As President Nixon sat in the Oval Office on Wednesday, June 2, 1971, the sun’s rays splashing brilliantly across the blue and gold carpet embroidered with the presidential seal, he brooded about the seemingly endless war in Vietnam. He weighed it against the campaigns of World War II, in which he had served. This awakened the combative instincts in the old anti-Communist, charged him anew, amid the high stakes of the Cold War, to seek not some negotiated settlement or fig-leaf withdrawal, but victory. In his yellow-pad notes of the meeting, previously unpublished, White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman recorded:
P. will not go out of VN whimpering
play hole card in Nov. — bomb NVN totally
unless we get our breakthrough turn right all the way
we’re screwing up so many things
have to be tougher on domestic [policies, too]
P. is not lib — is conserv. –
all our programs are wrong — gain nothing & wrong for country
This was no fleeting sentiment. A few weeks later, Nixon admonished Haldeman that the president’s aides had been “derelict in not moving on Grt. Society programs.” Why, seven months had passed since the midterm elections, after which all the heavy hitters — Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Chuck Colson, Don Rumsfeld — had flown into Key Biscayne and the president had ordered: “Go for increases in [the] military budget and military assistance and squeeze the Great Society programs.”
What happened? Why were those programs still flourishing? Why were his goddamn orders always ignored? Hadn’t he instructed them, in April of 1970, to do something about the federal work force? Of the civil service, he’d told Haldeman, “All it’s for is freezing mediocre people into jobs.”
From Haldeman’s notes:
need to move
ahead on gov’t wide [effort]
get a hold of big government
Now, as the summer of ’71 dawned, the White House was reeling from a series of news leaks. Publication of the Pentagon Papers had been followed almost immediately by the even more damaging disclosure, also in the New York Times, of the administration’s fallback posture in its negotiations with the Soviet Union over SALT, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Was there not a single goddamn secret our government could keep? Kennedy never had to put up with this kind of crap! The president longed to punish the leakers and thereby restore, somehow, the powers and prerogatives of the nuclear-age presidency.
At the same time, Nixon was consumed by a larger discontent, that disquieting sense of disconnect from his own presidency: “P. is not lib — is conserv. — all our programs are wrong.” Ehrlichman, the domestic-policy chief and resident liberal, was presently butting heads with Commerce secretary Maurice Stans, the fastidious accountant who had been Ike’s budget chief, over the cost of environmental regulations. In adjudicating the dispute, Nixon reckoned that any inherent risk should be harnessed to an overriding goal, as Haldeman captured in his notes in those weeks.
all decisions in environment & consumer [protection policy]
shld lean tds. jobs . . . [June 8, 1971]
examine all pollution bills
in terms of current economic effect
put brakes on where we can — w/o getting caught . . .
[If it’s] jobs vs. seat belts . . . jobs come first . . . [July 23, 1971]
Stans told P. $56 bill of priv. investment are being held up because of environment restrictions
E[hrlichman] says not true — Stans says is true . . .
[We must] fight for the system
& against welfare, the environ, Grt. Society, consumer
speak up for Stans views [August 7, 1971]