Friday, July 5, 2013

Nixon in Winter 8

On page 289 of Nixon in Winter, Monica Crowley relates a discussion that she had with Richard Nixon about his course language on his presidential tapes:

Nixon: "I'll tell you, and this may seem like a minor thing compared to the other things on the tapes, but the criticism about my course language bothers me, and it bothers Mrs. Nixon.  If you could have spent five minutes with Johnson or Kennedy, your ears would've curled.  All presidents swear, and everyone acted like I was the first one."

Monica: "That's because we can hear you doing it, but we can't hear the others."

Nixon: "I know.  But it bothers Mrs. Nixon because I don't use that kind of language with her.  I don't use it with you...Well, maybe sometimes."

Stephen Ambrose in Nixon: Ruin and Recovery argues that Nixon's language on the tapes was not all that bad, and that those who made a big deal about Nixon's foul language were blowing it out of proportion.  Nixon's language on the tapes shocked his friend Billy Graham, but that's probably because Graham had high standards, due to his religiosity.  A high school history teacher of mine said that many Americans were shocked by Nixon's language because they believed that Nixon was religious.  That could be.  Or did they believe that such language was unbecoming on the part of the President?

I'm just writing from memory, which may be distorted, but I recall hearing Monica Crowley say about ten years ago on the radio that Nixon never said anything racist or anti-Semitic in her presence.  I think that she was trying to defend Nixon (even though, in her book, she offered a more nuanced portrait of the man; in my reading thus far, she doesn't address anti-Semitism, however, but other issues).  But Nixon did say things that were anti-Semitic and racist on the tapes.  And, to be fair, he also asserted that he was not anti-Semitic on the tapes.  But my point is that Monica can't judge Nixon's entire character by what he said in her presence.  Similarly, I don't think that Nixon's entire character should be judged by what he said on the tapes, for Nixon did good things.

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