tv Richard Nixon CSPAN May 29, 2017 5:33pm-6:46pm EDT
my name is vanessa beasley and i'm the dean of the university. we will have a wonderful discussion about the presidency of richard nixon and the lessons therein. i'm happy to invite you to a conversation we will have on the same theme. before we get darted in earnest, it's fitting we take a moment to remember the space we are in and who founded it. tonight we are gathered in the first amendment center at vanderbilt university which was founded by john segan dollar. for those of you who may not know him he served for 43 years as an award-winning journalist for the tennessean. he retired as editor, publisher and ceo.
in 1982, he became the founding editorial director of usa today and served in that position for a decade. he left journalism in the early 60s to serve in the u.s. justice department as administrative assistant to attorney general robert f kennedy. his work in the field of civil rights led to a service as chief negotiator with the governor of alabama during the freedom ride. during that crisis, while attempting to aid freedom riders in montgomery alabama, he was attacked by a mob of klansmen and hospitalized. in 1991, he founded the first amendment center where we gather tonight. how's that vanderbilt university, with the mission of creating national discussion, dialogue and debate about first amendment rights and values. under the first amendment rights we enjoys the opportunity to look critically
at our own past and citizens and members of the u.s. democracy. tonight, to lead us in that discussion we are very fortunate to have john farrell, author of the book richard nixon, the lif life, it's hot off the presses and available in the back of the room. he is the author of three biographies. first of the great american attorney which won the los angeles times book prize for the best book biography of the year heard second, of speaker tip o'neill which won the lyndon johnson award for the best book on congress, and third, richard nixon, the book we will be discussing tonight which will be published on march 28. somehow we are ready have a copy. he came to biography after a long career as a newspaperman most notably for the boston globe and denver post. in the late 1970s, as youngsters, john and whatever other conversation partners
competed as reporters while covering the maryland legislature. he recalls he did not fare especially wellin the competition. to his right is david marinus. he is an associate editor at the washington post where he has worked for 40 years. he is the author of 11 books including biographies of bill clinton, barack obama, vincent and barty and a trilogy from the 1960s. the final book in that series was once in a great city, a detroit story. that was winner of the robert f kennedy book price. he is also the recipient of two pulitzer prizes and was a pulitzer finalist three other times for his books in journalism. the semester for the third time, we are happy to welcome him back to vanderbilt as a distinguished visiting professor where he is teaching
classes in political biography and america and the mccarthy era. he and his wife linda spend time in washington d.c., madison and wisconsin and here in nashville. he is known mostly for being the father of andrew, the author of strong inside, the book about vanderbilt athlete and alumnus. wallace. this has become the freshman book reading for the second straight year. we also have thomas swarts. he is professor of history and political science at vanderbilt. he was educated at columbia, oxford and harvard universities and the author of the books america's journey, john j mccoy and the federal republic of germany and lyndon johnson and europe in the shadow of vietnam. also the strained alliance, u.s. european relations in the
1970s. he has received fellowship from the german historical institute, the norwegian noble institute, the woodrow wilson center and the social science recenresearch center. he served on the advisory committee for the department of state and was the president of the society of historians of american foreign relations. he is currently finishing a biographical study of former secretary of state henry kissinger. with all the overlapping interest and expertise, i am sure you will join me in welcoming me our partners. there will be a portion of the evening where you can be a conversational partner. with no further ado let's discuss lessons from a failed presidency. [applause] >> thank you vanessa. i would also like to thank them for helping sponsor this event along with the political
science department and history department and provost office. [inaudible] first i will talk to jack about the making of the book and then professor swarts and i will talk about the substance of the book and then we'll have some questions from these four in the front row and open it up to the audience. as they used to say about richard nixon or tricky dick, he's back. [inaudible] >> i will save jack the trouble, when he was on campus today and when he was writing
the book he was writing it for the students of today. [inaudible] even the students parents were just kids when richard nixon was president in some degree. i will save them the trouble of a couple bare facts for anybody who doesn't know richard nixon was born in 1913. he died in 1994 at age 81. he was a congressman from california, served on the house of american activity committee and elected to the senate the same year jfk was and was vice president for eight years under eisenhower. he iran for president in 60 and was defeated, two years later he lost his governor for california and then he came back and was elected in 68 and lasted five years and then
resigned after facing impeachment for the watergate scandal. as an author myself, all authors most asked the question why. i'm not going to ask that. i'm going to ask how, how did you come to this book and how did you conceive of it. >> okay, there has been a tide of new nixon material since around the turn-of-the-century. all of the tapes that are ready for public consumption have been released. hundreds of thousands of documents, transcripts of henry kissinger's phone calls, 450 oral histories of nixon's childhood friends and family, they all came out in the last
ten or 15 years, and the last major author to take a shot at this was back in the early '90s when nixon was still alive and had no use for the tapes whatsoever. my publisher thought there was room for a new, up-to-date single volume nixon biography and asked me if i would want to do it and it took me that long to say yes because this guy had been such a fascinating political leader and such a major part of my life in my late teens and early 20s, but you ask how and i went into it feeling that i couldn't do one more hatchet job on richard nixon. nobody would want that. what i had to do was try to write a straight down the middle biography. i found he was much more than a character. he was a fellow you could have
