I have two items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990.
On page 224, Ambrose talks about Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan's
appearance before the Senate's Ervin Committee, which was investigating
"Committee counsel Sam Dash opened with some aggressive
questioning about campaign tactics. 'What tactics would I be willing
to use?' Buchanan answered Dash. 'Anything that was not immoral,
unethical, illegal or unprecedented in previous Democratic campaigns.'
He produced facts and figures to show that the Democrats had written the
book on dirty tricks in American politics. His bold, dogmatic style,
his indignation that the Democrats dared accuse anyone of unfair or
unethical practices, his good looks and strong voice, quite overwhelmed
the Committee. Dash got him off the stand as quickly as possible.
Nixon watched the hearing and was elated. He called Buchanan and
invited him over for a little celebration. At 6:30 A.M., Buchanan came
into the West Hall, where the Nixons were waiting for him. Pat gave him
a hug and whirled him around in a little dance."
I was not alive during Watergate, but I watched that one part of Buchanan's appearance before the Ervin Committee on A&E's Biography,
back when I was a college student in 1996. Buchanan was running for
the Republican nomination for President of the United States at the
time, and he was doing quite well, which was probably why A&E did a Biography about him. A&E's Biography
showed a young Pat Buchanan responding to Dash's question about what
campaign tactics he'd be willing to use, as Buchanan said, "Anything
that was not immoral, unethical, illegal or unprecedented in previous
Democratic campaigns". If my memory is correct, Buchanan's response
drew laughter! The documentary was presenting this incident as an
example of Buchanan's quick wit and rhetorical skill. Later, the
documentary was highlighting other assets that Buchanan demonstrated on
the TV debate show, Crossfire: he was telegenic. Buchanan definitely had a strong presence, as Ambrose and A&E's Biography noted.
I agree with what Buchanan said before the Ervin Committee? Perhaps
Nixon did well to argue that Democrats engaged in dirty tricks and
wiretapping themselves, and thus had no right to get on their
sanctimonious high horse. But, as Ambrose said later in the book, this
argument was having little effect on many Americans, who did not think
that what Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson did exculpated Richard Nixon.
any case, I liked this passage on page 224 because I tend to enjoy the
times when underdogs have appeared before congressional committees and
have ended up dazzling them, or (at the very least) dazzling many
Americans. When Oliver North appeared before Congress to answer
questions about Iran-Contra, he impressed a number of people with his
crisp military demeanor, to the point that many were heralding him as a
national hero. I watched Virginia's Republican convention in 1994 that
nominated North as the Republican candidate for Senate, and a speaker
glorifying North was saying that North appeared before the Congress,
with the result that "they blinked." (He meant Congress blinked.)
there was Condi Rice's appearance before the 9/11 committee. Liberal
newspapers were acting like she was about to be put on trial and
interrogated. But, in my opinion at the time, she really shined. Even
one of my more liberal relatives said that Condi "kicked butt" with her
testimony. And I liked when I heard on the news that President George
W. Bush had watched Condi on television and thought that she did a good
job. Nowadays, my impression is that her performance is quite
critiqued. It's like Nixon's Checkers Speech in 1952: it was lauded by
many in 1952 as an impressive performance, but after 1952 it was
retrospectively deemed to be not-so-impressive. What many today
remember from Condi's appearance before the 9/11 committee was her
statement that, prior to 9/11, there was a report about Bin-Laden
preparing to attack inside of the United States. Detractors were
appealing to this statement to argue that the Bush Administration really
dropped the ball on Bin-Laden, even though (if my understanding is
correct) the report did not specify where Bin-Laden would
strike. (One could argue that the Bush Administration dropped the ball
in other ways when it came to Bin-Laden, though.)
2. I thought
that something on page 232 was slightly humorous (though I can
understand why some would think otherwise). Carl Albert was the Speaker
of the House during the Watergate scandal, and he would be President if
Nixon was removed from office and did not have a Vice-President to take
over. The thing was, Albert did not want to be President. Ambrose
says that Albert "did not feel qualified and did not want to expose his
personal life style to the glare of presidential publicity." As an
example of Albert's personal lifestyle, Ambrose notes that Albert "had
just driven his car through a plate-glass saloon window."
Was Albert drunk when this happened? I don't know, but this article does say that Albert was being treated for alcoholism during Watergate.
Incidentally, remember the Family Guy scene where Stewie and Brian were drunk and Stewie drove Brian's car through the saloon? See here.