Sunday, March 17, 2013

RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Volume 2: 1

I started volume 2 of Richard Nixon's memoirs.

Many of you probably know about Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick incident, in which (drawing from wikipedia's language) Kennedy "accidentally drove his car off a bridge".  A young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne was also in the car, and she drowned while she was trapped inside of it.  There were questions about whether or not Kennedy tried to save Kopechne, and whether or not he told the truth about the incident.

In my latest reading of Nixon's memoirs, Nixon talks about Chappaquiddick.  Nixon says on page 5 that "many felt that [Ted Kennedy's] story was full of gaps and contradictions", then Nixon offers his own assessment: "I could not help thinking that if anyone other than a Kennedy had been involved and had given such a patently unacceptable explanation, the media and the public would not have permitted him to survive in public life."

Nixon said that he still had compassion for Ted Kennedy.  Nixon narrates: "When I saw him at a meeting in the Cabinet Room a few days later, I was shocked by how pale and shaken he looked.  I spoke to him in the Oval Office for a few minutes afterward and tried to reassure him that he must resolve to overcome this tragedy and go on with his life."

Nixon is quite candid, however, in saying that he (Nixon) was thinking about the political ramifications of Chappaquiddick, since Kennedy was a critic of Nixon's policies, and Kennedy's name was floated around as someone who could challenge Nixon for the Presidency in 1972.  Thus, Nixon instructed John Ehrlichman to get an investigation going into Chappaquiddick, but Nixon relates that "our private investigator was unable to turn up anything besides rumors" (page 6).

That looks rather cold and calculating, doesn't it?  But, on page 5, Nixon tries to explain how he could have compassion for Kennedy, while also considering the political ramifications of Chappaquiddick:

"In politics it is possible to feel genuine personal concern for an opponent and still be coldly objective about his position as a competitor.  Even as I felt real sympathy for Teddy Kennedy, I recognized, as he must have done, the far-reaching political implications of this personal tragedy.  In the short term, I knew that Chappaquiddick would undermine Kennedy's role as a leader of the opposition to the administration's policies.  In the longer term, it would be one of his greatest liabilities if he decided to run for President in 1972."

Nixon still says that he was thinking that Kennedy would be a formidable opponent in 1972, for, notwithstanding Chappaquiddick, 63 percent of Massachusetts voters returned Kennedy to the Senate.

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