December 19, 2002
Richard Nixon's Greatest Treason

I've said it before and I will say it again: Richard Nixon's greatest treason was his transformation of the Republican Party from the Party of Lincoln to the Party That Doesn't Like Black PeopleTM. In today's San Francisco Chronicle, former Republican representative Pete McCloskey tells a part of this history:


The 'party of Lincoln' and Sen. Thurmond: ...I heard Thurmond speak to an audience of Southerners. The gist of Thurmond's message was clear: You Southern Republicans want to vote for Reagan [at the 1968 Republican Convention] because he's the true conservative, but stick with Nixon on the first ballot because he has promised, if elected, to stop enforcing the Civil Rights and Voting Right Acts of 1964 and 1965. (So far as any of us knew, Nixon had been a civil-rights supporter during his tenure as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president.) His message got across. The following day, enough of the Southerners stuck with Nixon to put him barely over the top....

Following the election... my former law partner, Lewis Butler... Health, Education and Welfare.... Butler served briefly as acting Secretary of HEW. A call came from the White House. It was Bob Mardian, later to be indicted for his role in the Watergate coverup. He didn't mince words: Leon Panetta, who was then director of HEW's Office of Civil Rights, had to be fired. His offense, Mardian explained, was for enforcing the Civil Rights Act. "Doesn't he understand Nixon promised the Southern delegates he would stop enforcing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts?"...


To Republicans who don't like belonging to the Party That Doesn't Like Black PeopleTM and would rather belong to the Party of Lincoln, the rest of us have just one thing to say: Nixon changed it, and if you want to you can change it back. It would be a good thing if you did so.

Crises in Both Parties
The 'party of Lincoln' and Sen. Thurmond
Pete McCloskey
Thursday, December 19, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/12/19/ED66198.DTL

Trent Lott's present difficulties merit a quiet reflection on the history and change in the Republican Party during the last half century. Sen. Strom Thurmond has had an impact on the lives of many beside Lott, in that he was probably the primary factor in Richard Nixon's winning the presidency in 1968.

Until 1967, I had been a small-town lawyer with little interest in politics save civil rights. But that year, our Congressman died suddenly and I was unexpectedly elected to represent San Mateo County in Congress in a special election, the first Republican to run in opposition to the Vietnam War.

In the summer of 1968 I went to my first national Republican convention in Miami to work for the nomination of Nelson Rockefeller, who was was challenging the favorite, former Vice President Nixon. The polls showed Nixon had close to 650 committed delegates.

As I remember, Nixon needed 675 votes on the first ballot to win. After talking with a number of his delegates, it became apparent that many did not like him personally, but were committed to him solely for the first ballot because of an appearance he had made in their hometown in earlier years. It also became apparent that after the first ballot, many of those delegates would desert him, because they were far more attracted to the new conservative Republican star, California Gov. Ronald Reagan, than they were to New York Governor Rockefeller.

On the second day of the convention, as I went walking through one of those huge Miami Beach hotels, I heard Thurmond speak to an audience of Southerners. The gist of Thurmond's message was clear: You Southern Republicans want to vote for Reagan because he's the true conservative, but stick with Nixon on the first ballot because he has promised, if elected, to stop enforcing the Civil Rights and Voting Right Acts of 1964 and 1965. (So far as any of us knew,

Nixon had been a civil-rights supporter during his tenure as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president.)

His message got across. The following day, enough of the Southerners stuck with Nixon to put him barely over the top, with about a dozen ballots above the 675 required.

In November, Nixon barely edged out a fast-closing Vice President Hubert Humphrey, in part because Humphrey was tainted with the Vietnam War policies of the Johnson Administration and Nixon had hinted at a secret plan "to end the war."

Following the election, California's Bob Finch, John Veneman and my former law partner, Lewis Butler were sworn in, respectively, as secretary, assistant secretary and secretary for policy for Health, Education and Welfare. We all had high hopes for an early end to the Vietnam War and continuing progress to achieve equal rights for minorities.

In the spring, when Finch and Veneman were traveling outside of Washington, Butler served briefly as acting Secretary of HEW. A call came from the White House. It was Bob Mardian, later to be indicted for his role in the Watergate coverup. He didn't mince words: Leon Panetta, who was then director of HEW's Office of Civil Rights, had to be fired. His offense, Mardian explained, was for enforcing the Civil Rights Act. "Doesn't he understand Nixon promised the Southern delegates he would stop enforcing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts?"

Upon their return to Washington, Finch and Veneman threatened to resign if forced to fire Panetta. Nixon, never one to relish confrontation, called off the dogs for the time being.

Several weeks later, however, Panetta, seeing the handwriting on the wall, resigned, returned to California, switched to the Democratic Party and ran for Congress, unseating a long-term Monterey Republican, Burt Talcott.

He was joined in 1974 by Norm Mineta of Santa Clara County, and I learned that all three of my South Bay colleagues -- Leon Panetta, Norm Mineta and the distinguished dean of the California Democrats, Don Edwards, had once been Republicans, but had left the party, in large part because of the switch in civil-rights philosophy. (Don Edwards had once been President of California's Young Republicans.)

I muse sometimes that I should have done the same, that Nixon's callous adoption of his "Southern strategy" in 1968, made successful by Thurmond's persuasive impact on enough Southern Republicans get those additional votes at the 1968 convention, may have won the battle, but lost the war to keep the Republican Party the party of Lincoln.

Trent Lott's comment "If we'd elected Strom Thurmond in 1948, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years" is an unfortunate commentary for the nation's majority party, which should, simply on principle, seek to continue the painful, long-term battle for equal rights and dignity for blacks and other minorities. Until our nation finally achieves that equality of respect and dignity, we will never fulfill the high principles our political leaders are constantly espousing, nor will we have the inner strength and high principles required to lead the world toward peace under world law.

Strom Thurmond left the Democratic party as a matter of principle in 1948. Unless the Republicans forcefully repudiate Lott in 2003, a lot of us may be forced to consider a similar resignation from the Republican Party, purely as a matter of principle.

Pete McCloskey served as a Republican congressman from 1967 to 1982. He lost to Pete Wilson in the U.S. Senate race in 1982 and is now a country lawyer and farmer in Rumsey (Yolo County). Posted by DeLong at December 19, 2002 09:37 AM | Trackback


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Are you saying that Richard Nixon conned the white racists of the Old South?:

“When Nixon was elected, the political passion was mobilized on the left - the anti-war, civil rights, feminist, environmental, consumer, gay rights movements were on the march. Congress was dominated by liberal initiative, if not a liberal majority. Nixon had little but contempt for the Great Society or such liberalism, but ended up, in many ways, the last liberal president.

He signed off on major extensions of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Poverty programs rose by 50% during his administration. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, extended the Voting Rights Act, increased spending on the National Endowment for the Arts. By executive order, he mandated affirmative action in employment. He proposed a comprehensive national health care plan. To replace welfare, he proposed a guaranteed annual income for all Americans, working or not working. As Vietnam wound down, he accepted deep cuts in the military budget to help pay for domestic programs. Even in foreign policy, Nixon, the unregenerate Cold Warrior, infuriated conservatives by pushing détente and arms control, and recognition of China. He was, concluded Gary Wills in his brilliant study, Nixon Agonistes, "the authentic voice of surviving American liberalism."”

http://www.ourfuture.org/readcafinthenews.asp?ID=26

Posted by: David Thomson on December 19, 2002 10:51 AM

I guess if you say "party of Lincoln" often enough, people will believe that he loved black people. Totally false, of course. Just pick up any book on him, even the Lincoln-worshippers can't hide it.

Posted by: Jim B. on December 19, 2002 10:55 AM

Spare us, Jim. The quotes of Lincoln you mossbacks are so fond of are:

1) Taken from early speeches by Lincoln, or

2) Taken out of context.

