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Parry writes: "Richard Nixon, who was born a century ago, cast a long shadow over U.S. politics, arguably reaching to the anything-goes tactics of today's Republican Party."

America's 37th president, Richard Nixon. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
America's 37th president, Richard Nixon. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Robert Parry | Richard Nixon's Even-Darker Legacy

By Robert Parry, Consortium News

03 February 13


his year's centennial of Richard Nixon's birth has brought some of his old guard out the shadows in what amounts to a last-ditch battle to refurbish his reputation by stressing the positives of his five-plus years in the White House. Thus, there is much talk of Nixon's opening to China and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as favorable comparisons between the relatively pragmatic Nixon and today's crop of ideological Republicans.

However, this rehabilitation - led by the likes of Nixon's National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower - ignores a darker side of Nixon's legacy, how he helped shape the behavior of the modern GOP, bequeathing a win-at-all-cost ethos that still resonates, from the crypto-racism of his Southern Strategy to his dirty election tactics in both 1968 and 1972.

There is a direct lineage from the thinly veiled racism directed toward President Barack Obama today and Nixon's coded appeals to unreconstructed white segregationists in the South four-plus decades ago - and between Republican efforts at election rigging now and Nixon's gaming the system through the sabotage of President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam peace talks in 1968 and the Watergate chicanery in 1972.

Simply put, some of the ugliest tactics of the modern Republican Party can be traced to Richard Nixon. Indeed, he could be viewed as providing the DNA for today's GOP operatives who make quasi-racist appeals to white Southerners and who seek to suppress the votes of blacks and other minorities.

And arguably, the granddaddy of all electoral dirty tricks occurred in 1968 when Nixon's presidential campaign went behind President Johnson's back and got the South Vietnamese government to boycott Paris peace talks just as Johnson was on the verge of bringing the bloody Vietnam War to an end.

The evidence of this maneuver is now overwhelming, both from U.S. Archives and from personal accounts of South Vietnamese and GOP participants. Still, it remains one of those thoroughly unpleasant chapters of U.S. history that even Nixon's critics in the mainstream media hesitate to mention.

Indeed, one of the remarkable elements of the mainstream treatment of the current Nixon rehabilitation campaign is how the Watergate scandal is raised briefly to counter the pro-Nixon spin but only in the most antiseptic ways.

It's as if the declassified records from the past several decades never were released regarding Nixon's 1968 caper and the fuller history of Watergate. We're back to the narrow understanding of Watergate that prevailed at the time of Nixon's resignation in 1974, that he had participated in the cover-up, but knew little or nothing about the actual crime.

For instance, the New York Times' Andrew Rosenthal reflected on the ongoing reconsideration of Nixon by writing that Nixon's "achievements, and his liberalism by the standards of today's Republican Party, may ultimately prove more significant than his failings." Then, after ticking off the EPA and other progressive reforms, Rosenthal lamented that Nixon's posthumous comeback would end like many of the failed rehabilitations during his lifetime.

Rosenthal wrote, "in the end, these achievements won't really matter as far as Nixon the Historical Figure is concerned. His flaws and his dramatic downfall will forever reduce the importance of his positive traits. … Yes, he was a great political analyst and promoted important social-welfare programs, but he also was a crook who was forced to relinquish the presidency. That is his legacy."

But Rosenthal offered no fresh historical perspective on what kind of "a crook" Nixon was or what his full legacy entails. That topic is a focus of my latest book, America's Stolen Narrative, deriving from declassified evidence at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, and by piecing together other facts that have been known for years but never put into this new context.

The Missing File

For example, we now know that President Johnson ordered his national security aide Walt Rostow to remove from the White House the top secret file on Nixon's sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks and that Nixon - after learning of the file's existence from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover - ordered Kissinger and White House chief of staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman to conduct a search for this missing file.

Though Kissinger and Haldeman were able to recreate what was in the file, they failed to locate the actual file, a situation that grew critical in Nixon's mind in June 1971 when he saw the impact of the New York Times' publication of the Pentagon Papers, which recorded the Vietnam War deceptions from 1945 to 1967, mostly by Democratic presidents.

But Nixon knew something that few other people did, that there was a sequel to the Pentagon Papers, a file containing wiretap evidence of what Johnson had called Nixon's "treason," i.e. the story of how the war was prolonged so Nixon could gain a political advantage over Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968. If the missing file surfaced prior to Election 1972, Nixon almost surely would have faced defeat if not impeachment.

