Monday, March 23, 2009

The Wit and Wisdom of Richard Nixon

I dream of a book--not too big, a few hundred pages--with the very best of Nixon's White House transcripts, and a few other juicy quotes: funny stuff, insightful or smart stuff, slightly crazy stuff, overall conveying the unique Nixon magic.

Some Watergate material should definitely be in there, but it certainly shouldn't be all Watergate, scandals and Vietnam. The famous "cancer on the presidency" conversation with John Dean, March 21, 1973. My favourite part here is the million dollars in cash for blackmail money:

(Beginning in section #30)
DEAN: Well--who knows about this all now? All right, you've got (clears throat) the Cubans' lawyer's' a man by the name of Rothblatt, who is a no-good, publicity-seeking, son-of-a-bitch, to be very frank about it. He has had to be turned down and tuned off. He was canned by his own people cause they didn't trust him. They were trying to run a different route than he wanted to run. He didn't want them to plead guilty. He wants to represent them before the Senate. So, F. Lee Bailey, who was the partner of one of the, one of the men representing McCord; uh, got in and, and cooled Rothblatt down. So, F. Lee B-, Bailey's got knowledge. Uh, Hunt's lawyer, a man by the name of Bittman, who's an excellent criminal lawyer from the Democratic era of Bobby Kennedy, he's got knowledge. Uh--

MARCH 21, 1973, FROM 10:12 TO 11:55 A.M. 31

PRESIDENT: Do you think, do you think, that he's got some How much?
DEAN: Well, everybody-not only, all the, all the direct knowledge that Hunt and Liddy have, as well as all the hearsay they have.
PRESIDENT: I (unintelligible).
DEAR: Uh, you've got the trio lawyers over at the Re-election Committee who did an investigation to find out the facts. Slowly, they got the whole picture. They're, uh, they're solid, but they're--
PRESIDENT: But they know.
DEAN: But they know. Uh, you've got, then, an awful lot of--all the principals involved know. Uh, Hunt--some people's wives know.

DEAN: Right. Uh, so that's, that's it. That's the, the extent of the knowledge. Now, where, where are the soft spots on this? Well, first of all, there's the, there's the problem of the continued blackmail
DEAN: ...which will not only go on now, it'll goon when these people are in prison, and it will compound the obstruction of justice situation. It'll cost money. It's dangerous. Nobody, nothing--people around here are not pros at this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do: washing money, getting clean money, and things like that, uh--we're--we just don't know about those (noise) things, because we're-not used to, you know--we are not criminals and not used to dealing in that business. It's, uh, it's, uh--
PRESIDENT: That's right.
DEAN: It's tough thing to know how to do.
PRESIDENT: Maybe we can't even do that.

MARCH 21, 1973, FROM 10:12 TO 11:55 A.M. 33

DEAN: That's right. It's a real problem as to whether we could even do it. Plus there's a real problem in raising money. Uh, Mitchell has been working on raising some money. Uh, feeling he's got, you know, he's got one, he's one of the ones with the most to lose. Uh, but there's no denying the fact that the White House, and uh, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Dean are involved in some of the early money decisions.
PRESIDENT: How much money do you need?
DEAN: I would say these people are going to cost, uh, a million dollars over the next, uh, - two years. (Pause)
PRESIDENT: We could get that.
DEAN: Uh, huh.
PRESIDENT: You, on the money, if you need the money, I mean, uh' you could get the money. Let's say--
DEAN: Well, I think that we're going--
PRESIDENT: What I mean is, you could, you could get a million dollars. And you could get it in cash. I, I know where it could be gotten.
DEAN: Uh, huh.

I just love that.

One of my favourites, going beyond Watergate, is the "never hold staff meetings" conversation of December 1971. The highlights were reprinted in the Atlantic a few years ago.

A Navy Yeoman named Radford had been caught passing secrets from the White House to his superiors at the Pentagon. Documents were routinely passed to Admiral Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The situation developed out of Nixon's characteristic secrecy and paranoia, and in the way Nixon resolved it, further encouraged these tendencies. In the end Nixon left the principals in their jobs, reasoning that they could now be manipulated because Nixon knew what they had done.

On December 22, Nixon spoke with Bob Haldeman:

HALDEMAN: The worst thing about it is you get, you start—which we've managed to avoid, maybe too much—you start getting paranoid, and you start wondering about everything and everybody, and—

NIXON: I know.

HALDEMAN: —you figure you can't—

NIXON: But don't be too damn sure of anybody! I mean, that's—don't be too damn sure about anybody!

HALDEMAN: You can't.

NIXON: I am never sure of anybody.

HALDEMAN: Well [unintelligible]—

NIXON: You know, Bob, the reason you and I ain't so close now is, as you've noticed, I don't put that—[inaudible]. Do you not now see why I don't have staff meetings?

HALDEMAN: Damn right!

NIXON: Do you agree?

HALDEMAN: Oh, yeah!

NIXON: Don't you think I'm right?

HALDEMAN: I sure as hell do!

NIXON: I don't have staff meetings. Now I'd rather—I know it would charge up the staff for me to sit around and talk to 'em directly. But who knows—first, with—without evil intentions, some are going to leak.

HALDEMAN: That's right.

NIXON: Beyond that, there might be somebody in there that just—like a little guy like this [Radford] will get it all ... I tell you ... if there's ever anything important, just don't tell anybody. You know, I, uh—it's, it's really tough. It's got to be "Don't tell Rogers, Laird, anybody." We just don't tell the son—any son of a bitch at all.

HALDEMAN: And it is—it's a horrible way to have to work, but it's—

NIXON: Yeah.

HALDEMAN: —it's essential.

Then there's homosexuality, in May 1971, supposedly "glorified" in an episode of a TV show:

I don't mind the homosexuality. I understand it. Nevertheless, goddamn, I don't think you glorify it on public television, homosexuality, even more than you glorify whores. We all know we have weaknesses. But, goddammit, what do you think that does to kids? You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo. We all know that. So was Socrates.

EHRLICHMAN: But he never had the influence television had.

There's some pretty good stuff in Frost/Nixon. I'm reading the John Osborne collection, The Fifth Year of the Nixon Watch, and it doesn't really have enough Nixon quotes.

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