For all of these reasons, Nixon was reelected in 1972 by the greatest majority of the states (49) since James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820, and by the greatest plurality in history (18 million). (He had defeated Hubert Humphrey four years before by only 500,000 votes.) The reason for this immense victory was that his one full term was, next to Lincoln’s and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first and third terms, the most successful in the country’s history, which has remained, these nearly 40 years, one of the most assiduously ignored facts of American history.
Subsequent Democratic leaders — McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry — have all been unrepentant old boys of the anti-war myth-makers’ brotherhood, and the current president, because of his comparative youth, is an alumnus of the red-diaper anti-Vietnam children’s auxiliary. The Democrats evaded the responsibility for getting into Vietnam by magnifying the Watergate nonsense into the destruction of the Nixon presidency, and then the responsibility for defeat there behind Ronald Reagan’s bloodless, bone-crushing victory in the Cold War (against every important tactical ingredient of which, especially the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Democrats had ear-splittingly railed; Reagan redeemed the efforts of earlier Democratic leaders of firmer mettle, such as Roosevelt, Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson).
To be sure, Watergate was, and was symptomatic of, a tawdry and debased political ethos. There was something seriously amiss in Nixon’s order (fortunately unheeded) to break into the Brookings Institution, and in his assertion in his memoirs that he might not have stopped the break-in at the office of the psychotherapist of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers leaker, if he had known of it in advance. But Brookings was not broken into and Nixon knew nothing of the Ellsberg affair, any more than he had had advance knowledge of the Watergate intrusion.
The only part of the so-called cover-up that is legally questionable is whether money paid to the defendants for their legal and personal expenses was conditional on altered testimony, which has never been clear and would be a close call in a real and fair trial, if one could be had. The so-called smoking gun was in fact a refusal to urge the CIA to tamper with the investigation. Nixon facilitated the work of his enemies by his uncharacteristically bungled handling of the Watergate controversy, but the murderous and even now unrelenting assault on him is pretextual.
Yet this abominable Manichaean fable creeps on, from decade to decade, fueled now only by the gaseous vapors from late-released Watergate tapes. It is scandalous that any market of credence remains for it. Nixon’s political ethics were not inferior to Roosevelt’s, Kennedy’s, or Johnson’s. The latest published comments by Kissinger criticizing the agitators who wanted to tie any de-escalation of the Cold War to increased emigration of Jews from the USSR is surely the last malodorous driblet from this lemon of pseudo-historical defamation.
Except for Harry Truman (who uttered a good deal more vile and frequent anti-Semitic slurs than Nixon did), no American president has done so much for Israel as Nixon, including airlifting it a transfusion of warplanes and other vital materiel during the Yom Kippur War (and in the midst of the greatest crisis of his life) in 1973.
And no secretary of state has been as helpful to Israel as Henry Kissinger. Between them, Nixon and Kissinger increased Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union from about a thousand in 1970 to scores of thousands, and their refusal to mortgage the entire superpower relationship to the public humiliation of the Kremlin over the issue, as the Israeli lobbyists demanded, was quite defensible. Nixon’s impatience with American Jews who ignored his service to Israel and did nothing but complain about all other aspects of his policy is not to be wondered at.
Kissinger’s exasperation with the Israeli lobby, especially when, as he thought, he was speaking in confidence in the president’s office, is also quite understandable. He never forgot he was a fugitive from the Nazi pogroms. These endless defamations designed in part to whitewash the conduct of those who destroyed the Nixon presidency must no longer be indulged. It is a mark of mature societies to assimilate their historical controversies, and in these matters, the United States has yet to do that. Richard Nixon, and especially Henry Kissinger, who had nothing to do with the less salubrious aspects of the administration’s record, deserve that at least. They rendered immense service to America and the West.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at [email protected].