By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
Nixon was pleased to hear Maxwell's message of good will. He invited me into his suite and one of his aides brought me a Scotch and water. I remember how amazed I was at all of this. I was seeing a side of the newspaper business I never knew existed. For what seemed an interminable time, Nixon intensely pursued the topic of the Chicago Cubs and the tragedy of Ernie Banks trapped on a losing team. He always prided himself on his expertise in sports. Later, when he went to Washington, D.C., he often suggested plays for George Allen, the coach of the Washington Redskins.
As I was leaving, Nixon walked me to the door. Now he spoke what was really on his mind.
"I suppose that bastard Dick Daley still controls the vote in this town, eh?" Nixon managed a mirthless smile. He always believed his 1960 presidential race against JFK had been "stolen" from him in Chicago by Mayor Daley's army of Democratic precinct captains. In this instance, I believe Nixon was right.
One of the most fascinating books ever written about him was Gary Wills' Nixon Agonistes.
Wills also wrote a piece on Nixon for the Sunday New York Times, attempting to explain what he called "the small thuggeries" with which Nixon was so often associated as president and campaigner.
"He wanted tough guys around him to even the odds," Wills wrote. "He stiffened his own efforts at malice by gazing on the natural vindictiveness of John Mitchell or Charles Colson. . . . The division between his natural sweetness and this diligently acquired meanness is what made Mr. Nixon so fascinating. It was symbolized in his famously uncoordinated gestures. No sooner had he made some large free motion with his right hand than his left hand twitched in some furtive swipe at a foe."
Frank Rich, former drama critic of the Times, wrote that Nixon "was a giant, right up there with Billy the Kid, Citizen Kane and Moby Dick. . . . No wonder he drove major writers like Norman Mailer, Philip Roth and Robert Coover to imaginative feats. Reading Gore Vidal on Nixon is like reading Shaw on Shakespeare."
Rich quoted Vidal's well-known passage:
"In Nixon we are able to observe our faults larger than life. He turned being a Big Loser into a perfect triumph by managing to lose the presidency in a way bigger and more original than anyone else had ever lost it before."
No one ever succeeded in fully explaining Nixon, although many tried.
Perhaps Nixon did it best himself. Shortly after Watergate, he summoned Ken Clawson, one of his publicists, to come out to San Clemente to work for him. As Clawson tells the tale, there was a day when Nixon was slowed by a bout with phlebitis and sat with his legs propped up on his desk and talked. Here is how Clawson recounted it for the Washington Post in 1979:
"They'll never give us credit," Nixon said. "They try to stomp us, you know, kick us when we're down. They'll never let up, never, because we would have changed it all, changed it so they couldn't put it back in a hundred years.
"What starts the process, really, are the laughs and slights and snubs when you are a kid. Sometimes it's because you are poor or Irish or Jewish or Catholic or ugly or simply that you are skinny. But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence and personal gut performance, while those who have everything are sitting on their butts.
"Once you learn that you've got to work harder than anybody else, it becomes a way of life as you move out of the alley and on your way. In your own mind, you have nothing to lose, so you take plenty of chances, and if you do your homework, many of them pay off. It is then you understand, for the first time, that you really have an advantage, because your competitors can't risk what they have already. It's a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find that you can't stop playing the game the way you've always played it, because it is part of you and you need it as much as an arm or a leg. So you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipice, because over the years, you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance. This time it was different. This time we had something to lose."
Nixon had taken great risks in his first political campaigns. In his first race for Congress, in 1946, he boasted about being "a clean, forthright young American who had fought for his country in the stinking mud and jungles of the Solomons while his opponent had an easy job in Washington." He had never been under such duress. But Nixon won the congressional seat.
When he ran for the Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas, Nixon played the Communist card. He referred to Douglas as the "Pink Lady" and a Communist. He distributed more than half a million pink fliers denouncing her. Douglas was not a Communist and was herself attacked by the Communist party. But Nixon got by with it and was elected to the Senate. It was for this campaign that he earned the nickname "Tricky Dick."
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