So, according to Oval Office tape recordings - released in connection with the Watergate scandal - Nixon on June 17, 1971, ordered a renewed effort to locate the missing file. One of Nixon's aides believed the file was hidden in the safe at the Brookings Institution, leading Nixon to order a break-in at Brookings to recover the file.

About two weeks later, Nixon proposed having ex-CIA officer E. Howard Hunt set up a special team to conduct the Brookings break-in, which apparently never took place although Hunt did organize a team of burglars whose political spying was exposed on June 17, 1972, when five of its members were caught inside the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex.

In other words, the two scandals - the Nixon campaign's 1968 peace-talk sabotage and the Watergate spying operation - were linked. Nixon's fear of exposure on the first led, at least indirectly, to the second. (Exactly what was the target of the Watergate break-ins in May and June 1972 remains something of a historical mystery. Participants offered different accounts, although the burglars seemed to be engaged in a general intelligence-gathering operation, looking for any information that might be helpful to Nixon's reelection campaign, both what surprises the Democrats might plan to spring on the President and any insights into Democratic vulnerabilities.)

As it turned out, Johnson's 1968 file containing wiretap evidence of the Nixon campaign's appeal to the South Vietnamese government to torpedo the Vietnam peace talks remained in the possession of Walt Rostow who had no inclination to release it, at least not until after Johnson's death. Even then, after Johnson died on Jan. 22, 1973, two days into Nixon's second term, Rostow decided that the file should be kept secret at the LBJ Library for at least another 50 years.

It was not until the 1990s when the LBJ Library overruled Rostow and opened the file, which Rostow had labeled "The 'X' Envelope." That began a long declassification process, which is still not complete. Though a few historians have touched on these documents in books about Nixon and the Vietnam War, the evidence of what Johnson called Nixon's "treason" and its connection to Watergate have never penetrated Official Washington's conventional wisdom regarding Nixon's legacy.

Mainstream journalists and many historians still prefer to treat Watergate as something of a one-off affair driven by Nixon's political paranoia, not from his understandable fear that his 1968 campaign's actions, which extended the Vietnam War for political gain, might be exposed with devastating consequences for his reelection in 1972.

By June 1971, when Nixon ordered creation of Hunt's team to search for the missing file, the war was ripping America apart as thousands of body bags with dead American soldiers continued to come back from Vietnam, as another million or so Vietnamese died, and as the war spread into Cambodia.

Perhaps, if nothing else, the centennial commemorations of Nixon's birth on Jan. 9, 1913, will allow for this fuller - and darker - understanding of Nixon's legacy. your social media marketing partner


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+27 # Robert B 2013-02-03 10:54
The current Republican Party is experiencing the legacy of Joe McCarthy, which Nixon was a part of at the time, as well as the legacy of Ralph Reed, who institutionaliz ed lying as a standard campaign tactic. In the early 1950s, McCarthy (and Nixon) were attacking everyone as being communists, including Dwight Eisenhower. Now we have a President whose policies are very similar to Eisenhower's, and the Republicans are screaming that he's a communist. Nixon was the highest-ranking government official to use these tactics, but they came from McCarthy.
-44 # egbegb 2013-02-03 11:20
The current Democrat party is experiencing the legacy (a much more recent and active legacy) of Chicago politics which is much worse than a bumbled burglary attempt by party officials.
President is from Chicago and his chief of staff runs Chicago ; look at what they have done in just four years.
+36 # Tazio 2013-02-03 12:43
"a bumbled burglary attempt by party officials" is how you would characterize what you just read about Watergate? Read it again, Tex.

Nixon's treason in 1968 to keep the Viet Nam war going was as bad as Bush's lying about WMDs in order to start a war with Iraq, but Republicans don't have any more of a problem with these historic GOP lies than they do with lying about Obama now.

