Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jerry Voorhis: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon 9

In my post today on Jerry Voorhis' The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon (copyright 1972, 1973), my main topic will be Voorhis' comments on the 1972 Presidential election.  I'll use as my starting-point something that Voorhis says on page 284:

"Thus, once again, the good political fortune of Richard Milhous Nixon held.  The murders of the Kennedy brothers had removed his two most formidable Democratic opponents.  The murder of Martin Luther King removed an eloquent anti-Nixon voice.  And the crippling of Governor Wallace smoothed measurably Mr. Nixon's re-election path."

Earlier, Voorhis says that polls indicated that Democratic Senator Edmund Muskie would be a formidable opponent against President Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election.  But a variety of factors converged to undermine Muskie's candidacy, leading to the nomination of the well-meaning but politically inept George McGovern.  (That seems to me to be Voorhis' characterization of McGovern.)  One factor that torpedoed Muskie's candidacy was a letter on Muskie's stationary that alleged that fellow Democratic candidate for President Scoop Jackson had engaged in homosexual conduct, and that Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey had a hooker in an automobile.  On page 283, Voorhis says: "Again, Muskie denied authorship of any such letter.  But the damage had been done.  By whom?"  On page 290, Voorhis identifies Donald H. Segretti (who was paid by the Committee to Re-Elect the President) as the culprit, and he says that "The actual forging was reported to have been done in the White House itself."  Nixon in his memoirs acknowledges that Segretti went too far in this case (see here).  And yet, according to Voorhis, Nixon's Justice Department was taking its sweet time in terms of taking action on judicially correcting this matter, to Scoop Jackson's chagrin!

Even after McGovern won the nomination, the dirty tricks continued, Voorhis narrates.  According to Voorhis on page 291, "[T]here were no denials of Time Magazine reports that White House counsel Charles Colson had recruited young men to pose as homosexuals and to appear prominently at the Democratic Convention wearing huge McGovern buttons."  Nixon doesn't address this accusation in his memoirs.  But Nixon does treat certain dirty-tricks as mere pranks.  I doubt that he liked being on the receiving end of those pranks when they were done by his political opponents, however!

But back to what Voorhis says on page 284----about potentially formidable adversaries against Nixon falling out of Nixon's path.  Voorhis never says that Nixon or workers for Nixon had a role in the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the wounding of George Wallace.  Still, I wonder if Voorhis thought this, on some level.  Voorhis may have wondered: Is anybody that lucky?  Or maybe Voorhis thought something else: that things turned out so well for Nixon because he was on the side of powerful interests----wealthy corporations, a Silent Majority that did not want to hear about the problems in America, etc.  Perhaps Voorhis thought that King and Kennedy were victims of people holding the sentiments that Nixon fed upon for his own political advancement, even if Nixon played no role in their deaths.  But I am only speculating about Voorhis' thoughts here.

Voorhis appears to have issues with the Silent Majority.  He portrays them as concerned for their own safety, even as they close their eyes to Nixon's assaults on the press and consolidation of Presidential power, along with the very real problems that are inspiring the protests that they dislike.  Voorhis seems to understand their concern for their personal safety from crime, and he notes that Democrats have proposed ideas that would expedite the criminal justice system, even as he argues that Nixon's claim that crime has slowed down under his Administration is misleading.  (According to Voorhis, Nixon in making that claim is focusing on some crimes to the exclusion of others.)

Another point that Voorhis makes is that, while Nixon won big in 1972, the cash-strapped Republican Party did not do so well in that year, and Nixon didn't help it that much.  That coincides with an American Experience documentary on Nixon, in which some claimed that Nixon's victory in 1972 was a "selfish victory", and with Voorhis' overall portrayal of Nixon as a selfish politician who was out for himself.  I'm not sure about the extent to which Nixon helped out Republican candidates for the House, the Senate, etc. in 1972, but he was active in campaigning for Republicans throughout his political career.  That's how he made a lot of Republican friends, while further alienating Democratic enemies.

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