Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nixon's the One

So, not totally evil?

Congratulations, Tricky Dick! A key detail of your revisionist history is alive and well, keeping hope alive for a re-evaluation that will mitigate your high crimes and misdemeanors. Good work!
When presidential candidate Richard Nixon ran against John F. Kennedy in 1960, he opted not to pursue a challenge to what he and many others considered a questionable win, because he believed it was not in the best interest of the country.
Madeline Levine, Ph.D., writes those words in the May 16, 2007, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle while trying to draw an edifying historical parallel between Nixon's purported magnanimity and a local scandal in high school sports. (A team was stripped of its championship on a technicality because of irregular administrative paperwork by a coach, disqualifying certain members of the winning team.)

It's too bad that Dr. Levine doesn't know any better, but she is merely citing a robust urban legend—one carefully nurtured by its key player:
Julie shook me awake at six the next morning. Kennedy's lead had narrowed to 500,000 votes, and there were stories of massive vote fraud in Chicago and Texas. [Illinois Senator] Everett Dirksen urged me to request a recount and demanded that I not concede. He warned that once I had conceded, voting records would be destroyed or otherwise disappear, and a recount would be impossible. After his call I sat alone for a few minutes reviewing the situation.

We had made a serious mistake in not having taken precautions against such a situation, and it was too late now. A presidential recount would require up to half a year, during which time the legitimacy of Kennedy's election would be in question. The effect could be devastating to America's foreign relations. I could not subject the country to such a situation.
Nixon followed up these sentences in RN, the Memoirs of Richard Nixon with several paragraphs designed to establish in the reader's mind the horrendous magnitude of the fraud perpetrated by the Kennedy campaign, Nixon's callow vulnerability to the rapacity of the Hyannis Port cabal, and the nobility of his sacrifice.


While Nixon played the statesman in public, he did not rein in his political operatives. Republicans challenged the outcome in eleven states in hopes of finding enough votes to overturn Kennedy's election. While the popular vote was a virtual tie, Kennedy's advantage in the Electoral College was 303 to 219. Both Illinois and Texas had to be switched to Nixon to alter the outcome, and that assumed that the vice president's narrow margin in California (originally called in JFK's favor, but reversed by the final absentee tally) was not wiped out during further investigation. California, by the way, was not one of the states challenged by Nixon's people. Funny, that.

Columbia University graduate student David Greenberg was doing research for his dissertation when he dredged up most of the details of Nixon's desperate effort to reverse the 1960 election. When his results were published in 2000, coincident with another fervent election dispute, Greenberg received his fifteen minutes of fame. Jason Hollander interviewed him for an article in the Columbia University Record:
Greenberg discovered much of his information in articles that appeared on the front page of The New York Times from November and December of 1960. Even though information about the 1960 recounts was easily accessible, Greenberg says that journalists do not normally do their own historical research. “We all tend to rely, as we often have to, on other people’s research,” he says. “Most reporters just pluck reliable Nixon and Kennedy books off the shelf.”
So let the Record show, Nixon was as much of a conniver and schemer in the matter of the 1960 presidential election as he was in every other aspect of his life.

It's nice to know that there are still things you can count on.

No comments: