November 17, 1973: I Am Not A Crook

The Nixon tragedy: A man of unsurpassed courage and outstanding intelligence but without vision. An opportunist who missed his greatest opportunity.

Eric Hoffer





Hard to believe that it is forty-four years since the infamous “I am not a crook” news conference of President Nixon.  The video clip gives a taste of the surreal quality of those times.  For the sake of attempting to cover up a politically inspired burglary in a presidential election that the Democrats were busily throwing away, Nixon in 1972 embarked on a cover-up that eventually destroyed his Presidency, with his resignation in disgrace coming in August of 1974.

Greek tragedy is too mild a term to apply when discussing the presidency of Nixon.  Dealt a bad hand in Vietnam, he extricated the country from Vietnam while building up the South Vietnamese military to the extent that they could hold their own against the North Vietnamese, as long as supplies kept flowing from the US and their ground forces were supported by American air power.  His diplomatic opening to Red China was a masterful, if fairly obvious, strategic win over the Soviets.  Talks with the Soviets helped lower the temperature of the Cold War.  Domestically Nixon was the liberal Republican he always was, with wage and price controls and an expansion of the Federal government. 

The ironic thing about Nixon is that he was hated by liberals and the elite media, yet on domestic policy questions he was in virtual lockstep with them, including on abortion which he was privately in favor of, although he publicly opposed it.  The intense hatred went back to Nixon’s early political career where he used anti-communism to win both his House seat and his Senate seat.  Nixon also committed the unforgivable sin of being right about Alger Hiss being a Soviet agent.

Compared to many of his Democrat predecessors, Nixon’s crimes were fairly commonplace.  LBJ got into the Senate in 1948 by stuffing the ballot box and who probably elected Kennedy in 1960 by doing the same in Texas. There was no crime that Nixon did that LBJ had not done, usually with more skill. Victor Lasky’s It Didn’t Start With Watergate (1977) demonstrated that the main difference between Nixon and preceding Democrat presidents from FDR, who had the IRS audit political foes, forward is that he didn’t have a protective press. Nixon was the first Republican president since the Great Depression, Eisenhower not really counting because of his national hero status. That made him illegitimate already in the eyes of most of the media that had grown up in a world where the Democrats controlled the Federal government. Nixon’s mile long streak of paranoia helped his enemies ultimately get him, but even paranoids can have real enemies and that was the case with Richard Nixon. If Nixon had made a clean breast of things after the Watergate break in he would have survived politically and doubtless have won re-election, but it was not in him to expose his neck to his enemies like that and trust to the American people.

Getting Nixon’s scalp was a classic pyrrhic victory for his foes.  His destruction weakened his wing of the Republican party and paved the way for the rise of Ronald Reagan and a much more conservative GOP which has proven a much more successful adversary against the Democrats than the party that Nixon led.

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  1. Nixon’s crookery was limited to forging a date on a document to claim a tax deduction he didn’t merit. Employees of the politically neutral Internal Revenue Service turned copies of his 1969 tax returns over to the newspapers. His actual offense was not corruption but abuse of power. BO got away with worse, but contemporary progtrash are dedicated to lying to themselves about that.

    Nicholas von Hoffman has long held to the view that it was Nixon’s scamming around with his tax deductions that cost him the support of the broader public and not the Watergate shenanigans, which, in von Hoffman’s view, was of interest to about 200,000 people in the BosWash corridor.

  2. I don’t think Nixon weakened the Rockefeller wing much at all. Rockefeller Republicans did not much care for Nixon to begin with. I suspect what happened to the Rockefeller wing was that it succumbed to cohort effects (younger people of a certain bent less likely to identify with the Republicans for cultural and family reasons), to the changing social landscape in the Democratic Party (the decline of unions, the decline of city machines, the progressive accretion of salaried professionals, and the crippling of urban Catholic culture), and to the incremental departure of rank-and-file white Democrats in the South in response to several different stimuli.

