If you are one who believes Richard Nixon was evil personified, you will not enjoy this post. You are free to go now - wouldn't want to elevate your blood pressure!
I'm not sure when my interest in Richard Nixon began. All I remember is that it was full blown by the time I was in 8th grade - the 1960 election. I had decided that I might want to grow up to be in Congress - I never aspired to the presidency, but thought the Senate would be fun. I remember going down to the Republican headquarters in our little town and getting a Nixon/Lodge bumper sticker. I cut it apart and glued it to the back of my notebook so that when I was holding the notebook, Nixon showed above my arm and Lodge showed below (this was before the days of backpacks, when we had to carry everything in front).
I was so sad. I can't tell you how sad I was when they lost. I was afraid of John F. Kennedy. To this day I have no respect for him or any of his family members (sorry if you're a fan, just telling it like it is).
By this time I had read a biography that actually gave his mom's address. She was a wonderful Quaker Christian lady and I wrote her a letter, telling her how sorry I was about the loss. Believe it or not, she wrote me back, the week after the election! I was really glad she was not still alive when Watergate hit.
It wasn't long after that I read Six Crises, written in 1962.
Of course, one of the crises was the loss of the election, under very dubious circumstances. His daughter, Julie, who was my age, was still saying, "Let's have a recount in Chicago." If you were around then, you know that there was a great deal of speculation about the honesty of the Chicago vote counting. "Hanging Chads" weren't the first incidence of this type of rumor!I loved Julie. I felt like a kindred spirit with her. I still wish I could meet her someday.
In 1964, Nixon was totally out of politics for awhile. He was working as an attorney and was working as counsel for Pepsi Cola Company. He came to Omaha for some function they were sponsoring. My co-editor of the student newspaper and I cooked up the idea that we should go downtown Omaha and see if we could get an interview. We dressed to the nines and headed downtown that morning, after checking with Mrs. B., our journalism adviser and favorite teacher (see above linked post). She was so excited about it - and later I will tell you just how excited she was. It turned out to be A LOT of walking and I had worn totally wrong shoes for that much exercise.
The first event was a breakfast in a large ballroom - I can't remember which hotel it was. We decided to see if we could get a look at him and a crack at some questions. As I was going through the scrapbook I kept that year, (and was very lucky to find this morning - I'm not nearly as organized in my memories as Pea or Susie!) I found the notes I took with the questions I hoped to ask. Here they are:
1. You said in your book, Six Crises, that a man who has known the excitement of great crisis cannot be satisfied with a more leisurely life. Do you still feel this way?
2. What is your position right now?
3. I heard a report that you would accept the nomination for Vice President if Ambassador Lodge was nominated for President. Is this true? Wouldn't it seem odd to you after 1960 when it was the opposite?
4. What was it like to meet Mr. Krushchev?
We finally asked someone if there would be an opportunity to ask questions. They said not there, but he was having a press conference at the Omaha Athletic Club later that morning.
We stood there, wishing we were employees of Pepsi or family members, because they were the people privileged to be at this breakfast. We stood in the doorway watching, kind of drooling, very disappointed. Suddenly, a group of people headed through the lobby toward the dining area door. It was Nixon, surrounded by a few other people. He was so much shorter than I envisioned! They headed for the head table and took their places to eat.
We had come this far and skipped school to do it, so we weren't leaving yet. We stayed at the doorway and watched. It's a wonder nobody closed the door on us. Soon we discovered that he was sitting there concentrating on his breakfast while those on either side of him were talking to others. We looked at each other, said, "Should we?" and took off toward the head table. We got up next to him, introduced ourselves, and asked him if he minded if we asked a few questions. He was willing, so we played reporter.
He told us that he was not campaigning for 1964, but we could feel free to write him in. I must have veered from my written questions and asked him about the rumor that he had held his cocker spaniel by its ears and he said cockers' ears are very sensitive and he would never have done that to Checkers.
He told us he was privileged to be the speaker at Julie's upcoming graduation, and had been told by her that it had to be the best speech he ever made. I asked for an autograph and took some of my note paper for him to write on.
We left then and headed back to the lobby of the hotel, pinching ourselves to believe we'd really been so bold! We decided to go for broke and walk over to the athletic club for the press conference. We had to walk and my feet were killing me!
We entered the hallowed bastion of masculinity and joined "real live" reporters. We were the only students there, and the only females. I took notes as he talked about the need for unity in the Republican party and that he would attempt to aid in achieving that unity. He said we needed Republicans who would put the party and country first, that Republicans could make no greater mistake than trying to "outpromise" Johnson on civil rights. He said that the Soviet Union was "infinitely stronger" than Red China, that China just talked bigger. He said that the major issue for the 1964 campaign was foreign policy. Then he gave a "3-point sermon" as a formula for 1964: Unite - the party; Fight - against Johnson vigorously; Excite - voters by pointing out what new leadership could do for America.
Sounds pretty familiar, eh?
From that day on, whenever I was afraid to tackle something, my dad would say, "Dawn, anyone who can interview Richard Nixon can do that!"
We headed back to school, having only missed 4 periods of school - it seemed like a much longer time. We were excited to share our story with our classmates, only to discover that our fame had preceded us. What if we hadn't succeeded? Mrs. B had been spreading the word where her star editors were and what our mission was. Here's the late pass I got from the assistant principal:
It took me a LONG time to come down from the ceiling on that experience.
I did a term paper on Nixon that year. I remained his greatest fan and supporter. I refused to believe the stories that began to come out after he was re-elected President in 1972. I refused to listen to radio for months! I still don't want to believe them. I'll never forget the day he resigned - I was pregnant with Kristen. I sat on the couch and cried as he left on that helicopter.I've never since been so loyal to a political figure. I may never be again. And I am sure I will never run for office!