Posts Tagged ‘richard nixon’

Last Monday night, I put up a special bonus post about an interesting person who’d crossed paths with the Blumenaus of Stamford, Connecticut.

Turns out that the student minister at their church in the late 1950s (minor edit: student minister, not youth minister) rode with the Freedom Riders in the Deep South … took part in the remarkable burglary of an FBI office, helping to expose the Bureau’s surveillance of U.S. citizens … and taught at Temple University for forty-plus years.

I might have just given away the meat of it; but if you missed it, consider reading it anyway. It’s quite a yarn.

Before I get into this week’s regularly scheduled calendar entry, I’m going to touch on an amusing thought I didn’t discuss in that post.

My grandfather –the guy who kept the calendars — was a law-and-order type. Not in the knee-jerk Southern-sheriff fashion, but in the sense that he believed in respecting authority and obeying all applicable laws.

Like other Americans of his generation, he’d been exposed to plenty of pro-FBI mass-media messages. He probably believed that if J. Edgar Hoover was watching you, you’d done something to deserve it.

When the story of the FBI burglary unfolded in the newspapers, my grandfather was most likely appalled. Those lawless kids, he would have thought. Where will they stop? What kind of criminal would do something like that?

He never would have imagined for a moment that the charming, intelligent, clean-cut student minister who had connected with his kids — heck, who had probably sat at his table for a cup of coffee — was among the masterminds.

The minister’s intelligence and ability to connect with others made a deep impression on my dad. My dad believes that, if the minister had been able to sit down and talk with my grandpa, my grandpa would have understood his point of view and recognized, if not endorsed, the need for civil disobedience.

It’s a shame that didn’t happen — it would have been a conversation for the ages — but of course it couldn’t, for any number of reasons.

And so my grandpa went about his daily life, walking the line, never suspecting he had a personal connection to the rebellious counterculture.

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And now for our regularly scheduled post, which will reaffirm how mainstream and conservative my grandfather was.

Over the 15-year timespan of my grandpa’s surviving calendars (1961 through 1975), both he and Richard Nixon had pretty eventful rides.

This week’s calendar features a high point in Nixon’s experience; and it seems like my grandpa relished it as well.

January 20, 1969.

January 20, 1969. An uncharacteristic bout with bad spelling.

When first I wrote about my grandpa and Richard Nixon, my dad wrote in to suggest the former was not that strongly attached to the latter.

My grandfather — a Nixon voter, and a classifiable member of Nixon’s famous “silent majority” — was not one to get worked up about politics or politicians, my dad said.

This week’s calendar entry makes me think that my grandfather liked Nixon a little bit more than that.

I don’t think the other presidential inaugurations during that period (Democrats Kennedy in 1961 and Johnson in ’65, and Republican Nixon again in ’73) made it onto my grandfather’s calendars.

If they did, I didn’t take a picture of them … and I took a lot of pictures, so if I don’t have it, I don’t think it was there.

But Nixon’s first seems to have been a noteworthy occasion in my grandfather’s eyes. Maybe even an occasion to celebrate, given his use of Nixon’s campaign slogan. It sure looks in retrospect like “Nixon’s the one” seemed to Bill Blumenau like something worth repeating, even savoring.

Jan. 20 fell on a Monday in 1969, so my grandpa would probably not have watched the big event. I doubt Time-Life was so profligate in those days as to provide a TV set to distract its employees. He could have made the short drive home for lunch and turned on the tube, I suppose, but I doubt he would have done so. When a man’s at work, a man’s at work.

(By contrast, I remember watching Barack Obama’s first innaugeration — er, inauguration — on a flat-screen TV in a conference room at my current job. Having worked in newsrooms for a dozen years before that, it wouldn’t shock me if I’d seen at least parts of other ceremonies while on the job … though comparing a Nineties reporter’s job to a Sixties corporate gig is chalk and cheese.)

A 28-minute clip of Nixon’s first inaugural is available online, in probably much the same grainy quality my grandpa would have seen had he turned on his TV set at home.

Wiki, meanwhile, offers a transcript of his inaugural address. It’s a nicely written and even uplifting piece of work, full of references to brighter, turmoil-free tomorrows.

Watching Nixon confidently deliver it in the archival footage, it’s easy to understand how the average American would have bought in.


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Last week I wrote about the death of one political vision. This week we’ll see another one die, in an entirely different fashion.

August 8-9, 1974.

(So much for my theory that the fireworks/explosion graphic on my birthday entry represents excitement and energy. Richard Freaking Nixon got one of those graphics too, so how special can they be? Not only that, but the line work on the Nixon Resigns entry is more detailed than the one on my birthday. That takes the wind out of a guy’s sails, all right.)

Video of Nixon’s full resignation speech, which I imagine my grandfather watched, is available on YouTube.

More interestingly, so is behind-the-scenes footage of the five minutes leading up to the speech. Watching this was the first time I’d ever seen footage of Richard Nixon laughing or smiling. He seemed genuinely appealing when he did so, as compared to the Ed-Sullivan-as-funeral-director vibe he tended to put out during his formal speeches.

