I have three items for my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon’s memoirs.
1. A couple of posts ago, I wrote about Watergate. In that particular post, I said that Nixon admitted that he sought to encourage the CIA to limit the FBI’s investigation into Watergate. In my latest reading, however, Nixon said that he had serious reservations about cover-ups. On page 151, we read:
“…I knew that the two worst actions in this kind of situation were to lie and to cover up. If you covered up you would inevitable get caught, and if you lied you would be guilty of perjury. That was the story of the Hiss case and the 5 percenters under Truman.”
(UPDATE: On page 413, Nixon mentions the story that he released claiming to explain why he encouraged the CIA to limit the FBI’s investigation into Watergate: Nixon said in a document that he sought to ensure that the investigation would not uncover “secret CIA operations”, I presume because Watergate conspirator Howard Hunt had done things for the CIA in the past. But Nixon denied in the document that he wanted to impede the investigations into Watergate.)
But Nixon and his advisers still deliberated about how they should handle Watergate. Regarding Watergate conspirator Jeb Stuart Magruder, should Magruder be encouraged to plead the Fifth Amendment? Should Magruder simply admit that he got carried away? Should Magruder say that he ordered the gathering of information but did not envision that this would be carried out through a break-in and wiretapping? Should he “rationalize a story that would not lead to his conviction”, since Nixon was concerned that “Magruder’s whole life would be ruined for this one mistake” (pages 151, 153)? On conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, would it be so terrible to let them take the fall and be convicted? Were their ties to the White House sufficient enough to bring bad publicity to the White House? Maybe Nixon realized that there were disadvantages to lying and covering things up, but, according to his own story, he was weighing various options.
On pages 175-176, Nixon says that his aide John Ehrlichman assured him that “John Dean, the Justice Department, and the FBI all confirmed that there had been no White House involvement” in the Watergate break-in. But that apparently didn’t bottle up the scandal!
2. In my write-up on volume 1 of Nixon’s memoirs, I said that Nixon appears to be shadier in his memoirs than he was in his 1962 book, Six Crises. That is still the impression that I am getting, and I’ll mention two examples. First, on page 124, Nixon narrates, “Later in the day, I said that every time the Democrats accused us of bugging we should charge that we were being bugged and maybe even plant a bug and find it ourselves!” Nixon may have been kidding, I don’t know. But Nixon’s critics have charged that one of the strategies that Nixon and/or his henchmen frequently employed was to do something sinister or controversial and to blame the Democrats for it, in an attempt to make the Democrats look bad. According to Stephen Ambrose, Nixon’s defenders alleged that Democrats did the same sort of thing. I recall reading in Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician that one of Nixon’s defenders speculated that, in Nixon’s 1946 run for the U.S. House against Democrat Jerry Voorhis, when voters were receiving phone-calls calling Voorhis a Communist, it was the Democrats who made those calls in an attempt to make the Nixon campaign look despicable. People who like to profile Nixon psychologically could say that Nixon or his defenders are projecting onto their opponents their own characteristics (not that the psychological profiles of Nixon that I read made this claim about this specific case, but Bruce Mazlish, and I think Eli Chesen, liked to accuse Nixon of projecting his own flaws onto others). Or maybe politics truly is a dirty business, within both political parties!
Second, on page 172, Nixon discusses the case of Larry O’Brien, a Democrat who loved to hit Nixon below the belt in his rhetoric. O’Brien was accused of not paying taxes on money that wealthy magnate Howard Hughes gave as a retainer to his lobbying firm. Essentially, Nixon was rooting for O’Brien’s fall and was trying to make it happen. Nixon states, “I was doubtful as I was hopeful that we would nail him on this issue”, that “I ordered Haldeman and Ehrlichman to have the audit expedited and completed before the election”, and that “it would be a pleasant—-and newsworthy—-irony after all the years in which Howard Hughes had been portrayed as my financial angel, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee was in fact the one profiting from a lucrative position on Hughes’ payroll.” Instead, Nixon narrates, the IRS cleared O’Brien of the charges.
Why does Nixon appear shadier in his memoirs than he did in Six Crises? I mean, in his memoirs, we still see the fair-minded Nixon of Six Crises, the one who sees the good even in some of his political opponents. But Nixon in his memoirs appears shadier, at times. Perhaps Nixon was more honest and candid in his memoirs because he could not hide who he truly was by that point: people had heard the Watergate tapes, and they were aware of Nixon’s activities. Nixon could justify them, express regret for them, or simply acknowledge them, without offering an explanation. It seems to me that Nixon in his memoirs does all three, depending on what he’s narrating. Or maybe Nixon actually was a more honest and morally-conscientious politician in his earlier years, but the press’ criticism of him and his political defeats convinced him that he needed to play dirty in order to succeed, since the other side played dirty. Politics can harden a person.
3. On pages 163-163, Nixon lists his accomplishments in his first term as President. Inflation went down from 6.1 percent to 2.7 percent. The growth of the Gross National Product went up by 2.9 percent. The stock market was doing well. Real earnings were increasing at an annual rate of 4 percent by 1972, and “Average income per farm was 40 percent higher than the average from 1961-1968” (page 164). Federal income taxes were reduced “by 66 percent for a family of four making $5,000, and by 20 percent for a family of four making $15,000” (page 164). Welfare reform was proposed. A national health insurance plan—-which “shared the cost between those who could afford to pay for health insurance, employers, and government”—-was offered as an alternative to “several socialized medicine schemes proposed by others” (page 164). Funding to fight cancer went up, as did arrests for drug crimes. The increase in the crime rate came down. There was created a “formal research institute for learning and education” (page 164). Government spending on mass transit went up. There was progress in revenue-sharing between the federal and the state governments, environmental protection that (according to Nixon) balanced the preservation of the environment with the needs of industry, and the development of parks. A higher percentage of government spending was for “education, social services, [and] health” than for national defense. Government spending on the arts and social security benefits increased. Draft calls were reduced, and “we were on our way to the elimination of the draft and the creation of an all-volunteer Army” (page 165).
Nixon is bragging here about a number of accomplishments that could be considered liberal or progressive, which is odd, considering the conservative rhetoric about government that he employs elsewhere in his memoirs. Perhaps he figured that, yes, he increased government spending, but he was more reasonable about it than many of the Democrats.
Is Nixon accurate? I’m sure that there’s another side to the story, but I don’t know what it is right now, so I can’t critique Nixon’s claims. It does interest me that inflation remained a problem under the Presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, so, even if Nixon succeeded in taming inflation, it made a comeback.