empathy for, and one of the things i enjoyed most today was talking to some of your students and finding that came through in the writing of the book. >> how did you go about researching that. >> that's a sad story because i live outside washington d.c. and all of nixon's documents were seized by the government and put in the national archives about 15 minutes from my house until three years before i got the contract for the book. then they were moved to california which is about as far away from washington d.c. as you can get. so i spent many hours in california at the extended-stay hotel trudging in every morning into this basement vault and just turning page after page of old nixon records. the easy part of the research was that so much as being put on the internet that i could do a lot of research at home. i predicted probably in the
next 20 years you will experience this where somebody can write a major biography of a major public figure and never have to change out of their pajamas. >> i'm always fascinated by the process of organizing such material. how do you decide what's going to go into this biography and how did you organize it. >> the most important thing to me was to make it readable. the second most important thing was to aim it at that huge part of the american population that had not experienced it. somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of the population either were not born or not living in the united states at the time that he resigned. that was a big audience of people that didn't know anything about his first congressional race or his time as vice president with eisenhower. if anything, this book has
been weighted away from the presidency and toward his development as a man and a political figure and a husband and the trade-off he made as he went through his career before he became the tricky dick we all know and love. if you get down to the technical part of research, biography is very easy, or maybe it's the easiest book craft because the plot is written for you already. it's a person's life from birth until death and chronology is your best friend. you just start making chronologies, i start off with decades and then before too long it's too extensive, and by the end i had it in six-month blocks of computer files. in their i try to have a mix of nixon's voice which is very important, the voices of other people who knew him and can analyze for us and the
documentation for historians is very important to say this is a good, well thought out and thorough book. >> is there something about nixon that you became obsessed with and you wanted to solve? >> i spent an inordinate amount of time dispelling the conspiracy theories. there are many conspiracy theories about watergate and some of them have gotten very elaborate, and i felt i needed to sit down with his spokesman from the nixon foundation, and have them challenge me time and time again to make sure the story in the history books is correct. that was my great white whale, to feel confident that the watergate chapters stood up and little did i know they would have such relevance that they have today, but if there was anything that was a
subsidiary goal and that was it. >> and that's appropriate since nixon was a republican, and so donald trump, since january when the story broke about your book and his involvement in 1968, and the rise to the presidency in january 20, there's been constant comparisons between richard nixon and trump, and i would like to have you go through the comparisons. >> the most interesting one is that right before richard nixon was elected in 1968, he was accused by the previous president of interfering with the form power to hack the election. one of the things i found turning page after page was a set of notes from bob
holderman who was the chief of staff which, for the first time but the words of back conspiracy in nixon's mouth. he had denied it all his life. he denied it to david frost in the famous frost nixon interview. if there is a little bit in the book that moves history forward, it's that piece of the puzzle. what happened was lyndon johnson wanted to end the war before he left office, and he had a piece push in october 1968, and the nixon campaign heard about it and they had an intermediary go and say hold on, don't go to the talks, you'll get a better deal once nixon selected. lyndon johnson heard about the seven if you listen to the johnson tapes you will hear him call him guilty of treason and all sorts of other bad stuff. he had both the south
vietnamese embassy and the nixon campaign tailed to some extent so there was a debate over surveillance without incident as well. in the end, richard nixon was elected because the south vietnamese did not go to the peace process and it sort of made johnson look like he was being clumsy and manipulating the election himself. johnson then faced a similar choice as president obama did when he got word that there had been contacts between the trump campaign and russia. johnson made the same decision obama did which was not to go public with it because of the great shock this would be in because they did not have the evidence to nail it down and directly tied to the candidate. of the very many comparisons, that is probably the one that
jumps out with of course the additional sweetener that in both cases we were involved, were talking about a break-in at the democratic national committee. in watergate it was actual burglars and in russia gate it was hackers. >> in a larger sense the veracity. >> they both had trouble with the truth, they were both accomplished liars, nixon was famous for telling one of his aides, i know you'll be good in politics because you're not a good liar. they both have press secretaries that have been scorned by the press as being untruthful or manipulative and had become jokes on television , but most of all they both had what i call the politics
of grievance. they reached out to people and they touched their fears in times of economic or national stress and made them feel that the elites in the two coasts not paying attention to them, they gave minorities jobs and money and nobody cared about them and so that same sort of way you saw donald trump tap the midland blaster in the election, nixon was very good at that as well. he had george wallace running as an independent candidate for president who is saying everything blatantly so nixon can come across as the candidate who believes in a lot of things but didn't have to say it because he can seemed like the moderate voice of reason.
