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:
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.
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.
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