I finished Jerry Voorhis’ The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon (copyright 1972, 1973). I have three items.
1. On pages 330-331, Voorhis states the following:
“This was evidence of the long-range objective of the Nixon forces, destruction of the opposition party. For it was a collection of carefully forged fake ‘State Department’ documents calculated to besmirch the memory of President John Kennedy by linking him to the assassination of President Diem of South Vietnam. According to grand jury testimony the forgeries were done by Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt on orders of Charles Colson, special White House counsel…On April 30 Richard Nixon made the first of what may be called his ‘justification’ statements to the nation—-this time on television. He told nothing that was not already known about Watergate…He even attempted to excuse the whole sordid business by saying that ‘both of our great parties have been guilty of such tactics,’ an accusation for which he offered no proof.”
One of Nixon’s arguments was that he was no worse than the Democratic Presidents who preceded him. But Voorhis does attempt to portray Nixon as worse than preceding Presidents, in certain respects. Voorhis points out that Nixon held fewer press conferences than his predecessors; that Nixon took more TV time than his predecessors; and that Nixon took impoundment of appropriations to a new level, since he impounded funds longer than did his predecessors. Did Voorhis regard the Democrats as sinless? Well, I’m sure that Voorhis didn’t see them as sinless, for Voorhis appears in this book to support the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which supposedly revealed the deception about Vietnam in which President Lyndon Johnson was engaged. And yet, Voorhis does appear to be skeptical about Nixon’s charge that even the Democrats were guilty of the sorts of tactics of which his Administration and campaign were accused. In my mind, if Voorhis believes this was not the case, then he’s unrealistic. Not only are there books that discuss Democratic scandals (i.e., Victor Lasky’s It Didn’t Start with Watergate), but it would also be very difficult to argue that any political party is sinless. After all, virtue and vice do not depend on belonging to a particular political party!
The part about Hunt forging documents to link Kennedy with the assassination of Diem stood out to me, since I just took it for granted that Kennedy was somehow backing the coup. I shouldn’t have been too surprised to read about the forgery, since Nixon discusses it in his memoirs. It must not have stood out to me! In any case, did Kennedy play some role in the assassination of Diem? There appears to be debate on this: see here and here.
2. I’ve talked now and then about Voorhis’ depiction of Nixon the man. Voorhis depicts Nixon as ambitious for power and political gain, and as one who smears his political opponents (such as Voorhis in 1946, when Nixon ran for Congress). But something that I didn’t mention was that Voorhis depicts Nixon as somewhat of a whiner. The Chotiner strategy that Nixon employed, according to Voorhis, was to smear his opponents, then to whine when the opponents fought back. Nixon, the attacker, would say that he (Nixon) was the one who was being attacked, since his opponent was calling him a liar. Nixon would play the victim, in short. Moreover, Voorhis portrays Nixon as one who gets bent out of shape whenever the world is not as he likes it to be. Voorhis does not call Nixon a spoiled brat, but the Nixon that he portrays in his book is like a spoiled brat!
3. On some level, Voorhis also appears to depict Nixon as somewhat of a bungler. Yes, there are things that Voorhis says that indicate otherwise, especially when Voorhis portrays Nixon as one who runs a tight ship, viciously squashes dissent, and overall is a pretty shrewd politician. But, at times, Voorhis’ Nixon comes across as someone who doesn’t always think things through. For example, Nixon came up with a plan in which the federal government would provide federal funds to public schools, but he did not specify where the money would come from for this grand endeavor. The same goes with Nixon’s plan to drop the Medicare Part B premium for a number of elderly people. Moreover, Voorhis, in discussing Nixon’s use of South Vietnamese forces to attack Cambodia, says that Nixon either did not know or did not care that there was a long history of hostility between the Vietnamese and the Cambodians.
Nixon comes across as a bungler in other things that I have read. I was reading Amazon reviews of John Dean’s The Rehnquist Choice, which I may or may not read for my Year (or More) of Nixon. What I got out of some of the reviews was that Nixon was not overly concerned about the intricacies of constitutional law, but he just wanted someone on the Supreme Court who agreed with his ideology. In Nixon’s own memoirs, Nixon comes across as someone whose Administration was somewhat out of control, as each did his own thing, even things that (unintentionally) discredited or undermined the tasks of his Administration. It’s like: Where does the buck stop, exactly?
This is somewhat disappointing to me, for my image of Nixon has been of someone who thinks things through, who can explore different angles and sides of an issue and arrive at an intelligent opinion. On what I said in item 2 about Voorhis’ Nixon being a spoiled brat, I’d like to see Nixon as one who was fair-minded, who recognized when he made a mistake and sincerely cared about and could empathize with other people (and even nations). On some level, perhaps Nixon was these things! But he also could have been the opposite. Like all of us, he was not perfect: he probably had good and bad traits, neither on a consistent basis.