his campaign was very different but both were aimed at the sense of resentment in the voters. >> there is a wonderful quote in the book describing nixon as growing up with a life that was flawed. i wanted to take it back to where that started. where that sense of insecurity began and why and how it played out through his political career. >> i had a very hazy concept of nixon's childhood and his upbringing before i went into this. i sort of knew he came from something of an impoverished home and that he had shown remarkable resilience and audacity in winning his races in california. they were clouded by allegations of redbaiting of both the house and the senate
race and then there was the famous checker speech when he was picked as the vice presidential candidate and accused of patting his own pockets with money from wealthy donors and he went on television and what might be the best performance ever and talked about his income, his wife's coat and the family's little dog checkers which he actually reached out to the american people and said no matter what they do to me, we won't give up the dog because the girls love him. so it was a very marveling performance. this was all part of the nixon character. as he began to look into his childhood, i found out it was an awful childhood. his father was an unprovoked pleasant brutal man, his mom was a cold and reserved religious figure, she would
retreat into her closet to pray when she wasn't working the long hours her husband required at the family store and as nixon once confessed, never in my life to my mother ever say that she loved me. then he would immediately follow up and say that was just not the quaker way, but it was a pretty damning admission of what his home life was like. he had two brothers die in his childhood, a beloved younger brother was stricken down instantly and another brother caught tuberculosis and died over a six-year time. , and that death and the cost of caring for that brother ruined the family finances and ruined his dream of going to an ivy league college. he always had this chip on his shoulder that an inferiority complex but also in anger at
those like jack kennedy who had everything given to him where nixon had to scrap for everything he got. the whole experience left him very insecure. that insecurity was his great tragic flaw. he was never satisfied. even his great accomplishments, you can go and listen to him belittle the china agreement or the agreement with the soviet union and henry kissinger once said, imagine how great this man would be if anyone had ever loved him. elliott richardson, another cabinet member said no, if anyone would've loved him it wouldn'he would have never been the success he is because it's the drive and insecurity that made him such a great politician. >> i think for many politicians their strengths are their weaknesses and their weaknesses are the strengths. people would say if only he
didn't have these flaws but it's that same drive that led him to the successes as well. >> that's certainly the case with lyndon johnson as well who suffered the resentment of the east coast elites and thought of him. [inaudible] we set this title as lessons from a failed presidency but there are many people who would argue that he was extraordinary successful in foreign policy. he had a record in changing america foreign-policy that really few presidents have matched. i'm wondering, as you approach, did you find yourself being struck by his successes? what were the revelations that you gained in looking at that. >> one that i gained immediately was that for all his brilliance, he did not
recognize the u.s. failures in vietnam. vietnam will always be, for he and lyndon johnson, a black mark, although as time passes, the effective vietnam received in our society seems to be moving toward being put on the shelf next to the korean war, without the same passions that it engenders in my generation. the greatness of nixon is that he had the ability, he had the drive from his mother's side of the family to try to bring peace and he's constantly talking on the tapes about how we can get ten or 20 years of peace and in the middle of the cold war of the nuclear arms race, 20 years of peace was a great deal. in the end, he sort of brought us 50 years of peace, if you're talking about great power confrontation. he had the ability, in 1969 to look across the ocean and see
that russia, soviet union and red china were at each other's throats and this was a time where the united states could do a triangular diplomacy if only the chinese would let him make the approach. he and kissinger, who was his lieutenant made this very dramatic secret approach to the chinese, carried it out with a lot of clandestine on turned up trenchcoats in secret airplanes and sunglasses and kissinger went to beijing and he came back and said yes, they will see you, and then you have this amazing trip of an american president, a right-wing american president and it's an old broken proverb that only nixon can go to china. that word actually came.
[inaudible] he said only nixon can do from the right what the men on the left cannot. you have nixon, the anti-communist go to china and come back and tell the american people, this is in your interest, and they believed him because nobody would ever accuse big nixon of being soft on communism. he also had, what i found was fascinating, he wrote this article in foreign affairs magazine before he took office in which he talks about this revolution that is coming. it's coming in the pacific rim in the philippines in japan it wil be all about computers and technology. this was in 1967 and he could look far into the future and see what was going on, and the only way i can forgive him for keeping the vietnam conflict
as long as it could is i think part of him believed he need to buy time for these democracies to take root in places like malaysia and thailand and the philippines, but yes. >> you actually make an argument that i had first heard that in effect the united states bought time from the southeast asian countries and it is part of that, and i'll press you a little bit, what was, what would have been a politically viable route on vietnam when he came into office? you yourself point out, in cambridge massachusetts, people voted against universal withdrawal as late as 1970. what was a policy that could've worked. >> the technical answer is he could have followed the french
model which was to negotiate a peace that called for along with draw of the french forces from algeria and left them independent and took care of those who sided with the french. by doing it over a long period of time, they could've gotten the vietnamese who supported the united states out, but the short answer to the question, the flip answer is this genius who saw and made this trip to china, if only nixon could go to china, maybe only he could have gotten up there on january 20, 1969 and said were going home and the american people, trust me because you know i'm dick nixon and nobody hates the communists more than i do but this is in our best interest. i to go through the war when he can't get a quick successful ending to it, you see awful cynicism where he actually stretches about, causing more and more death,
expands the war into cambodia. many of these things individually can be argued as the right decision at the time , but the vision that he sparks at home helps lead to the pentagon papers and watergate and the whole thing collapses and we lose everything. we lose prestige and the south vietnamese and 2 million cambodians and a million vietnamese and the united states goes into this funk for another six years where our foreign-policy suffers fallout. i don't think you can divide vietnam from watergate. nixon himself calls himself the last casualty of vietnam and i think that's true. historians looking back i think will lump the two together and say how much
better would it benefit had just said at the beginning, let's go home, and, it's not my war anyway. >> well yes and no in the sense that he had always supported it. >> the other aspect of nixon is that the tapes reveal the man who often said anti- somatic things and often talked of jews in very negative ways. on the other hand, anyone who looks at the middle east would argue richard nixon was perhaps the most devoted defender of the state of israel. i'm wondering what you see is his legacy there. >> the phrase and yet is used a lot in my book because he does have these two sides and he has this incredibly dark ugly side and in a few places it is his anti- semitism and
yet henry kissinger was jewish, alan greenspan were jewish, nixon, if you are on his side nixon was not as ugly. he reserved the real ugliness for the owners and editors of the new york times or the federal judges in new york were jewish ruled against him and the pentagon papers. the ugliness was definitely in there and to his great dismay, as someone said he's looking up at us. [laughter] , the tapes are going to forever cloud histories verdict. what was the second part of the question. >> part of that was that this was great power politics. the russians were trying to use the israeli egyptian war to increase their influence in the middle east, and so he was
alerted to this because he was a cold warrior and this was all about the soviet union, but on the other hand, he thought the israelis, he liked them. he thought they were spunky, the israeli sort of fit his image of underdogs who fought and in fact the defense department came to him and they said we can get these arms in their, but we have to be careful to fly only at night because of the rest of the world sees we are arming the israelis it will affect our calculations and he said wait a minute and they're saying maybe three fights a night and he said three flights a night, i want you to fly everything you have. we just have to have one plane land to the israelis. the list was astonishingly
quick and they said he would probably save the state of israel at that time. if he was truly anti- somatic, like a hitler, he never would've done that. i think his anti- semitism was very ugly, but it was also part of the parochial california outback where he grew up and probably a product of his father's ignorance. >> one more question in the log logo. [inaudible] i'm interested in the nixon kennedy relationship. they came in around the same time and they were sort of buddies and yet in 1960, there was a sense of losing that
election to jfk. [inaudible] >> they both came in in 1946 and because they were freshmen, they were put on the same committee. the chamber of commerce in pennsylvania had done debate a labor bill and they took the train back to washington together. they had both been in the navy in the south pacific at the same time are they later talked it over and figured out they may have met. the friendship grew and jfk respected nixon for being his opponent ten nixon basked in the fact that the rich investors son was his friend and the nixon's were invited
to their wedding. there were close friends and in 1958, one of nixon's former staffers went to massachusetts to run for secretary of state or some lower office and asked nixon to come campaign and he said i can't go to massachusetts because jack is running for reelection and people are asked me whether i support his rival and i will have to answer candidly on behalf of the republican and i can't do that. he stayed out of the race to his aides great dismay. so when kennedy's turn their money and charm and ruthlessness on nixon, it steered him not as just a bad boss but also as a betrayal. love does maybe too strong a word, but maybe it's not. he really admired and had great affection for jfk and to
be treated like this to nixon was a betrayal and from that point on, nixon was determined he would never be out tricked again and there's a great scene from the 68 campaign where the secret service minutes walking down the aisle of the plane and he looks and there is next in going with got to be tougher. got to be tougher. it was that kind of feeling that comes out in the tape and you see watergate happen and the tragedy around it. >> suburban chicago. >> like what professor swarts was saying, we are talking about lessons from a failed presidency. one of the hallmarks of nixon's presidency that you can see today is the relationship with the press. nixon had a directly adversarial relationship with the press.
