• U.S.

Nation: California: Career’s End

4 minute read

In some ways Richard Nixon symbolized the American dream. Of humble beginnings, he almost won the highest honor the U.S. can offer. He was elected a U.S. Representative at 33, a Senator at 37, Vice President at 39, and at 47 he became the Republican nominee for President. And yet, barring a miracle, his political career ended last week. He was only 49. But something had gone wrong. Perhaps he had risen too far too fast.

There could be little question about Nixon’s abilities—yet they earned him almost as many enemies as admirers. He came to national attention as the House investigator who caught Alger Hiss; for that very achievement, he was to suffer much abuse. As Vice President, he served with energy and dignity, often representing the U.S. abroad with courage beyond the call of duty. In his 1960 drive for the presidency, he began as the candidate of experience, but his once-sure political touch left him and he ran a bad campaign. His worst enemies agreed that he was capable, yet they insisted that his character was flawed. As of last week, his admirers could only agree.

Ridiculous Issue. Nixon’s political death came not in his defeat for Governor of California by incumbent Democrat Pat Brown but in his manner of meeting it. Brown is neither a great personality nor a great statesman, but he makes the most of what he has. Against him, Nixon decided to make domestic Communism the big issue; but the notion that Brown was soft on Communism was ridiculous. Sensing defeat, Nixon flailed out in a last-minute fury. On election eve, he appeared on television—with his wife and two teen-age daughters at his side—claimed in persecuted tones that he had been the victim of the worst smear cam paign in California history.

As of that moment, the election results were foregone. The next day. while Republican Senator Thomas Kuchel was winning by some 700,000 votes, Nixon was losing by nearly 300,000. And the morning after the election Nixon wrote his own political obituary. His press secretary, Herb Klein, had called a press conference to announce that Nixon was conceding defeat. Klein said that Nixon himself would not appear—whereupon Nixon strode into the room and started talking.

Petulant Praise. Said Nixon, in words that were too small of spirit to make for real tragedy: “Now that all the members of the press are so delighted that I have lost, I’d like to make a statement of my own.” He spoke in petulant praise of his opponent: “I believe Governor Brown has a heart, even though he believes I do not. I believe he is a good American, even though he feels I am not.” For 17 minutes he went on, talking about national issues, but returning repeatedly to his feelings about the press. Almost incoherently, he concluded:

“As I leave you I want you to know—just think how much you’re going to be missing.

“You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference, and it will be one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you . . .

“But. unlike some people, I’ve never canceled a subscription to a paper, and also I never will.

“I believe in reading what my opponents say, and I hope that what I have said today will at least make television, radio and the press first recognize the great responsibility they have to report all the news, and second, recognize that they have a right and a responsibility, if they’re against a candidate, give him the shaft, but also recognize if they give him the shaft, put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidate says now and then.

“Thank you, gentlemen, and good day.”

As Nixon walked from the room, he said to Klein: “I know you don’t agree. I gave it to them right in the behind. It had to be said, goddammit. It had to be said.” That in itself left little more that had to be said about Richard Nixon.

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