All Republicans are crooks, the truth is not in them, and they will never reform. But they will lie and say they have seen the light.
+15 # myungbluth 2013-02-03 13:32
The potential for good and evil resides in all humans. A matter of degree is worth looking at. Look at what Bush did in eight years: All the lost lives and treasure, all the lies, the ruined economy, the loss of our personal freedoms with the "patriot" act, and on and on. And since when do we impugn people for being "from Chicago"?
+19 # jazzman633 2013-02-03 12:24
I saw Nixon's deviousness early on, with his dirty Congressional campaign against Helen Douglas and his obnoxious, cynical "Checkers" speech.
I share with Abbie Hoffman the desire to plunge a wooden stake into Nixon's heart to make sure he's relly dead.
+10 # ruskubiak 2013-02-03 13:17
And won't present-day Rethuglicans attempt to sabotage any of Obama's efforts to end wars?
+4 # grouchy 2013-02-03 13:51
I see a larger problem for what this functions only as a sample. So many presidents have been involved in large scale dirty deeds of which I think Nixon is the only one to be held accountable. This has resulted in presidents over the more recent years thinking and carrying out deeds for which the know they can get away with--and that means the Bushes and Obama too. They are a dirty stain on our nation and will always remain so. Let us start sending to long terms in prison immoral men who ignore what our nation should stand for!
+13 # humanmancalvin 2013-02-03 14:42
Dick Nixon was as evil, conniving, son of a bitch. His treasonous continuation of the Vietnam war cost dearly in young dead American & Vietnamese lives. That anyone has the hubris to try & celebrate this man is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps because I was 21 years old in 1971 & was very active in protesting the Vietnam blood bath, it hits home with me with a fury.
The comparable crime in this era would be the Bush invasion of Iraq. And watching the venom spilling out of McCains mouth aimed at Chuck Hagel should be enough for any sane citizen to abandon any reason that the Republican party should be allowed anywhere near the White House.
2014 is right around the corner & the time to act is now. The House must be purged of the radical right insurgency that is sorely reminiscent of the shame that is the Nixon legacy.
+10 # X Dane 2013-02-03 14:52
I wonder If the number of American soldiers....who Nixon actually MURDERED by his being tabulated?? and ALL the additional millions....Tha t would just be OUR losses.....Ther e is also the many, many Vietnamese and Cambodians and the further destruction of THEIR countries to consider. Nixon looks more and more hideous.

This also sheds another light on: "We need to listen to our generals in the field!" ey were either complicit or Nixon TOLD them to go on. In which case, Listening to the generals is BUNK.

I am sure many of you remember seeing General Westmoreland on TV telling us that Victory was JUST around the corner.
He ONLY needed another 10.000 soldiers.

Talking about rehabilitate crooks and unsavory characters. Ralph Reid was VERY involve in the "DIRTY TRICKS" He was a young clean-looking thug. Later he was involve with Abrams in cheating the Indian casino owners out of millions,

He is now "brushed off, cleaned up" and back in business as head of some religious "family" group I momentarily forgot the name. However. It has little to do with family. It is about preventing abortions and spreading hate about the president.

He was on...I think it was meet the press.....It is sickening to see that scoundrel on TV as someone we should listen to, When he most likely should be in the slammer.
-12 # EPGAH3 2013-02-03 19:02
My father liked Nixon, because Nixon was in charge of Operation Linebacker: A phalanx of bombers clear-cut all the enemies surrounding and pounding our troops, before transport helicopters rescued all the ones the enemies hadn't captured or killed yet.
If we had done the bombing and clear-cutting earlier/more often, our troops wouldn't have needed the rescue! If we had cut off Russia and China resupplying the enemy, we could've won. But Presidents as far back as Eisenhower were afraid of pissing off China, which was back then an easily-defeatab le enemy.
MacArthur wanted to show countries that would be trouble in the future who was boss, and Ike fired him on the spot! Turns out, his predictions were dead-on!

So if you draw back, maybe China's ascendance and America's retreat/failure were pre-planned?
+5 # pbbrodie 2013-02-04 01:18
What a complete crock of BS. At least get your history right. Ike didn't fire MacArthur, Truman did, because MacArthur wanted to nuke the Chinese during the Korean war and thank goodness he did fire the crazy man.
+7 # paradoctor 2013-02-03 15:47
So part of Nixon's legacy is treason?
+5 # MidwestDick 2013-02-03 18:55
If the president does it, it's not illegal!
That's Nixon's legacy.
+5 # Nominae 2013-02-04 00:51
Quoting MidwestDick:
If the president does it, it's not illegal!
That's Nixon's legacy.

VERY true, and there was a recent article by John Dean pointing out the fact that EVERY CHARGE brought to bear against Nixon for purposes of his impeachment for "High Crimes And Misdemeanors" is TODAY totally legal, thanks to Republicans pushing for changes to the laws.