the role of the press was direct downfall. i'm wondering, looking from then until today, is there anything nixon could have done using his political gamesmanship to change that relationship with the press and effect of change the outcom outcome, and speaking more broadly, if there are any long-lasting implications of that relationship tween the press and the executive branch that carry on today. >> nixon had several problems with the press. i stopped the narrative for only two things in the book that i stop it to talk about nixon in the press and i stop it to talk about nixon in civil rights because these are really good indications of his character. he grew up or entered politics as the favorite of the l.a. times which was a very conservative newspaper in southern california and came to believe the game is rigged, that newspapers declared favorites and there wasn't any tradition of objectivity in the reporting. when he got to washington, he expected the same thing. there were critical articles
written about him and he saw them as enemies from the other side. he had never run into them in california, but now here they were and they were against them. believe it or not, large segments of the american media are left-leaning and liberal. they didn't like him from the get-go. they didn't like him because he had defeated the baroque euros to get to washington and they didn't like him because as soon as he got there he exposed them as a soviet spy who was the darling of the left. right from the beginning there was this confrontation. another man like jfk, more secure in his shell, may have been able to endure this but not nixon. it not at him. he was always insecure. that insecurity, no matter what his accomplishment, it was never enough because he
felt bad about himself as a person and felt it would never last, he would never be happy and so the press was this constant your tent to him. there's lots of advice from well-meaning reporters thing stop, go to the press, have a drink with these guys, make connections. this is self-destructive behavior, but it's true. when the peace negotiations hit a bump he hi ordered a massive bombing called the christmas bombing. on the tapes there is amazing transcript where kissinger comes in and talking about military and strategic diplomatic maneuvers and all the sudden nixon starts screaming at henry kissinger the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy, the professors are the enemy.
write that on your blackboard 100 times. it would erupt like that over and over. >> but he didn't tweeted. [laughter] >> kissinger ignored it and he didn't say the press was the enemy of the american people which is a step higher. in nixon's case, he had a basic respect for the intelligence of the people that they were cover lies. trumps are such blatant lies that it's almost surrealistic. it's almost an insult but nixon never would've done like that. i'll give you an example, when they came back from china they had lost and somebody said we really want to preserve a set of the chopsticks for the
nixon library and nixon said grab any pair of chopsticks. people will never know. he didn't have a basic reverence for truth, either. >> i attended a talk a few years ago and it was a guy from nixon's administration, and he was saying there was a loyalty within the administration that when he was being sworn in he's felt like he was swearing to nixon, to pledge allegiance to the country. how do you think nixon was able to establish that. >> his favorite football coach was a man named george allen for the redskins. he was famous, it's a common tactic that coaches are famous for carrying it to the extreme, of making the other team the enemy, making them the bad guy, and that was one thing nixon tried to do with his people. he had a very nice, a much
longer honeymoon with the press and the public and trump is having. his honeymoon lasted almost six or seven months where he was given a lot of leeway, people were patient and they wanted to see what he could do about vietnam. he didn't really turn paranoid until the fall of 69 when the students got back on the campuses and they began to protest the war again, and the following spring and the spring of 1970 you had the shootings at kent state and the paranoia really ratchets up and the hatred really ratchets up, but all of that created a mentality in the white house. not only was he demanding personal loyalty but you began to feel, at one point they took city buses so the protesters could not get in and burn the white house, that's how paranoid they were about it. that paranoia, in 1971, they
begin the tapes and you hear that paranoia over and over again. he had a shot, he had six or seven months. >> there was someone more famous than him coming to washington at the same time. [inaudible] >> thank you. this has been great. i am wondering, in speaking of lessons of a failed presidency , in the hopes that now we will have a successful presidency, what lessons would you wish to impart from your knowledge of nixon to our current president in terms of isolating and going after groups in a way that nixon did in his involvement.
