By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
When Oliver Stone's Nixon premiered in 1995, John H. Taylor--the flamboyant executive director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace--blasted the Hollywood director for constructing a "mausoleum of lies." No matter that the film was oddly sympathetic and billed as historical fiction; the self-described "fierce" defender of the dead president ranted that "the script did not say or show a single purely honest thing about Richard Nixon." Taylor took specific umbrage that Stone's Nixon routinely used graphic profanity, particularly the word "cocksucker." Forget that the president's cussing has been documented and well-known for nearly a quarter-century; his longtime assistant refused to concede an inch. The movie, he claimed, was nothing but a "ridiculous caricature" and "character assassination." But life in the historical-revisionist fast lane hasn't been easy for Taylor, who insists the "true Nixon" really was the vanilla-licking, law-and-order saint of his campaign literature. Startling details of Nixon's wretched nature seem to emerge on a regular basis. In November 1996, months after Taylor's attack on Stone, the National Archives released 201 additional hours of secret Nixon White House audio tapes. (Less than 40 hours of Watergate tapes had been released in April 1974, four months before the president chose resignation over impeachment.) The new tapes--which were transcribed by University of Wisconsin professor Stanley Kutler in the recently published Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes--reveal previously unknown details about Nixon's treachery, paranoia, deceit, anti-Semitism and profanity. No wonder Nixon fought so hard to prevent the public from hearing these tapes while he was alive. And they do not help Taylor's cause. According to Kutler, the tapes prove that "[Nixon] was as bad as we thought, maybe even worse than we imagined." Nevertheless, in the March issue of The American Spectator, a feisty Taylor renewed his public-relations campaign to clean Nixon's mouth. He bitterly accuses Kutler ("dean for life of the Nixon-haters") of "manufacturing" expletive-filled quotes from the tapes to damage Nixon's reputation. "Anyone familiar with RN's idiom knows that he frequently talked about 'bucking up' friends who were discouraged," Taylor wrote. "When the phrase comes up during one conversation about Senator Howard Baker, Kutler changes the 'b' to 'f,' which of course alters the meaning of the phrase in a manner that happens to militate in favor of Kutler's portrait of the president." Well, I guess that settles it. Just as Taylor's Nixon never used the word "cocksucker," he also would not have said anything about "fucking up" Baker. Except this is what else the president said behind the Tennessee senator's back: "simpering asshole" and "son of a bitch" (or perhaps, in Taylorese, we should say, "run-get-the-hitch"). Nixon must have been trying to "encourage" Baker when he also barked:
"Never let Baker in the White House again. . . . Never let Baker on the presidential plane again. . . . Now, I screw him today. . . . He's finished--absolutely, totally finished. . . . He thinks he's going to be president. He's finished. . . . Cut him off. . . . Give him the deep freeze." Even if Taylor is right about Nixon "bucking up" Baker, he cynically uses this one example from more than 600 pages of transcripts. To demonstrate the absurdity of Taylor's cheap word games, here is a tiny sample of Nixon's Oval Office repertoire: "suck the asses out of them," "fucking," "bastards," "goddamn dead asses," "son of a bitch," "hell," "goddamn it," "shit," "shit ass," "bullshit," "chicken shit," "piss off" and, of course, "cocksucker." Given these revelations, Taylor should have been delighted with Oliver Stone's Nixon. In his 1951 bestseller The True Believer, author Eric Hoffer argued that guilt fuels propagandists--the more powerful the guilt, the more fervent the propagandist. That may help explain Taylor's brazenly deceitful campaign for a blemish-free Nixon. In a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he admitted that his "fierce advocacy now" stems from the fact that he feels he was "disloyal" to Nixon "even before I knew him" by once embracing anti-Vietnam War sentiment.
As an undergraduate at UC San Diego, Taylor became a staff researcher for the book-writing ex-president in 1979. He soon followed a path blazed for him by Orange County Republican commentator Hugh Hewitt, from mere staffer to the top job at the Nixon Library. By the time of Nixon's death in 1994, Taylor had expiated his youthful sins; he had become a Nixon confidante. Taylor's perplexing guilt might also explain why he insists, at least in public, that the new tapes actually exonerate Nixon. The following passage taken directly from the transcripts illustrates the preposterousness of Taylor's spin: in the Oval Office on June 17, 1971, the president and top aides Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Henry Kissinger discussed how to "blackmail" ex-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was then retired in Texas. The aides told Nixon that a safe at the Brookings Institution held documents useful to their plan. The president ordered Haldeman to burglarize the nonprofit group. Nixon: "I want it implemented. . . . Goddamn it, get in, and get those files. Blow the safe, and get it." Thirteen days later, a frustrated Nixon wanted to know why the burglary hadn't occurred. The president told Haldeman: "I want them just to break in and take it out. Do you understand? . . . I want the break-in. Hell, they [the "Plumbers," Nixon's secret White House-based burglary/ dirty-tricks team headed by the notorious E. Howard Hunt] do that. You're to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in. . . . Just go in, and take it. Go in around 8 or 9 o'clock." The next day, July 1, an irate Nixon discussed destroying his perceived enemies and wanted Haldeman's update on the burglary plans. Nixon: "We are going to use any means. Is that clear? Did they get the Brookings Institute raided last night? No? Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute's safe cleaned out, and have it cleaned out in a way that it makes somebody else [responsible]." This irrefutably damning historical account in Nixon's own words is one of a countless number of incriminating conversations recorded by the president's infamous secret taping system. Other topics the president liked to discuss were bribery; witness tampering; selling ambassadorships; shaking down lobbyists; illegal surveillance; planting evidence; using the IRS, FBI and CIA for personal vendettas; obstruction of justice; other burglaries, including Watergate; and, of course, those Jewish "cocksuckers." After reading the transcripts late last year, The Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens wrote, "From top to bottom, beginning to end, Nixon was scum, through and through." Not so, says Taylor, who is familiar with Nixon's taped conversations. Instead of conceding the facts revealed in those tapes, Taylor used his American Spectator article to make pathetic, contradictory, often hysterical excuses for Nixon. Take a deep breath: (1) Nixon's rancid behavior was "wrenched brutally out of its historical context"; (2) everybody else did the same or worse; (3) Nixon was trying "to make the world safer and more stable for billions of people"; (4) he was trying to prevent "self-serving journalists" from exposing "the nation's secrets in a way that could hurt our interests or endanger the lives of military personnel"; (5) the "Nixon-haters" have tried to pin "all the inequities of a troubled era" on Nixon; (6) Nixon did what he did as a "patriotic effort"; (7) he was merely reacting to enemies out "to get him"; (8) none of his aides really committed any of the crimes he ordered; (9) his disobedient aides committed the crimes, but without his knowledge; (10) he wasn't ashamed about the disclosure of his White House burglary/dirty-tricks team because it was a noble effort "to protect American troops"; (11) some of the break-ins were "byzantine" but not "remotely illegal"; and (12) Nixon really didn't say the things he said on the tapes. Long-disgraced Nixonian tactics live on; it's obvious why Nixon selected Taylor to be his posthumous hatchetman. He is a dedicated true believer willing--as Nixon liked to say--to use any means for victory. Nowadays, the Nixon crowd's definition of "victory" is the achievement of an honorable place in history for their president. That's unlikely, even with slick operators like Taylor feverishly working to revise history, a history that comes straight and honest from Dick Nixon's foul mouth.