Chicago Tribune - November 7, 1999
NIXON ON TAPE EXPOUNDS ON WELFARE AND HOMOSEXUALITY
by James Warren
WASHINGTON Long before the recent release of 445 hours of President Richard Nixon's Oval Office tapes, there was intense dueling between the National Archives and the Nixon family and library.
The Nixon clan knew that many of the tapes would be embarrassing and made a variety of claims, such as protection of personal privacy, to try to see that large sections were deleted.
By and large, the archivists declined. As I continued last week to listen to more tapes, disclosed here for the first time, I can understand the family's desire and the archivists' decision. It's not a pretty picture. The tapes are revealing and of clear historical interest, yes, but they are so patently offensive that some readers may well want to stay clear of them.
I came upon an initially thoughtful May 13 discussion on welfare reform involving Nixon and top aides H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman. But, suddenly, Nixon derides Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Democratic aide to Nixon and the future senator from New York, and Nixon attorney Leonard Garment for being namby-pamby and not tough enough on work requirements:
"We're going to (place) more of these little Negro bastards on the welfare rolls at $2,400 a family . . . let people like Pat Moynihan and Leonard Garment and others believe in all that crap. But I don't believe in it. Total emphasis of everybody must be that this is much better than we had last year. . . . work, work, throw 'em off the rolls. That's the key."
Ehrlichman then invokes Gov. Ronald Reagan of California and his possible response to administration proposals.
"The key is Reagan's neutrality," Ehrlichman says. "If Reagan blasts this thing, it's not strong enough on the work requirement end, that will be very bad."
Then comes one of those passages you just know the family and library sought to have excised. And, given the hour (it was morning) and the president's meticulous wording, one can't blame fatigue or alcohol. For that matter, one can't blame Haldeman, whom the library tends to see as some sort of Machiavellian instigator when it comes to Nixon bigotry.
"I have the greatest affection for them (blacks) but I know they're not going to make it for 500 years," says Nixon. "They aren't. You know it too. I asked Julie about the black studies program at Smith (College, which she attended)."
"The Mexicans are a different cup of tea," says Nixon. "They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they're dishonest. They do have some concept of family life, they don't live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like."
Ehrlichman then chimes in with his own, head-turning ethnic delineation.
"The Mexican-American is not as good as the Mexican," says Erhlichman. "You go down to Mexico, they're clean, they're honest, they're moral."
Interrupts Nixon, "Mexico is a much more moral country."
"Monterrey, Cuernavaca, go into slum areas, and by God they come out with clean shirts on a Sunday morning," says Ehrlichman.
"The church. You find a helluva lot less marijuana use in Mexico than (in) the United States," says Nixon, finding a link between religion and marijuana.
"The unions are actually a stronger force down there than the church," says Erhlichman.
"For what?" asks Nixon.
"For conduct and social policy," Ehrlichman says, in a comment that might well have endeared him to the AFL-CIO.
What ensues is a dialogue about how Americans want their government to run better and cost less and the overriding need to address those concerns. Sounding not a bit different than we might imagine President Clinton to sound, Nixon underscores that whether the topic is health, education, drugs, whatever, one must show citizens how policies affect them.
Then, inexplicably, Nixon turns to a prime-time show he had just watched on CBS and how they "were glorifying homosexuality."
"A panel show?" asks Ehrlichman.
"Hell, no," responds Nixon.
Haldeman knows to what his boss refers. "No, it's a regular show. It's on every week," says Haldeman. "It's usually just done in the guy's home. It's usually just that guy, who's a hard-hat."
"That's right, he's a hard-hat."
"He always looks like a slob."
"Looks like Jackie Gleason," says the president of the United States.
Haldeman, playing amateur TV critic, assists with word that "he has this hippie son-in-law and usually the general trend is to downgrade him and upgrade the son-in-law, make the square hard-hat out to be bad."
"But a few weeks ago," he continues, "they had one in which the guy, the son-in-law, wrote a letter to you, President Nixon, to raise hell about something. And the guy said, `You will not write that letter from my home!' Then said, `I'm going to write President Nixon.' Took off all these sloppy clothes, shaved and went to his desk and got ready to write his letter to President Nixon. And apparently it was a good episode."
"What's it called?" asks Ehrlichman.
" `Archie's Guys,' " says Nixon, referring, of course, to "All in the Family."
"Archie is sitting here with his hippie son-in-law, married to the screwball daughter," Nixon relates. "The son-in-law apparently goes both ways. This guy (enters). He's obviously queer, wears an ascot, but not offensively so. Very clever. Uses nice language. Shows pictures of his parents. And so Arch goes down to the bar. Sees his best friend, who used to play professional football. Virile, strong, this and that. Then the fairy comes into the bar."
Nixon feels compelled to tell his chums: "I don't mind the homosexuality, I understand it . . . Nevertheless, goddamn, I don't think you glorify it on public television, homosexuality, even more than you glorify whores. We all know we have weaknesses. But, goddamn it, what do you think that does to kids? You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo. We all know that so was Socrates."
"But he never had the influence television had," Ehrlichman says, apparently referring to Socrates.
"You know what happened to the Romans?" says Professor Nixon. "The last six Roman emperors were fags. Neither in a public way. You know what happened to the popes? They (had sex with) the nuns, that's been goin' on for years, centuries. But the Catholic Church went to hell, three or four centuries ago. It was homosexual, and it had to be cleaned out. That's what's happened to Britain, it happened earlier to France."
"Let's look at the strong societies," says Nixon. "The Russians. Goddamn, they root 'em out. They don't let 'em around at all. I don't know what they do with them. Look at this country. You think the Russians allow dope? Homosexuality, dope, immorality are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the communists and left-wingers are clinging to one another. They're trying to destroy us. I know Moynihan will disagree with this, (Atty. Gen. John) Mitchell will, and Garment will. But, goddamn, we have to stand up to this."
"It's fatal liberality," declares Ehrlichman, ever the sycophant.
"Huh?" says Nixon.
"It's fatal liberality," says Ehrlichman. "And with its use on television, it has such leverage."
Nixon asks Ehrlichman to consider northern California. "You know what's happened."
"San Francisco has just gone clear over," says Ehrlichman.
"But it's not just the ratty part of town," says Nixon. "The upper class in San Francisco is that way. The Bohemian Grove (an elite, secrecy-filled gathering outside San Francisco), which I attend from time to time. It is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco."
Nixon finishes things off by turning into an observer of ladies' fashions.
"Decorators. They got to do something. But we don't have to glorify it," says Nixon. "You know one of the reasons fashions have made women look so terrible is because the goddamned designers hate women. Designers taking it out on the women. Now they're trying to get some more sexy things coming on again."
"Hot pants," says Ehrlichman.
"Jesus Christ," murmurs the president.