>> i think at this point donald trump still has a chance to have a very successful presidency. we are so early in the four-year term, but the question with trump is not that he's not getting good advice. you can see it in the state of the union address a couple weeks ago that he can do the reagan like performance if he has to, but he has his own character flaw which is that trump has to be trump and that means that he has to tweet outrageous things which means my inauguration crowd has to be the biggest inauguration crowd. if he had the self-discipline and control like someone like reagan i think he could turn it around very quickly and you would have a democratic nightmare in that an effective republican president in the senate and the house is in republican hands and the supreme court is going back to where it was, you really could
have great changes, but right now the greatest obstacle to his success is donald trump himself. >> from that perspective. [inaudible] >> we are giving the democrats the past. they been very silent watching the trump administration self-destruct, but they could be trying some basic techniques to push trump to better performance, and they're not. >> you did a very nice job discussing nixon and civil rights, and if there is a new nixon in running for president in 1968, there's also a new nixon on civil rights transform from the nixon who, in the eisenhower administration, along with the attorney general are really
pushing as hard as they can on eisenhower to take a stronger pro- civil rights stand. to a nixon, who to get the republican nomination and 68 and to win the election, first gets in bed with thurman and then allows more of what we call the southern strategy to prevail. has that changed been something you could see coming , where does that fit in the analysis you do of nixon. >> i stop the book twice, the narrative to zero in on where we are on civil rights right now because i think it really illustrates his character. i think many politicians are expedient to some degree. nixon was almost totally expedient and yet in the 50s, in part because he
wanted to get the black voters in the city against whoever he iran against, he reached out to martin luther king and made friends with him. he was a good friend of jackie robinson. he attended black social events in washington d.c. when no other white politician did and he was the first american vice president to visit a black family in their home. there is a wonderful letter, in whittier, the barbershop had a shoe shine man and the shoe shine man had a daughter and she went to columbia law school and pastor washington and dick nixon took her to lunch in the senate dining room and that must have been a shock just by itself in the early 1950s. then he writes this wonderful letter to a friend of his in whittier saying it affirms my faith in this country that the daughter of the shoeshine boy
from whittier is now graduating from columbia law school, a person of such grace and intelligence and now has a positive future ahead of her. the feelings were genuine. he really did take that quaker abolitionism from his mother, his grandfather had died in gettysburg fighting for the union army and there was a rumor in the family that the quakers had worked the underground railroad in indiana. he really was, he would join clubs that admitted black members in the 1920s and he really was colorblind as far as martin luther king could see, and in 1957 when the first civil rights bill hit the floor of the senate, he was one of its mightiest champions, and then in the
1960 election, he loses the black vote because he falters at a key moment. martin luther king is arrested and on a trumped up charge and sent away to a prison in world georgia and jack and bobby kennedy right the governor of georgia and called martin luther king's wife to comfort her and make a big impact with the black population in america, and the nixon campaign said no. martin luther king, who had once said if richard nixon is not totally colorblind then he is the most dangerous man in america because he was so convinced nixon was bighearted. he now decides nixon is the most dangerous man in america because he was able to put on the show of sympathy and
support but the first time it actually cost him votes, he wasn't there when it counted. then you move on to 1968 and ronald reagan is running for the presidency and trying to get the conservative votes from the south and nixon makes a deal with thurman and what came to be the southern strategy in which he promises the nixon administration will layoff the pro- negro stuff and hesitate on the integration of schools in order to secure the southern delegations of that convention. then, in his presidency, he does things like appoints southern racist judges to the supreme court and drags his heels on some civil rights measures, and yet when the supreme court finally comes to him and says you have to integrate these schools, he puts together an amazing
effective plan with people like george sent shelton and integrates the southern schools. probably more black kids in the southern schools got into integrated classrooms because of richard nixon then any other president. it's complex and the only one guiding line drop the whole thing is expediency. he did this, he said this is what i gotta do at the moment. the great tragedy of his betrayal of the switch was that kennedy and johnson had put the dignity of the white house behind the civil rights movement. they had aligned the presidency with civil rights which was something that eisenhower had never done, truman and fdr had never done. they came out and said this is an american cause that the presidency is all about and nixon backed off from that. so all of a sudden the moral authority of the white house was no longer with the civil rights movement. he started talking about civil
rights extremists who want instant integration letter just as bad as the plan which is a horrible comparison. again, it was because he saw votes in the south and it was a major step of the way toward looking control in the south that he has now. >> there are so many aspects all the way through the 20th century, you could write a whole book about, vietnam and watergate, obviously watergate is the defining issue of his career, how did you choose what to write about, to navigate through, how much did you draw on your colleagues
and other scholarly works. >> the files are in texas and they're very helpful. university of texas has all the watergate interviews from the sources who either release them or have passed away. i spent a three-hour discussion with bob woodward which was invaluable. i had interviewed ben bradley before he passed away so i had a very good feel for their work and great admiration for it. there were also, what they did that was so important is they kept the story alive. judge -- i've got a slowdown for the break-in happens in 72, nixon gets reelected despite the reporting and then the burglars go on trial