    I also doubt Nixon was an adherent to liberal ideology. Personnel is policy, and the Nixon people staffed the Administration by scooping up existing office-seekers who were in turn addled by the kultursmog of the times. Reagan was almost certainly less schooled in policy details than Nixon, but Reagan knew what he thought and could evaluate policy according to a spare set of principles; he was also a natural talent in the realm of administration and new how to delegate authority, set up a worthwhile personnel system, and motivate workforces. Nixon hired John Ehrlichman (a lawyer) and H.R. Haldeman (an advertising account executive) who proceeded to add bloat to the White House staff in order to keep track of federal departments and agencies (in lieu of actually intelligently vetting appointments to those departments and agencies). See John Dean’s account of how Supreme Court vacancies were filled and Richard Nathan’s account of ‘the Administrative Presidency’ to get an idea of what a cock-up the Nixon administration was in the realm of personnel.

    As for the wage-and-price controls, remember that Nixon and Gerald (WIN buttons) Ford were lawyers relying on the counsel of Arthur Burns, a man who was (with one or two possible exceptions) the most incompetent and confused Fed Chairman of the last century. With the possible exception of Ford, none of Reagan’s four immediate predecessors had the cojones to trudge through a programme of restabilizing prices and Burns was advising him per fashionable notions of the time that inflation was something other than a monetary phenomenon. Nixon and (to a degree, Ford) adopted policy responses used during the 2d World War. Nixon caused the public injury doing this. while Ford made himself look silly.

    N.B. Ford’s behavior in 1974 and 1975 revealed he was very confused about undercurrents within the Republican Party. He quite unaccountably hires Nelson Rockefeller for the post of VP and then puts Rockefeller and his minions in charge of the domestic policy task forces in the White House. Keep in mind that by 1980, the number of Rockefeller Republicans in Congress was about 30 out of 200-odd. It was an imploding subcaucus. Ford was behaving as if Charles Mathias was the threat (at least until Mathias told him that there would be no Mathias presidential run).

  3. “Nixon’s crookery was limited to forging a date on a document to claim a tax deduction he didn’t merit.”

    Nixon being a crook had almost nothing to do with putting money into his pocket and everything to do with his paranoia and his inability to understand that in 1972 he faced a very weakened Democrat party.

  4. Elections don’t matter . . .

    In November 1972, President Nixon won a massive landslide victory. He garnered 60.7% of the popular vote 47.2 million to 29.2 million – that is 18 million for you intellectuals – the greatest popular vote margin ever attained by a candidate in a US Presidential Election.

    Unlike 2016, Republicans did not achieve victories in Congressional Elections.

    The Watergate coup d’état ensued.

    Since the collapse of the USSR, we have uncovered proof that the soviets subsidized the so-called peace movement, Left and disloyal Democrat opposition, and the coup with $1 billion (a great deal of money in the 1960’s) over ten years.

    The chief victims of the coup were the American people who suffered under four years of Jimmeh Carter and hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese who the scum Congress abandoned to the tender mercies of the ARVN and VC.

  5. “I don’t think Nixon weakened the Rockefeller wing much at all.”

    His fall ensured that in 1976 Reagan could run for President without Nixon, who thought little of Reagan, could play kingmaker. The shattering defeats of the Republican party in the Congressional elections of 1974 devastated liberal and moderate Republicans. Nixon was part of a trend by which the Republicans as a party do poorly under moderate Republican Presidents. This has been the case going back to Herbert Hoover.

  6. Nixon was part of a trend by which the Republicans as a party do poorly under moderate Republican Presidents. This has been the case going back to Herbert Hoover.

    Hoover’s viewpoint and distinct features do not map well to post 1933 political disputes. He presided over a disaster and an aspect of that was poor decisions in the realm of monetary policy.

    It’s difficult to say the Republican Party did poorly or well under Eisenhower. Eisenhower is about the most admired chief executive in the history of valid opinion surveys. That wasn’t transferable to the congressional Republican caucus. The thing is, no Republican presidential candidate prior to 1994 had much success in bringing along the House or Representatives and the (wholly unexpected) seizure of that body in 1994 was coincident with reducing the caucus of white Southern Democrats to one of a dimension similar to that of the Southern Republican caucus ca. 1952.

