Dick of Honor

Illustration by Bob Aul Computers smoked at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda last week as staff apologists searched far and wide for any reports on how gracious their main man was in defeat to John F. Kennedy 40 years ago. As of its Nov. 16 update, the list of stories you could link to from the library website's home page included:

"1960: Did Kennedy Really Lose the Popular Vote?" by Walter A. McDougall; "Nixon Was a Patriot" by Richard Reeves; "GOP Fraud Never Came Up" by Herbert G. Klein; "1960 Winner Still Not Known" by Stephen E. Ambrose; "History Offers Precedents" by Robert J. Caldwell; "Nixon Said No," a transcript of Ronald Reagan's former Secretary of State George Shultz on Larry King Live; "For the Good of the Country," a statement by George Bush's former Secretary of State James A. Baker III; and "Nixon's Most Unselfish Hour" by William Safire.

The message is clear. Though he may have had grounds to contest the presidential race of 1960 amid voter-fraud allegations, Nixon—unlike Al Gore—did the honorable thing: he conceded defeat.

If only that were true.

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David Greenberg, a Whiting Fellow at Columbia University who is writing a book on Nixon's place in American culture, reports in recent columns and interviews that there was a vigorous Republican challenge to the 1960 election outcome, and unlike the comparably limited effort in the single state of Florida in 2000, it was massive and prolonged. Greenberg points to California, which Nixon refused to concede until 10 days after the election, when absentee ballots tipped the race in favor of Kennedy. Meanwhile, the then-GOP national chairman tried to encourage recounts in other states in which the race wasn't even close. The reason: to cast a cloud over the Kennedy presidency so the GOP could regain power in future races.

"In some cases, Republican leaders had the government mount investigations into fraud. But at the end of the day, none of this panned out—at least not enough to alter the outcome," Greenberg told the AlterNet news service.

Nixon explained to the media that it was President Dwight Eisenhower—not Nixon himself—pushing to dispute the outcome. But Ike quickly withdrew that support, and Greenberg says one supporter caught Nixon "in a lie," continuing to use Eisenhower as the challenge's front man even after that withdrawal.

Despite the conservative pundits who say Gore should do what Nixon did and concede, Greenberg says "the analogy doesn't hold up—it's an instrumentalist use of history, a use of history for narrow and current political ends."

And few do it better than the folks in Yorba Linda.

SOMETHING'S STINKY A new study released on Nov. 16 theorizes that millions of gallons of sewage pumped into the ocean five miles offshore may have played a part in Huntington Beach's bacteria-spurred beach closures of 1999. The Surfrider Foundation's Gordon LaBedz made that same call in a Clockwork that ran during those closures ("More Crap, Farther Away,"Sept. 17, 1999). A spokesperson for the county sanitation districts at the time pooh-poohed LaBedz, maintaining that treated sewage has "no negative impacts" and "the fish are loving it." Isn't it interesting that the new sewage-pipe theory was reached at a time when county water and sanitation officials are pushing a plan to reduce the amount of sewage sent to sea by turning the waste into drinking water? (See "Waste Waterworld.")

FISH STICKS The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Nov. 14 declared about nine miles of streams in southern Orange and northern San Diego counties to be critical habitat for the goby, an endangered tidal fish. Since San Mateo Creek is part of that habitat, that designation could kill the preferred route of the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) for extension of the Foothill South toll road, which was to cut right across the creek. Suggestion to the TCA and its developer buds: dress gobies up as gnatcatchers.

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