before this judge called judge shamika and they later tell everybody that he decided, he's a republican judge but he had a take a tough stand because he read the post reporting and it raised enough questions in his mind that he wanted them answered, even though the u.s. attorney wanted a quick conviction of the burglars. he threatens the convicted burglars with long prison sentences to force them to talk, and they crack and that's how the cover-up finally cracks. the thing i was surprised about was that the tapes show, there's a famous conversation that nixon has with john dean when he comes in and says there's a cancer on the presidency. we been committing perjury and raising hush money, we been promising clemency, your top aides probably have to go to
jail and john dean is saying this because he thanks the president doesn't know, but the white house tapes show that from the second day after the burglary nixon was in on everything. he was constantly calling in saying is he reliable, will he commit perjury and not blab about it in five years. we've got to keep the attorney general john mitchell safe because we can afford to lose him. how are we doing on raising the money. the money has to be raised. let's hope they wash that money correctly. it goes on and on so by the time he comes in, nixon knows everything except one little nugget of information, the exact amount of hush money they needed to raise that particular week. that's the only news in that entire speech as far as i can determine. he was in the cover-up up to his neck and his loyalists have attempted over the years to try to say it was dean who
iran the cover-up or dean and haldeman betrayed him. the tapes don't show that. the tapes show that right from the start he was going to play it rough the way they play it that he would be tough, tough, tough. it was a terrible downfall. : >> was he a man of wealth? >> he was sadly not wealthy as a child. he would to would your, he got to go to duke wall law school on full scholarship.
by the time he did the checker speech his holdings were so meager that his wife was humiliated that he was announcing when they are on it television. he made a little money after the loss, he became a corporate lawyer and lived comfortably for the rest of his life. nixon was never motivated by a money. he did not want to worry about it because it was a distraction from what he really like to dream about which was political power and how he would reshape the globe and become a great hero. many, many rumors spread about hidden nixon wealth after watergate. the only thing that bailed him out was think he got $600,000 from david frost to do the interviews. he ended up writing books for the rest of his life to keep the
wolf away from the door. money was never great motivating factor which was interesting considering he came from a poor household. >> can you talk a little bit about nixon and title ix #. >> if you go to the nixon library now there is a display which lists all of the considerable domestic accomplishments of his administration including a volunteer army, the establishment of the pa, the clean air act. one of the things that came up was this title ix amendment which said colleges had to treat the female sports programs equally with the men. ed nixon was a big college football fan and had a lot of friends who were coaches at
notre dame, oklahoma and elsewhere. he called them up and said this is outrageous. it is going to damage all sports. some of the girls can run tracker play tennis but you're talking about we have to have soccer teams for them in equal facilities. you can here this on the tapes of him saying this is crazy. but it was flipped into another bill that he felt was more important aside. so now in the nixon library they have a display that one of his great accomplishments was the signing of title ix, which was technically true but something he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do. >> given the conservative, liberal dichotomy today, you mention he started the epa, can you tell me what the motivation for that was back then?
>> he was inaugurated on januar. a week later there is a massive oil spill at santa barbara, california. it was heavily covered by the media and nixon was from southern california himself and he came out there made a photo opportunity. this really ignited the environmental movement in the united states. the republicans and democrats got in a racer competition as to who could do more for the environment. nixon one. if you pull the environmental organizations today it will say the number one president was the republican teddy roosevelt and then richard nixon. it wasn't just epa, it was clean air, it was coastal zone management, endangered species act, almost all of the major environmental legislation was signed by richard nixon at that
time. it was certainly driven and put on his desk by democratic congress. he a man named john whitaker was very sympathetic to the cause. he was from california. he was watching what was happening in california with smog in los angeles and the oil spill and other cases. he would never go as far as the democrats and that began to frustrate him. and because he was republican he had a business constituency which wanted things like the supersonic transport and the alaska pipeline which he wanted to go along with. he got frustrated and there is a great tape filled with profanity so i cannot recited right now. i think it is from 73 where he
starts spouting, i am not a local, conservative and all i get on my desk is this liberal crap over and over again. all we are doing is reorganizing the chaos a little bit better. all this environmental stuff is bull. i don't know why i am doing this. and so there is that side of him too. when the issue was hot he was there. and yet, at one point they put on his desk a measure which said we have all of this federal surplus land, the military is downsizing and bases are being close. it would really be nice to have parks for urban families and nixon remembering his childhood and how free park was one of the few things they could afford put his hope behind that. that was an example once again of a complex character with the
complex motivation and in underlining service streak. that is why he is going down in history and will always be honored by environmental's. also admired a president by native americans. he had a football coach and would your college was native american. nixon a great sympathy for native americans and there's -- with simulation which his administration reverse. they're still pictures of richard nixon hanging on the wall in the west. we talked to one of the students was from china and we asked her where nixon's place was and she said well he is number two in your list of presidents. after who? after george washington use the second best president.