Huge legacy of Jr. Bush, by way of Nixon. "We are not crooks bcuz we just make our crimes LEGAL, and THEN we commit them !"

The only reason that Nixon avoided PRISON, is because Jerry Ford fell on his political Sword, and ended Ford's OWN career by giving America's Premiere Crook Politician (in those days), a howlingly putrid and undeserved Presidential Pardon.

"Elder Statesman" my A$$. Just as much a "Statesman" as Al Capone.
-13 # EPGAH3 2013-02-03 18:58
Great, then Obama should fit RIGHT in!
But note they talk about the LBJ Library, but somehow forget that LBJ started the Welfare Addiction and EXPLICITLY targeted Blacks for it!
-2 # dkonstruction 2013-02-05 12:16
Quoting EPGAH3:
Great, then Obama should fit RIGHT in!
But note they talk about the LBJ Library, but somehow forget that LBJ started the Welfare Addiction and EXPLICITLY targeted Blacks for it!

First, Those on "Welfare" (as in subsidies to individuals) have always been mostly white (which shouldn't be any surprise since the country was overwhelmingly still white at the time) and still is. Not to mention the fact that the original "welfare" was almost exclusively for whites (since most of the new deal legislation restricted benefits to whites only). And, today, the mortgage tax deduction (another form of welfare) also goes mostly to middle-income white folks.

And, corporate welfare "costs" this country a hell of alot more than welfare programs that go to poor individuals but since you don't mention this type of welfare that goes overwhelmingly to wealthy whites i guess you don't have a problem with it?
+7 # Robert B 2013-02-03 20:52
It is. Not only the Vietnam thing, but stealing the 1972 election. Goldwater called him the most dishonest person he had ever met.
0 # Nominae 2013-02-04 00:53
Quoting Robert B:
It is. Not only the Vietnam thing, but stealing the 1972 election. Goldwater called him the most dishonest person he had ever met.

Man, is THAT Sweet. Especially given the fact that Goldwater did not exactly "walk on water" himself ! :)
+9 # Beth Carter 2013-02-03 18:34
Maybe some of the other connections which were derived from Nixon's administration should be reviewed.

Career Politicians Who Got Their Start With Tricky Dick:

Dick Cheney
Donald Rumsfeld
Paul Wolfowitz

Let's not forget Howard Hunt, the Watergate burglar whose involvement with the CIA and the Kennedy assassination is detailed in the documentaries Dark Legacy (2009), and The Century of Self (2002) by the BBC. I suggest seeing them in that order also as they fit together like steepled fingers. On the one hand when Hunt was young he denies working for the CIA whereas in his later years he's on camera with the BBC admitting that he did in fact work for the CIA.
+3 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-02-03 22:20
I read at the time that it was Maheu (sp?) feud with Howard Hughes that sparked Nixon's paranoia. Maheu was going around saying that he had evidence on Nixon's that could cost Nixon the election and put him in prison. Maheu was heading the democratic party and his office was at the Watergate. The "burglars" were to tap Maheu's phone so Nixon would know if Maheu was going to follow through on his threat. Lastly wasn't one of the Articles Of Impeachment for treason. Ford took care of that. And it keeps getting worse.
+3 # isafakir 2013-02-04 00:28
every single democratic administration and every single democratic speaker and majority leader has been deliberately knowingly contemptuously explicit in covering up and suppressing all knowledge of the treasons of nixon reagan ghw and gw bush. even when people have testified under oath in congress, democrat leadership have spearheaded efforts to discredit the known facts, by creating bogus counter evidence, such as "proof" that this or that person were in washington by such things as made up telephone records. when the person actually is known to have been in paris or whatever to engage literally in treaon.

+4 # Beth Carter 2013-02-04 01:21
Yes, I agree, Pablo Diablo. Ford took care of that by not taking care of anything and then some. Colby was booted out as DCI, and George H. W. Bush became director.
-5 # FDRva 2013-02-04 13:08
Nixon was without doubt, a fascist, in many respects--just like Joe McCarthy--and Harry Truman.

To be fair, the GOP of Eisenhowers' day detested both Joe McCarthy and Truman.

Based on the factual record, I have trouble viewing Barry Obama as much different than Nixon--aside from complexion.

And dare I say that white liberal Democrats have demonstrated a willingness to tolerate 'fascism with a Black face.'

I do not think this is what FDR & MLK had in mind.

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