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
Reporters," Richard Nixon asserted in his 1990 memoir, In the Arena, "are not the only con artists." The late ex-president was certainly an authority on cons. Throughout his political career, the Yorba Linda native surrounded himself with every sort of scoundrel known to man: Spiro T. Agnew, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, G. Gordon Liddy, Chuck Colson and Bebe Rebozo, just to name a few. Nowadays, there are only local lawyers/commentators Hugh Hewitt, Ken Khachigian, and PR flack John H. Taylor, Nixon's personally selected posthumous hatchet man.
The last we heard from Taylor was 10 months ago, when the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace director tried to explain away revelations that our 37th president enjoyed-among other illicit indiscretions-graphic profanity in the Oval Office. In the then-newly released transcripts of secretly taped conversations, for example, Nixon talked about "fucking up" U.S. Senator Howard Baker, a Republican who wasn't buying White House lies about the Watergate scandal. With all the sincerity he could muster, Taylor hit the media circuit, suggesting that Nixon did not cuss and had actually-being the caring president he was-wanted aides "bucking up" Baker with encouragement. He offered no sly linguistic alternatives for Nixon's other bitter comments about the Tennessee senator: "simpering asshole"; "son of a bitch"; and "He's finished-absolutely, totally finished. . . . Cut him off. . . . Give him the deep freeze."
Defending any disgraced president's legacy-particularly one filled with decades of treachery, deceit, anti-Semitism and racism-can't be easy, but Taylor tackles the job with relish. White House burglary operations? Illegal wiretaps on private citizens? FBI and IRS harassment of domestic political enemies? Selling of ambassadorships? Shaking down lobbyists? Blackmail? Witness tampering? Hush money to felons? Smear campaigns? Bribes totaling $549,000 from Greek businessman Thomas Pappas? No problem. According to Taylor, such facts are either gross fabrications of a liberal conspiracy or justified because of the hostile "political climate" Nixon faced. Such a mindset isn't surprising. After all, who is Taylor to contradict Dick Nixon, who went to his grave in 1994 without amending his infamous statement (made, by the way, in Laguna Beach) to British interviewer David Frost: "When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal."
In his rush to exploit the messy Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and find a president morally worse than Nixon, Taylor may have lost touch with reality. None of his previous tortured spin approaches the all-out absurdity of his Jan. 20 guest editorial in The Wall Street Journal and a recent appearance on KOCE's news show Real Orange. In a piece titled, "The President With the Grace to Resign," Taylor wrote that "President Nixon's resignation was a gift to a country he loved." Sounds like the opening of a Tom Clancy novel, but it doesn't square with the facts. According to any sane person alive at the time or a detailed explanation by historian Stephen E. Ambrose in Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990, the president resigned to save his own sorry ass. With the House considering impeachment on July 29, 1974, Ambrose reported that "Nixon could not sleep. At 3:50 a.m., he took out his bedside note pad, wrote down the time, and began to list the pros and cons of resignation. . . . This was the order: 'What would be best for me?' After that came what would be best for his family, then for his friends and supporters, and finally what would be best for the country" [my emphasis].
Taylor's historical (hysterical?) revisionism got worse. He told KOCE watchers that Watergate was not Nixon's fault at all but was "inevitable" given the times. And here we thought it was liberals who blamed society for a criminal's behavior. Taylor would have us believe that anti-Vietnam War activists and "Left-leaning baby boomers" are responsible for Nixon's illegal and immoral acts in Watergate. He told Journal readers that Nixon was a man of honor, especially when it came to Vietnam. Haldeman's published diaries -not a pretty sight for any Nixonite and completely ignored by Taylor-irrefutably show how cheap political considerations dominated Nixon's war strategy. Consider the chief of staff's Dec. 15, 1970, entry: "[The White House and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger think] that any pullout next year would be a serious mistake because the adverse reaction to it could set well before the '72 elections. . . . Instead, [we favored] a continued winding down and then a pullout right at the fall of '72 so that if any bad results followed, they will be too late to affect the election." More than 6,000 Americans subsequently died in Vietnam for that advantage. Lost in delusion, Taylor, however, claims that a Senate trial on Watergate "could have served as a national forum on the war that John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had begun."
Countless Nixon biographies recount stories about how the president angrily demanded that his PR flacks never waver in their defense of his administration. Nixon would be quite happy with Taylor, who concluded his Journalargument this way: "Like the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah, Richard Nixon bears the inequities of all of us." Bears the inequities of all of us? Don't be surprised to see Taylor painting a crown of thorns on Tricky Dick's portrait.