he is slowly climbing up. nixon has jumped up from the bottom and is somewhere in the low 20s. he will probably stay there because of watergate. i think he will stay there because of the character he was. >> it's impossible for biographer not to develop evidence -- >> we both wrote a same column who in the end of the presidency -- >> you could probably make a very good argument that nixon was no worse than franklin
roosevelt, except that franklin roosevelt pulled it off. the job that roosevelt had to do all of the agencies with the three letters he knew might not work maybe they would work. to prepare the american people to battle with a total battles in world war ii to great expediency, great powers of leadership. a little bit of demagoguery. there's probably an old -- or something that argued this point. i am not so sure that total immorality is not an asset for a political leader. i think that sometimes the morality has to come from the people for the leader and the leader has to pay attention to
that. i think the vision and effectiveness are truly important. total immorality, no. >> where does nixon fall? >> it is hard to find much that nixon really truly believed in, or wouldn't do. in that regard he had the capacity to have been a great president and pull off things but it was that same lack of morality that got him in trouble. >> also in your work this idea that he was not ideological and that was something i was thinking about were talking about trump. this option is someone who is elected who does not have the ideologies of the time. nixon was somewhat like that. it gives wonderful opportunity but also incredible dangers.
>> he did not have that firm -- pappy cannon once wrote an angry memo that so we are neither fish nor fowl, where somewhere in the middle. you're walking along and taking a little bit of this and that the conservatives in the country are getting upset. right now nixon is one of the presidents of a man without a party. democrats and republicans have never fully honored him. but a fragment came in and the conservatives took over the republican party and nixon is seen as a squish. someone who signs things like the epa in he lingers somewhere. >> his hope was to create a new political movement because of watergate. he was never able to consolidate. we've later called reagan democrats.
>> what you think about donald trump and richard nixon? >> i have heard, i'm not sure this was a while ago i've heard that on his wall in the oval office he has a letter from richard nixon, is that correct? >> nixon had met him at some point when he was still the donald when he ran new york and was on the front page of the tabloid and he wrote him a note that said don, you're going to go a long way. whether or not it's in the oval office or somewhere else, i think he has kept the and they certainly show it and talk about it a lot. he could do worse. i think his remorse. [laughter] >> will take one more question way for the microphone please. >> i am curious, did you
interview nixon daughter serve the how the perspective of being a father affected his out look. >> when it came to interactions with a fellow human beings in his family he would communicate a lot sometimes with notes. slipped under doors at night or left on pillows. i asked julian if she they would sit down in one of the great tragedies is that as far as i can tell they've never sat down for long oral history about their dad. the insights they could give with the exception of julie's biography of her mother, are going to be lost if they do not do it. julie would, i was at a crisis point and was at a point where i had a question that all she could answer. we had in exchange of e-mails and she sent me a wonderful picture of nixon playing a piano
for his grandchildren. it was not totally forestall but there's a lot of bitterness and resentment there about the way they had been treated by the press and biographers so no, it was a lost opportunity. i went in thinking it was my special branch and i be able to have the senate didn't happen. >> in my opinion one of the great gifts of biography in particular is taking a subject to we think we know well and making him or her more complex. perhaps creating some sort of empathy and understanding. i want to thank you. even from tonight's discussion it is clear that is the work you
did in this book. i'm sure we all look forward into digging into the book of in learning more about nixon. thank you and thank you to our panelist and everyone here tonight to join the conversation. i bite you to step out of to lobby, our local bookstore has a sales table waiting for you. thank you for being here tonight. [applause] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible conversation] >> a book tv is on twitter and facebook. we want to hear from you. tweet us, twitter.com/book tv, or post a comment on the facebook page