My blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 will concern Ambrose's narration on pages 172-174. The topic of this post is the impact of Nixon's advisers on Nixon, and the question of whether Nixon's Presidency would have been better had Bob Finch rather than Spiro T. Agnew been Nixon's Vice-President. The setting is July-August 1968.
On page 172, Ambrose talks about John Mitchell,
H.R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman, who were key men on Nixon's staff.
These three men were fiercely loyal to Nixon, but they had downsides,
according to Ambrose. They had neither run for elective office nor
participated in the compromises that are a part of the legislative
process, and they cynically tended to ascribe horrible motives to their
political enemies. According to Ambrose, there was a disadvantage to
Nixon surrounding himself with such vindictive men, namely, that they
fed into Nixon's own vindictiveness:
"From top to bottom, the
staff consisted of men who were vindictive. For Nixon, this was highly
dangerous, because he was also a vindictive man, with a long memory and a
deep capacity to hate. By surrounding himself with vindictive types,
Nixon encouraged within himself one of his worst and most self-harmful
But Ambrose speculates about whether things
would have been a little better for Nixon had Bob Finch been Nixon's
Vice-President. Nixon liked Agnew back when Nixon was looking for a
running mate, for the reasons that I mentioned when I was blogging
through Jules Witcover's Very Strange Bedfellows: Agnew's
confidence, his record as a moderate, and his tough stance on
law-and-order. But Nixon actually asked Bob Finch to be his running
mate before making the offer to Agnew.
Finch is this man.
At the time, he was the Lieutenant Governor of California. Finch was
very close to Nixon personally. For that reason, Mitchell was advising
Nixon not to pick Finch, saying it would be "nepotism", which Mitchell
was confusing with cronyism. But Nixon asked Finch anyway, saying that
Finch had "youth and freshness, and...would have great appeal to the
party and to independent voters" (Nixon, as quoted on page 173). But
Finch turned Nixon down for a variety of reasons. First, Finch thought
that going from being a Lieutenant Governor to being the Vice-President
of the United States was too great of a leap. Second, Finch agreed with
Mitchell's concern that people would regard Nixon's selection of him
(meaning Finch) as cronyism. Third, Finch was a rival to Ronald Reagan
in California, so Finch thought that Nixon's selection of Finch would be
a turnoff to "Reagan's people" (Ambrose's words). And, fourth, Finch
was concerned about the possible impact of a national campaign on his
own family. Finch's kids were getting taunted by antiwar students at
school. How much worse would a national campaign be for them?
so Nixon picked Agnew, one who shot-from-the hip and proved to be a
polarizing figure. Ambrose asks a question: "What if Finch had said
yes?" Ambrose says on pages 172-173:
"Big, sandy-haired, casual
and relaxed, good-looking and easy-going, Finch was the opposite of
Agnew. Finch's instinct was to bring people together, not drive them
apart. Finch's method of operation was to study a problem thoroughly
before speaking on it, not shoot from the hip. Finch had a broad sense
of humor and often laughed at himself. Finch distrusted ideology; he
was a pragmatist who sought progress through compromise and
negotiation. Finch combined a warm human sympathy with a basic common
sense. And the biggest differences of all between Finch and Agnew were
these: Finch was sensitive to the feelings of others and not at all
vindictive. Aside from these personality differences, there was another
important one: Nixon liked and trusted Finch, and would listen to him.
Not necessarily respond, but at least listen."
Vice-President Finch have persuaded Nixon to listen more to his angels
rather than his demons? That's a good question. The wikipedia article
on Finch says that Finch in 1970 was Counselor to the President. Yet,
the problems in Nixon's Presidency remained.
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