I have two items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990.
1. On page 224, Ambrose talks about Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan’s appearance before the Senate’s Ervin Committee, which was investigating Watergate:
“Committee counsel Sam Dash opened with some aggressive questioning about campaign tactics. ‘What tactics would I be willing to use?’ Buchanan answered Dash. ‘Anything that was not immoral, unethical, illegal or unprecedented in previous Democratic campaigns.’ He produced facts and figures to show that the Democrats had written the book on dirty tricks in American politics. His bold, dogmatic style, his indignation that the Democrats dared accuse anyone of unfair or unethical practices, his good looks and strong voice, quite overwhelmed the Committee. Dash got him off the stand as quickly as possible. Nixon watched the hearing and was elated. He called Buchanan and invited him over for a little celebration. At 6:30 A.M., Buchanan came into the West Hall, where the Nixons were waiting for him. Pat gave him a hug and whirled him around in a little dance.”
I was not alive during Watergate, but I watched that one part of Buchanan’s appearance before the Ervin Committee on A&E’s Biography, back when I was a college student in 1996. Buchanan was running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States at the time, and he was doing quite well, which was probably why A&E did a Biography about him. A&E’s Biography showed a young Pat Buchanan responding to Dash’s question about what campaign tactics he’d be willing to use, as Buchanan said, “Anything that was not immoral, unethical, illegal or unprecedented in previous Democratic campaigns”. If my memory is correct, Buchanan’s response drew laughter! The documentary was presenting this incident as an example of Buchanan’s quick wit and rhetorical skill. Later, the documentary was highlighting other assets that Buchanan demonstrated on the TV debate show, Crossfire: he was telegenic. Buchanan definitely had a strong presence, as Ambrose and A&E’s Biography noted.
Do I agree with what Buchanan said before the Ervin Committee? Perhaps Nixon did well to argue that Democrats engaged in dirty tricks and wiretapping themselves, and thus had no right to get on their sanctimonious high horse. But, as Ambrose said later in the book, this argument was having little effect on many Americans, who did not think that what Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson did exculpated Richard Nixon.
In any case, I liked this passage on page 224 because I tend to enjoy the times when underdogs have appeared before congressional committees and have ended up dazzling them, or (at the very least) dazzling many Americans. When Oliver North appeared before Congress to answer questions about Iran-Contra, he impressed a number of people with his crisp military demeanor, to the point that many were heralding him as a national hero. I watched Virginia’s Republican convention in 1994 that nominated North as the Republican candidate for Senate, and a speaker glorifying North was saying that North appeared before the Congress, with the result that “they blinked.” (He meant Congress blinked.)
Then there was Condi Rice’s appearance before the 9/11 committee. Liberal newspapers were acting like she was about to be put on trial and interrogated. But, in my opinion at the time, she really shined. Even one of my more liberal relatives said that Condi “kicked butt” with her testimony. And I liked when I heard on the news that President George W. Bush had watched Condi on television and thought that she did a good job. Nowadays, my impression is that her performance is quite critiqued. It’s like Nixon’s Checkers Speech in 1952: it was lauded by many in 1952 as an impressive performance, but after 1952 it was retrospectively deemed to be not-so-impressive. What many today remember from Condi’s appearance before the 9/11 committee was her statement that, prior to 9/11, there was a report about Bin-Laden preparing to attack inside of the United States. Detractors were appealing to this statement to argue that the Bush Administration really dropped the ball on Bin-Laden, even though (if my understanding is correct) the report did not specify where Bin-Laden would strike. (One could argue that the Bush Administration dropped the ball in other ways when it came to Bin-Laden, though.)
2. I thought that something on page 232 was slightly humorous (though I can understand why some would think otherwise). Carl Albert was the Speaker of the House during the Watergate scandal, and he would be President if Nixon was removed from office and did not have a Vice-President to take over. The thing was, Albert did not want to be President. Ambrose says that Albert “did not feel qualified and did not want to expose his personal life style to the glare of presidential publicity.” As an example of Albert’s personal lifestyle, Ambrose notes that Albert “had just driven his car through a plate-glass saloon window.”
Was Albert drunk when this happened? I don’t know, but this article does say that Albert was being treated for alcoholism during Watergate.
Incidentally, remember the Family Guy scene where Stewie and Brian were drunk and Stewie drove Brian’s car through the saloon? See here.