Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Releases of Nixon Documents

I love the librarians who work in the Nixon archives. Quietly, behind the scenes, they review documents that have been withheld from public view for specious reasons, and release them at regular intervals. There are few revelations that come with the release of these documents. But they are instructive for two reasons. First, they shed light on what Nixon officials wanted to keep from public view. Second, they often confirm suspicions, prove what had previously been speculative, and add to our understanding of the President whose divisive politics helped inaugurate 40 years of unproductive culture wars in this country (it's my view that Obama has ushered in a new era, for better and worse).

That said, the Nixon Archives released a new set of documents on June 23, 2009. Here is the link to some of those documents. I will be discussing them individually in the weeks to come.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Did Nixon Secretly Provide Support to La Raza Unida Party?

Good question. This document* doesn't answer the question, but it does raise it.

The obvious motive: split the Democratic Party vote in 1972. But having a motive isn't proof, even if Chuck Colson requested that this document be kept from the public, thereby preventing its release for decades. Has research been done on this topic before? I don't know. Just something I stumbled upon in the archive that raised an eyebrow.

*Box 3, folder 42, Contested Materials: White House Special Files, Nixon Library-Yorba Linda, National Archives and Records Administration

Why Did Nixon Pardon Hoffa?: New Information

On December 24, 1971, President Richard Nixon pardoned James "Jimmy" Hoffa, former Teamsters President, on the condition that he no longer participate in Teamsters union activities. The deal set in motion large, clandestine cash payments from Teamsters President Frank Fitzsimmons to the Nixon reelection campaign in 1972, and a later payment that some speculate went to help pay for Nixon's failed coverup of the Watergate break-in. It also helped Nixon gain the Teamsters endorsement at a time when most labor unions considered it impossible to endorse a Republican even if individual labor leaders were willing to do so.

Speculation about why Nixon pardoned Hoffa has persisted for decades, partly as a result of conspiracy theories about Nixon's ties to organized crime. No doubt it was in exchange for Teamster support for his reelection-- whether that support came in the form of endorsements, money, and even "dirty tricks" (Nixon tapes suggest that Nixon used Teamsters "thugs" and "murderers" to assualt anti-war protesters, and biographer Anthony Summers has speculated that the Teamsters had a role in assaulting Abbie Hoffman at Nixon's request).

Now, a new document* that I found in the Nixon archives suggests one additional reason: Charles Colson, Nixon's aide, needed a way to get the Teamsters to not re-join the AFL-CIO before the 1972 election. Colson worried that if the Teamsters, which had split from the AFL-CIO in 1968, re-joined the labor federation, that it would not be able to "quietly work very hard for us, with money and organizational support... it is in our interest to see that the merger does not take place." In another document**, Colson called a potential merger "very much against our interests politically." Colson was the main person in the Nixon administration who facilitated Hoffa's pardon. After being pushed out of the White House for being too close to the Watergate break-in conspirators, Colson went on the Teamsters payroll through his DC law firm. He then went to jail for his role in the Watergate scandal, where he was "born again" as an evangelical Christian.

Hoffa was killed when he tried to get back in union politics, which would have violated the terms of his pardon. Fitzsimmons didn't resign until 1981, and the Teamsters didn't re-affiliate with the AFL-CIO until 1987.

*Box 4, Folder 28, Contested Materials: White House Special Files, Nixon Library-Yorba Linda, National Archives and Records Administration

**Box 3, Folder 12, Contested Materials: White House Special Files, Nixon Library-Yorba Linda, National Archives and Records Administration

Nixon 1972 Campaign: Appealing to Voter Racism through the Busing Issue

Here is a document* from Chuck Colson, Nixon aide, suggesting that Nixon's 1972 campaign spread false information in the South that could generate a "word of mouth campaign" saying that McGovern supports white flight. The irony being, of course, that it was Nixon who pursued a Southern strategy that brought southern segregationists into the Republican Party en masse.

In addition, Nixon staff were well aware that playing to anti-busing sentiment meant playing to voters' racism. Dick Scammon, author of The Real Majority, advised as much through his clandestine support for the Nixon administration (see document** here). Any belief that Nixon was pro-civil rights but anti-busing should be dispelled by that document, in which Colson tells the President that busing "is only a code word for the real issue, which is black/ white relations."

*Box 3, Folder 33, Contested Materials: White House Special Files, Nixon Library-Yorba Linda, National Archives and Records Administration

**Box 2, Folder 1, Contested Materials: White House Special Files, Nixon Library-Yorba Linda, National Archives and Records Administration

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pat Buchanan: For Affirmative Action Before He Was Against It

Pat Buchanan was for affirmative action before he was against it.

President Richard Nixon, a Republican, became the first president to impose affirmative action when his Department of Labor imposed the Philadelphia Plan upon that city's construction industry in 1969. The Plan was soon followed by affirmative action rules (Order No. 4) for all federal government agencies and contractors, setting in motion profound changes in the American workplace.

Buchanan, a Catholic, was hired by Nixon as a speechwriter, but later was drafted to help organize the "Catholic vote" to get behind Nixon in 1972. This was part of Nixon's attempt to create a "new majority" for the Republican Party.

Here is a 1971 document* from the Nixon Archives, written by Pat Buchanan, showing Buchanan proposing a strategy for Nixon's outreach to Catholics.

In it, he suggested that Nixon "instead of sending the orders out to all our other agencies-- hire blacks and women-- the order should go out-- hire ethnic Catholics preferable [sic] women, for visible posts. One example: Italian Americans, unlike blacks, have never had a Supreme Court member-- they are deeply concerned with their 'criminal' image; they do not dislike the President. Give those fellows the 'Jewish seat' or the 'black seat' on the Court when it becomes available."

So when Buchanan criticizes affirmative action, or criticizes Judge Sotomayor as "Miss Affirmative Action", he's being a hypocrite. That's because he's also criticizing his own path to political prominence (not treating all Americans the same) and the policies of preferential hiring that Nixon created and that he himself recommended that Nixon employ. He even suggested that the President appoint someone to the Supreme Court not based on merit alone, but also based on the person being an "Italian American."

*Box 3, Folder 52, Contested Materials: White House Special Files, Nixon Library-Yorba Linda, National Archives and Records Administration


I'm an historian who has done research on President Richard Nixon. As part of that research, I'm posting documents I've culled from the archives (which now belong to the public) that I don't have plans to use for my own research. Some of these documents have already been written about and need to be better known. Others, to my knowledge, have never been used by scholars. Hope this site is useful to you.