Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jerry Voorhis: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon 8

For my write-up today on Jerry Voorhis' The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon (copyright 1972, 1973), I'll use as my starting-point something that Richard Nixon says on page 515 of his memoirs (volume 2), on the topic of conflicts-of-interest:

"From the start of my political career, I had tried to be scrupulously careful in the handling of public money.  I grew up in a home where politics was frequently discussed, and where the greatest contempt was reserved for politicians on the take.  If anything, I have always gone far beyond most people in government to document and account for public money, whether campaign or government funds...After the 1968 election I decided to sell all of my stocks and outside holdings.  This divestiture was not required by law, but I thought it would be worth going the extra measure to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.  I took most of the money from the sale of the stocks and the sale of our New York apartment and put it into the purchase of two houses in Florida and a house in California."

Nixon in this passage states that he sold his stocks and outside holdings when he became President to "avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest": he did not want for people to accuse him of using his authority as President to benefit himself financially.  If Nixon as President, say, would pressure the Justice Department to go easy on a company in which Nixon had stocks, that would appear to be a conflict-of-interest, even if Nixon had a valid reason for wanting the Justice Department to go easy on the company.  Nixon, therefore, sold all of his stocks to prevent this sort of scenario from occurring.
But, according to Jerry Voorhis, Nixon is far from pure.  Voorhis says that Nixon as President has given favors to his friends and backers.  Or, Voorhis contends, other officials within the Nixon Administration have done this.  The following are examples that Voorhis gives:

----Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell have helped out the law firm that they were in before Nixon became President.  (When Nixon became President, Voorhis says, Nixon and Mitchell withdrew their names from the firm.)  The law firm "added substantially to its Washington staff" after Nixon became President (page 246), implying perhaps that it was expecting some goodies.  And it got some: the law firm was "hired to act as bond attorneys for the sale of U.S. Postal service bonds" on the open market (page 247).  Voorhis says that this was "lucrative business", and he refers to Congressman Morris Udall's statement that it cost the taxpayers more ($125 million) than selling bonds through the U.S. Treasury would have cost.

----When Nixon and Mitchell were in the firm, the El Paso Natural Gas Company gave the firm fees of "three-quarters of a million dollars" (page 246).  As Attorney General, Voorhis narrates, John Mitchell approved of the dismissal of a case against El Paso, allowing the company to have a monopoly "of delivery of gas to the Far West of the nation" (page 246).

----Walter Cronkite said that Nixon and his friend, Bebe Robozo, profited quite well from selling Florida land shares at $2 a share when the "market price was $1" (Voorhis' words on page 247).  According to Voorhis, Nixon's status as  President was what enabled the company to do this.

----Voorhis says that Bebe Robozo "on one occasion was given no less than four chances to become the lowest bidder on a contract to handle land-title services in connection with sale of land in the Everglades National Park" (page 248).

----Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst "blocked his own anti-trust division from opposing the merger of two giants in the drug business, Warner-Lambert and Parke-Davis" (page 247).  Incidentally, the chairman of the board of Warner-Lambert "was a long-time financial backer of President Nixon and a client of the 'Nixon-Mitchell' law firm" (page 247).  The Washington Post said that Elmer Bobst----a large stockholder in the drug company, a major campaign contributor to Nixon, and a friend of the President----revealed that he had discussed the coming merger with Nixon aides.

----Overall, the issue of campaign finance reform is of concern to Voorhis.  Voorhis discusses the vast amounts of money that Nixon gets from wealthy backers (often in small chunks, to abide by campaign finance laws).  Voorhis says that Nixon opposed a bill that would allow each taxpayer to give $1 to a Presidential campaign, which was estimated to provide $20 million to the Republicans and the Democrats, without making them beholden to major donors.  But Nixon signed the bill when it was revised in such a manner that it would not apply to his last remaining Presidential campaign, the one in 1972.  This reinforces a point that Voorhis makes more than once in the book: that Nixon is not particularly committed to principles, but rather he's looking out for Nixon.  For Voorhis, Nixon does whatever will benefit his own political future.  But Voorhis still thinks that Nixon has supported policies that help the sort of people who donate to his campaign.  On page 273, Voorhis states:

"Friends like these need protection.  They desire national policies that will leave room for expansion of their business interests.  They want the burden of taxation to be spread broadly across the population, not concentrated upon those best able to pay.  They like a loose labor market with ample unemployment to sap the power of organized labor.  They want no dissent against their 'best of all possible worlds.'  And when such dissent shows itself they expect it to be dealt with in vigorous and summary fashion."

----In 1972, there was concern among Americans that McGovern's defense-cutbacks (were he to become President) would deprive people of jobs, even though McGovern said that he supported the government creating other public-sector employment.  According to Voorhis, when Nixon was re-elected, he closed military bases in some of the areas that voted against him in the 1972 election, while rewarding with bases some of the areas that voted for him.

Granted, a number of these items (assuming they are factual, which Nixon would probably dispute) probably would not legally count as conflict-of-interest.  Some of them are just politics, which has its share of "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine".  And both political parties are guilty of this.  But, even if it's not a conflict-of-interest, it's a far cry from governing from a standpoint of neutrality and fairness, doing what is best for the nation rather than what is best for special interests.

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