I have three items for my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon's memoirs.
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
(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
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.
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.
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.