Lincoln grew in his grasp of slavery and racism. By the end of the war he had come to respect the freedmen and believe they had earned their place in America. Part of the reason was the bravery and discipline of black Union soldiers, many of whom were escaped slaves who rushed to join the fight for their freedom. The efforts of neo-Confederates to stain President Lincoln's name is an exercise in shamelessness.

Posted by: Mac Diva on December 19, 2002 11:38 AM

Jesus H. Christ on a Harley, Jim.
What the hell does that have to do with the price of...well, anything? Are you saying that Lincoln's freeing the slaves and preserving the Union is somehow tainted because it was done out of principle and not "love"?
On the other hand, if the Republicans want to disown Lincoln, I'm sure the Democrats will take him!

Posted by: Emma on December 19, 2002 11:47 AM

Oh, but Condi and Colin and Clarence! Condi and Colin and Clarence!

The Three C's. (Not to be confused with the CCC Council of Conservative Citizens)

The Three C's have innoculated us against our past!

Posted by: Conservitron on December 19, 2002 12:02 PM

BTW, why is Brad such a pit bull on civil rights issues? It seems odd for an economist to care. Does anyone know how he arrived where he is in regard to America's dirtiest linen?

Posted by: Mac Diva on December 19, 2002 12:37 PM

One minor quibble: Nixon's greatest treason was sabotaging the 1968 peace talks to aid his presidential campaign, by persuading the S. Vietnam leadership a better deal if he were elected. Otherwise, it's possible the war could have ended 7 years earlier, sparing 30,000 American and three million or so S.E. Asian lives. Of course, Nixon might not then have been elected.

Posted by: Mark on December 19, 2002 01:42 PM

I'm with Mark.

Posted by: IssuesGuy on December 19, 2002 01:47 PM

It's a pretty strange question to ask why an economist would care about civil rights. It's an issue any human being ought to care about...

Posted by: RC on December 19, 2002 02:10 PM

Yeah, that's the day America started to joyously discredit itself vis-a-vis the rest of the World. Most offended were the French: can't the President of the United States manage to get his BJ's from better looking ladies for God's sake?

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on December 19, 2002 04:44 PM

Not at all, RC. Show me another economist who gives a winged elephant about civil rights and I will smack you under the mistletoe.

Posted by: Mac Diva on December 19, 2002 06:59 PM

"One minor quibble: Nixon's greatest treason was sabotaging the 1968 peace talks to aid his presidential campaign, by persuading the S. Vietnam leadership a better deal if he were elected. Otherwise, it's possible the war could have ended 7 years earlier, sparing 30,000 American and three million or so S.E. Asian lives."

Nixon's greatest treason was giving Henry "Let Saigon Be Bygone" Kissinger a job. Kissinger surrendered S. Vietnam to the North. Did the "sabotaged 1968 peace proposal" have a provision that when the NVA invades again we'd go back and put a stop it? If not, it would have been just as impotent as the Kissinger plan.

People can disagree over whether or not we should have made the promise of defense to S. Vietnam in the first place, but once such a promise has been made you don't break it.

The fiscal travesty David Thompson cites at the top of this thread illustrates what happens when the GOP moves to the center.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on December 19, 2002 09:25 PM

David:

"By executive order, [Nixon] mandated affirmative action in employment."

It's very clear that he did this to drive a wedge into the traditional Democratic coalition, and at this the old Machiavellian succeeded brilliantly. Thirty years later, many on the left still haven't figured it out.

As for his other deeds cited, who says that that racial prejudice and antipathy to big government are in any way related? It takes a strong government hand to maintain Jim Crow. Regimes like Jim Crow and Apartheid were established precisely to use government power to prevent private individuals and businesses from making their own choices.

Posted by: Curt Wilson on December 19, 2002 11:00 PM

That is a meaningless statement. Lincoln didn't like black people either.

Posted by: blabla on December 22, 2002 12:53 PM

Most offended were the French: can't the President of the United States manage to get his BJ's from better looking ladies for God's sake?

I *distinctly* recall the French writing off the US during the Nixon Administration. Why? He put ketchup on his eggs. :)

Posted by: George Zachar on December 22, 2002 03:42 PM
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