withdraw from the race led to a tumultuous election year for Democrats, which resulted in the assassination of candidate Robert Kennedy immediately following his victory in the California primary, along with Vice President Hubert Humphrey's controversial nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, which was under siege by protesters of the Vietnam war.

On the Republican side, Nixon's main opposition was Michigan Governor George Romney, though New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and California Governor Ronald Reagan were both hoping to be nominated in a brokered convention in Miami Beach, Florida. Nixon secured the nomination and selected Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate.
Nixon believed that his selection of Agnew would unite the party by appealing to both Northern moderates and Southern conservatives who had become disaffected with Democrats. Throughout the campaign, Nixon portrayed himself as a figure of stability during a period of national unrest and upheaval. His appeal was aimed at what he would later describe as "the silent majority", which was made up of socially conservative Americans who disliked the "hippie" counterculture and anti-war demonstrators. Agnew became an increasingly vocal critic of these groups, solidifying Nixon's position with the right-wing voting base.

Nixon and Agnew's main targets of opportunism were those 
within the anti-war movement who were opposed to the 
Vietnam conflict during the late 1960s.

It was during 1967 that Nixon first became aware of an executive producer for a then-locally televised talk-variety program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called "The Mike Douglas Show". Nixon appeared as a guest on the show that year and got into a spirited discussion about the role of television in politics with the show's executive producer. Although Nixon took the view that television was merely a gimmick during the show, he would later hire the program's executive producer in 1968 as a media advisor for his presidential campaign after "The Mike Douglas Show" received national syndication and won two Emmys.
The executive producer whom Nixon became aware of and would hire as a media advisor for his presidential run in 1968 was Roger Ailes. As a result of Ailes' efforts, Nixon would spend a large portion of his time using television as part of his campaign strategy. Nixon waged a prominent television advertising campaign, meeting with supporters in front of cameras. He stressed that the crime rate was too high, and attacked what he perceived as a surrender of U.S. nuclear superiority by the Democrats.

Nixon never released specifics on how he would end the war in Vietnam. Instead, he simply promised "peace with honor" and vaguely proclaimed that new leadership would end the war and win the peace in the Pacific.
In a three-way race between Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and independent candidate Alabama Governor George Wallace, Nixon defeated Humphrey by nearly 500,000 votes. Though it was a close election, Nixon's professional relationship with Roger Ailes paid off for both of them.

Roger Ailes (right) with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch

During the early 1970s, Ailes sent a memo to the Nixon administration which would be discovered years later in the Nixon Library. The memo, entitled "A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News", not only provides insight into what kind of plans were being contemplated between Roger Ailes and Richard Nixon during that time, but it also provides some idea of how shrewd and cynical both Ailes and Nixon really were as political strategists.
The plan within the memo was to bring pro-Nixon administration stories to television networks around the country in place of honest, objective and unbiased journalism. It reads as follows: "Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit--watch--listen. The thinking is done for you."

Although Nixon himself  fortunately never had the time to carry out Roger Ailes' strategy of using propaganda as a way to undermine the public's trust in the national news media as it was explained in the memo, Ailes would go on to use his own philosophy years later after leaving his post as president of CNBC in February of 1996 and then being hired by Fox owner Rupert Murdoch to create Fox News Channel in October of that year, along with 89 additional employees of various NBC networks.

Nixon's Visit to China...
Nixon (right) with communist dictator Chairman Mao 
Zedong in Beijing, China on February 21, 1972

The last week of February in 1972 could explain why Richard Nixon never went into details regarding how he was planning to end the war in Vietnam during his election campaign for the presidency four years earlier, and it could also explain why Nixon was so uncertain of being re-elected in November of 1972 that he was willing to cover up the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., which ultimately led to his resignation. The event which took place during that last week of February in 1972 was Nixon's visit to the People's Communist Republic of China to have trade talks with dictator Chairman Mao Zedong (or Tse-tung).
The purpose for the meeting was to prevent China from having any further military alliance with the North Vietnamese government by allowing U.S. business owners to send jobs out of the country in exchange for Chinese products being sold within the United States. This decision by the Nixon administration would become a template for further outsourcing of U.S. jobs in the decades to come.

Nixon himself had this to say about his visit to China: "This was the week that changed the world, as what we have said in that communique is not nearly as important as what we will do in the years ahead to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past. And what we have said today is that we shall build that bridge."

When one takes into consideration that this statement was made by the same Richard Milhous Nixon who began his political career by accusing Democrats of fraternizing with Marxists and conspiring to undermine the United States by promoting communism within their own country, it isn't too difficult to understand why his visit to the People's Communist Republic of China would cause Nixon to have doubts about his chances at being re-elected as president in 1972; even to the point that he could have given permission for Howard Hunt's team of "plumbers" to burglarize the Democratic National Committee headquarters inside the Watergate Hotel in June of that year.


Final Synopsis...     

In the 40 years since his resignation as the 37th President of the United States, Richard Milhous Nixon not only left behind a legacy of corruption, deception and divisiveness seldom seen or talked about in the history of American politics, but he also helped to create a blueprint for politicians to use as a means to an end while campaigning for public office. Few politicians were able or willing to use and manipulate voters with the level of ambition, insincerity, opportunism and superficiality that Nixon used to his advantage during his time in public life. Sadly, that same level of ambition, insincerity, opportunism and superficiality can be found in American politics---particularly within the Republican Party---now more than ever since Nixon was forced to resign his presidency on August 9, 1974.
Perhaps if his successor Gerald Ford had decided not to grant him a full pardon for his role in the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon's legacy of fraudulence would have been exposed enough to prevent the Republican Party (and American voters in general) from ever tolerating anymore candidates like him running for public office. This is something to consider as well. 

"Hail to the Thief": Richard Nixon after resigning his
presidency on August 9, 1974

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