The Nixon Interview (Part 4)
I turned that idea over a few times in my mind. As someone who voted for Bush — twice — I didn't much like the image Nixon's ghost was showing me, but I can't say that I had a good argument against it.
"The Reagan Revolution is over," Nixon said. "The Contract with America is kaput. The Republican majority had their chance and blew it, and Junior is just now beginning to realize how much trouble he's in. Take it from someone who's stood in exactly the same spot; he may be talking education, environmental initiatives, and winning the war on terror, but what he's seeing are fins in the water, circling closer.
"Or more accurately, what he's seeing is his future, and it's full of subpoenas, special prosecutors, Senate investigations, and sealed indictments. He's realizing now that there's no way he can win; that his dad and his old school connections aren't going to rescue him this time; and that the best he can hope for is to run out the clock before things get really ugly." Nixon paused, and nodded, slowly.
"Do you know what I consider to be my biggest blunder?" he asked.
"You got involved in a land war in Southeast Asia?"
Nixon frowned. "That was Kennedy and Johnson's war, and you know it. I got us out of Vietnam."
"Oh," I said. "Then you must have made the other one. Did you go up against a Sicilian with — ?"
"Stop it!" Nixon snapped. "Can't you ever be serious?"
"Not if I can help it," I said.
Nixon glared at me a moment longer, then closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and started over.
"My first mistake," he said, ticking it off on a finger, "was that I assumed Congress and the press would treat me the same way they treated FDR, Truman, Ike, and Saint Jack. I didn't realize that Ike was bulletproof, and if he'd been anybody else but Ike they would have gone after him hammer and tongs."
He looked at his left hand, pondered a moment, then ticked off another point. "Second: I trusted the CIA. Truman created the CIA, and Ike had his issues with it, but I made the mistake of thinking I could use it the same way Truman, Jack, and LBJ did. No Republican president should ever trust the CIA."
"That seems unnecessarily cynical," I said. He ignored me.
"Third: I stood behind the people who I thought were my guys. I didn't authorize the Watergate burglary, but I authorized the cover-up, and that was a huge blunder. I should have fed all those guys to the sharks, starting with John Dean." He paused again, took another deep breath, and then snapped his head up and looked me straight in the eye.
"But my biggest mistake," Nixon said, "was to underestimate the venom and vindictiveness of the American left! They never forget, never forgive, and never give up!"
Nixon pounded a fist on the arm of his chair. (An alarming display of solidity, I thought.) "Alger Hiss was guilty as sin, and we had the KGB cable traffic to prove it! Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were caught dead to rights, and we had the KGB payroll records to prove it! When Joe McCarthy stood there waving his list of 205 known Communist agents in Truman's State Department, the sheet of paper he held may have been blank, but we not only knew the names that should have been on it, we knew the names of their KGB handlers!" Nixon caught himself shouting again, forced himself to relax a notch, and then held up his left hand with his thumb and forefinger pinched together.
"That fool McCarthy came this close to blowing the cover on the most important counter-intelligence operation in American history! But to make any of that public back then would have meant admitting the existence of the NSA and VENONA, so Ike made the decision to let McCarthy twist in the wind. We got to keep our intercept program, and the Left got to keep their myth of martyrs, McCarthyism, and most of all, that monster who walks on his hind legs like a man, Richard Milhous Nixon."
He held that point a moment longer, and then sagged back in his chair and let out a long sigh.
"And that is what the Senate Watergate hearings were all about," he said. "History is written by the winners. You can believe the history books if you want. But I was there, and I can tell you it was all about one thing, and one thing only: payback for Alger Hiss. Those bastards waited twenty years to get me, and when they finally got their chance, they got me good." Nixon sighed again, closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again and looked at me.
"And now, that's what Junior is looking at. Two years of nonstop payback for the Clinton impeachment. Two years of having every nasty thing in the world flung at him, in hopes that something will stick. Two years of tell-all books by disgruntled ex-staffers, prolonged public protological examinations by every senator who can book him- or herself a hearing room and a CNN crew, and front page articles in the New York Times leaking secret CIA documents proving there were never any WMDs in Iraq in the first place, and Junior knew it all along."
That got my attention. "Really?"
Nixon slammed his fist on the armrest again. "Hell, son, this is the CIA we're talking about! The more likely truth is that the Iranians saw an opportunity here to con us into taking out the Iraqis, and they played the CIA like a cheap accordion. But you can bet your left testicle that if no incriminating documents exist now, they surely will exist by the time Senator Clinton bangs the gavel to call the first impeachment hearing to order!
"But," Nixon said, as he lowered his voice to a crafty and conspiratorial tone, "there is one way that Junior can not only survive, but actually beat the bastards..."
Concluding in Part 5