    As for Nixon, he ‘did badly’ not because ‘moderate’ but because he set in motion a number of shady and vindictive schemes, hired people who were at home attempting to execute shady and vindictive schemes and (as noted above) he was a lousy manager. Ford inherited a bad situation and was on a learning curve as he’d never held an executive position before in the public or private sector.

    George W. Bush was ultimately discredited in part because of bad luck (the timing of the financial crisis, and the concatenation of policy decisions going back a decade or more which generated it) and in part because he was blamed for decisions made in uncertainty which worked out not well and in part because of assiduous propagandizing (Katrina).

    I think your contention might work regarding his father.

  7. Nixon being a crook had almost nothing to do with putting money into his pocket and everything to do with his paranoia and his inability to understand that in 1972 he faced a very weakened Democrat party.

    Both Robert Dole (then Republican National Chairman) and George Will (then an aide to Sen. Gordon Allott, who was defeated in 1972) had quite public complaints about the behavior of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Dole’s beef was that the Republican Party had a great opportunity and “we spent it all on the Presidential race”. Will in 1974 said that Allott’s staff had been remonstrating with Nixon’s people to no avail for the President to campaign for Allott. “It was the Darwinian logic of those in the White House that those who needed the help of friends for survival deserved neither friends nor survival. Now the President has all the friends he has earned and deserves”.

  8. The Watergate coup d’état ensued.

    I think in this day and age people find special prosecutors a great deal less trustworthy than they did in 1973. When Lawrence Walsh secured a perjury indictment of Caspar Weinberger on the eve of the 1992 election because there was some discrepancy between his notes of a meeting and his oral testimony about that meeting delivered 15 months later (an indictment Robert Bork said Walsh had to have known was invalid due to the passage of time, quite apart from the humbug of filing criminal charges contra someone who didn’t quite remember what George Bush the Elder said at some meeting in 1986) it cast a shadow of retrospective illegitimacy on the whole Walsh enterprise (for those of us paying attention). A dyed in the melt Democrat in my family was struck dumb (“I can’t remember what I said to someone last week…”).

  9. Nixon was living proof that there is a difference between foolishness and stupidity. Tricky Dick was certainly the former.

    Because of Watergate, I don’t think even Reagan could have defeated Carter in 1976. But the failure of the Carter presidency helped erase the scourge of Watergate from the from the GOP a lot sooner than it otherwise would have.

  10. Because of Watergate, I don’t think even Reagan could have defeated Carter in 1976.

    Carter nearly lost to Gerald Ford. who was tainted by the Nixon pardon. If you’d filpped 95,000 votes in Ohio and Wisconsin, that would have sufficed to give the electoral votes to Ford.

    The conventional view (expressed by Rockefeller and Ron Nessen) was that Reagan was unsalable to a sufficient share of the general electorate. The Goldwater precedent was supposed to have demonstrated it. Trouble was, Goldwater was facing an incumbent with approval ratings north of 70%. He was also never the salesman Reagan was.

  11. Will Trump be the new Nixon? Right now the situation is looking familiar. At some point needs to call Mueller’s bluff or appoint a Special Prosecutor for Hillary.

    Nixon should not have resigned. He should have confessed to this minor and childish “crime”.

  12. Nixon should not have resigned. He should have confessed to this minor and childish “crime”.

    We can check the penal codes of Maryland, Virginia, DC, and Florida. In New York, burglary’s a felony. Eavesdropping and unlawful surveillance are also felonies. Conspiracy and hindering prosecution can be felonies depending on the crime.

    The bill of particulars contra officials of the Administration and Nixon’s campaign committee was considerable. Nixon was several steps removed from it. and, again, he was a lousy manager and had very deficient people skills. It might have been a challenge getting a criminal conviction. There was no question the Administration was infected with a pathology and he was the source of the pathology.

  13. BTW, at the time Nixon resigned, he was on the verge of being deposed. A vote on impeachment resolutions was imminent in the House and he had been told (by Barry Goldwater) that there were perhaps 15 Senators who might vote to acquit. He’d been lying his tuchus off for two years at that point.

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