Tricky Dick in his own words

By Michelle Chen Jun 25, 2009

What would Richard Nixon say if he saw the state of American politics today? Newly released audio recordings from the Nixon Presidential Library give some interesting clues into the inner workings of the 37th President’s brain. Would Nixon have approved of John McCain’s choice of a running-mate (particularly in light of his observations about the career of the mother of another GOP also-ran)?

When I spoke to the South Carolina Legislature, I noticed a couple of very attractive women, both of them Republicans, in the Legislature. … I don’t want to go through with a Lenore Romney thing, but I want you to be sure to emphasize to our people: God, let’s look for some. Understand, I don’t do it because I’m for women; I do it because I think maybe a woman might win someplace where a man might not.

How would his sensitive reflections on Judaism play out in the context of the Middle East geopolitics today?

Anti-Semitism is stronger than we think. You know, it’s unfortunate. But this has happened to the Jews. It happened in Spain, it happened in Germany, it’s happening — and now it’s going to happen in America if these people don’t start behaving. … It may be they have a death wish. You know that’s been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries.

Imagine what Tricky Dick would say say about Dr. George Tiller—slain as he supported a woman’s right to choose—or about our current president of mixed-race heritage:

There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white… Or a rape.

The media today is flooded with gotchas and gaffes, but if Nixon’s ponderings had been exposed during his time in office, would the American public have reacted with shock or embarrassment? Or maybe quiet nods? Part of Nixon’s legacy is a widespread recognition of the importance of government transparency—a principle that the Obama administration has promised to uphold. And Nixon’s breach of the public trust also explains why activists are so troubled by the new President’s retrenchment toward the secretive practices of the previous administration. The dangers of an imperial presidency become clearer with each passing year. When we listen to scratchy White House tapes from a generation ago, and the resonance of history comes through loud and clear. Image: Charles Tasnadi / AP