On August 9th, 1974 Richard Milhouse Nixon resigned as President of the United States – the only president to ever do so. Forty years later, as the anniversary approaches, Nixon is back in popular culture – although he never really left.
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Bob Dole when eulogizing Nixon in 1994 noted that, "The second half of the 20th century will be known as the age of Nixon."
In many ways, Dole was right: no president has ever reverberated through American culture quite the way Nixon has, nor has a president been portrayed in film, television or literature as extensively as Nixon – not even Lincoln.
From Oliver Stone's Nixon, to Robert Altman's Secret Honor, All the President's Men, Frost/Nixon, the TV series Blind Ambition, the cartoon Futurama and even the comedy DICK (just to name a few) – Richard Nixon has never been far from the popular consciousness. The sheer scope of Nixon's career, beginning alongside Joseph McCarthy's infamous crusade against communists in the 1940's, eight years as Eisenhower's Vice President, a humiliating defeat and exit from politics (losing the presidency to his archrival John F. Kennedy) and his subsequent triumphant return to become President, helps to explain Nixon's staying power.
However, Nixon is probably best remembered for the pure political theater he offered: from the Vietnam War protests, to Deep Throat, phoning in plays to the Miami Dolphins before the Super Bowl, the Saturday night massacre, sneaking out of the White House to talk to protesters, his 'You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore' speech and, of course, his trip to China. Even Nixon's wife Pat once, on short notice, took a military plane of aid and supplies to Peru, climbing over rubble to deliver aid after a devastating earthquake.
Nixon's tapes lay at the center of the cult that has sprung up around him. What was meant to be a private record to protect himself, born out of paranoia and insecurity about his public image, has since become the historical record of an entire generation, allowing the world to see Nixon for exactly who he was, through his own words and unvarnished thoughts.
Vanity Fair profiles, for its August issue, the new book, 'The Nixon Tapes,' by historians Douglas Brinkley and Luke A. Nichter. The book is the compilation and analysis of over 3,700 hours of tape from inside the West Wing, the White House residence and Nixon's private office across the street, in what is today the Eisenhower Executive Office Building – Nixon refused to use the oval office fearing it was not secure.
Vanity Fair got a hold of some of those 3,700 hours of tape and released a short segment of tape where you can hear both Nixon and then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discussing why not to take a stand against the Soviet Union's oppression of Jews – the audio can be heard above.
Vanity Fair also included in its article a transcript from a tape in which Nixon and two of his top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (both of whom served jail sentences for the Watergate cover-up), discuss how Kissinger's Jewish heritage may be biasing and hurting perception of their foreign policy in regards to Israel - included below.
Transcript from VanityFair.com:
"Kissinger: The State Department issued a terrific blast against the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union.
Nixon: Oh, why—didn’t we stop that? Goddamn, I thought we just had that little—
Kissinger: I had thought—I reaffirmed—I may ask you to sign—
Nixon: All right. I’ll sign a letter.
Kissinger: —that they—any statement concerning the Soviet Union for the next two months has to be cleared here no matter how trivial.
Nixon: I think you should get the memorandum to me . . . first thing in the morning, Henry. It’s so important. . . . I want no statement concerning the Soviet Union of any kind, public statements, to be made without clearance with me.
Haldeman: Unless somebody comes—
Kissinger: With all—you know, I’m Jewish myself, but who are we to complain about Soviet Jews? It’s none of our business. If they complain—if they made a public protest to us for the treatment of Negroes, we’d be—
Nixon: I know.
Kissinger: You know, it’s none of our business how they treat their people."
On Kissinger's Jewish heritage
In a separate conversation, for which there is no audio tape but Vanity Fair provides the transcript, Nixon and his aides Halderman and Ehrlichman discuss how Kissinger's Jewish heritage affects U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and makes the administration look bias towards Israel.
Transcript from VanityFair.com
"Nixon: In regard to Henry . . . apparently Newsweek has an article this week that talks about his religious background. . . .
Haldeman: That’s what I was saying, Jewish.
Nixon: Yeah. . . . He’s terribly upset. He feels now that he really ought to resign. . . . I said, “All right, look, I am just not going to talk about it now. We’ve got several very big things in the air. Laos, and the possibility of some deal with the Soviets, and SALT [a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty]. . . . ”
What apparently set him all off on this: [the] State [Department] is in the process of preparing a paper on the Mideast [outside of his purview]. If only, God, if Henry could only get, even have that one issue, if he could have that not handled by himself! . . . Anybody who is Jewish cannot handle it. Even though Henry’s, I know, as fair as he can possibly be, he can’t help but be affected by it. You know, put yourself in his position. Good God! You know, his people were crucified over there. Jesus Christ! And five million of them, popped into bake ovens! What the hell does he feel about all this?
Haldeman: Well, what he ought to recognize is, even if he had no problems at all on it, it’s wrong for the country for American policy in the Middle East to be made by a Jew.
Nixon: That’s right.
Haldeman: And he ought to recognize that. Because then, if anything goes wrong.
Nixon: That’s right.
Haldeman: —they’re going to say it’s because a goddamn Jew did it rather than blame Americans.
Ehrlichman: We’ve just been through this on [government policies regarding] health.
Haldeman: Yeah. You, as a Christian Scientist, shouldn’t be making health decisions, either."