I’ve written before that my grandfather supported Richard Nixon in 1968, and I expect he did in 1972 as well. Really, only about a dozen people outside Massachusetts voted for George McGovern in ’72; I see no reason why my grandpa would have been one of them.

Nixon’s departure elicited a variety of responses from America’s political onlookers. Garry Trudeau of “Doonesbury” had illustrated the Watergate scandal by drawing a brick wall around the White House. After Nixon’s resignation, he devoted a strip to workers tearing down the wall, showing the Presidential base of power once again sunny and unobstructed.

Hunter S. Thompson, meanwhile, wrote of spending the morning of Aug. 9 swimming laps in a D.C. hotel pool with a six-pack of Bass Ale and a portable TV set up at poolside, with nagging feelings that the circus was leaving town and national politics would never again be quite as interesting.

I wonder what my grandfather, who had little in common with either the post-hippie cartoonist or the drug-swilling gonzo journalist, thought on the day Nixon chucked in his hand and resigned.

I wonder if he felt betrayed or hoodwinked or played for a fool, having thrown his support so decisively behind a man who turned out to be unworthy of the office.

Maybe he was just tired of the whole situation, and glad — as many Americans were, I think — to come to the end.

Or maybe he was just glad to have a relined set of brakes. The affairs of state come and go, after all, but stop signs are eternal.

I like the little American flag my grandpa drew on Aug. 9 to herald the arrival of Gerald Ford to the Oval Office. It suggests a certain level of patriotic attachment.

My country, right or wrong, it says. The last president might have made a titanic mess of things, and the new one was not elected by anybody. This whole thing is messy and totally unprecedented. But this is still the greatest country in the world, and the arrival of a new president still calls for some ceremony.

His drawing is uncharacteristically sloppy, though. There is a hole in his flag — as perhaps there was in his country, as well. And the flag’s being rained on, to boot.

(Sure, that’s a function of the limited space available for each day’s events. It’s still kind of symbolic.)

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Before there were Tea Partiers or soccer moms, there was another grass-roots political force at large in our nation.

And my grandfather was part of it, even though he never hoisted a sign or attended a rally.

He might have been somewhat better educated than others in his group. He might have brought home a little more in his pay packet than some of them. And his mailing address happened to be a couple hundred miles east of many of theirs.

But in the larger scheme of things, he fit right in with millions of other Americans who skewed slightly older in the fall of 1968; did not regularly participate in political affairs outside Election Day; took a conservative political tack; and were concerned about the nation’s social and cultural upheaval.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1968, my grandfather joined 31,783,782 other Americans in voting for a man who galvanized that voting bloc like no other.

Nov. 5, 1968. Nixon's the one.

And almost exactly a year later, Richard Nixon would reward his faithful by christening them with one of the great political identities in American history.  In a speech on his Vietnam policy, Nixon would call for the support of “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans.”

“For almost 200 years, the policy of this nation has been made under our Constitution by those leaders in the Congress and the White House elected by all of the people. If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this Nation has no future as a free society.”

Richard Nixon, Nov. 3, 1969

No membership card or voter registration ever tracked the formal membership of Nixon’s Silent Majority.

But in a single evocative phrase, Nixon at once offered haven (you need not speak; we’ll speak for you) and reassurance (we are the majority; we will win out) to a massive slab of the American electorate. They had already responded to him in 1968, and they would respond in overwhelming numbers four autumns later.

Of course, Nixon’s catchphrase made no concession to the presence of dissent in the American DNA. One suspects that the silent majority of colonists in 1775-76 favored the English, and the U.S. only broke away because of the gall and vision of those relative few who marched in the streets. (Paul Revere and John Adams were in nobody’s silent majority. Maybe that explains why Massachusetts cocked a snook at Nixon in ’72.)

Still, while Nixon’s label may have been founded on shaky historical ground, it resonated in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

October 1968.

I scanned in this picture from my grandfather’s collection a year or two ago. And for some reason, as soon as I saw it, I thought of Nixon’s Silent Majority.

Just as the John McCain campaign in 2008 co-opted Plumber Joe (or whatever that guy was called), I could easily imagine the Nixon campaign co-opting a fiftysomething man in a plain brown suit, standing proudly on the neat back steps of a home he worked to buy, as the face of their own distinct vision of America.

How do I know my grandfather was a Nixon supporter? In 15 years of calendar entries, my grandpa only wrote the names of two candidates on his calendar on Election Day. Nixon was one of them. I’m interpreting that as a pretty solid endorsement. (Who was the other? Come back tomorrow to find out.)

I spent some time in the writing of this post trying to imagine what life among the Silent Majority felt like on Nov. 5, 1968.

I never lived in a world in which Richard Nixon was anything other than a disgraced leader, and perhaps even something of a joke.

The front page of the Stamford Advocate on the day I was born carried a wire story about Nixon’s family members urging him not to resign — more than a year before he finally did.

And when I went to college in the early ’90s, I met a young woman who grew up in the New Jersey suburb where Nixon made his final home. She said gangs of kids used to gather as close as they could get to his house, yell “Watergate!”, and then disappear into the surrounding streets — leaving the old man, perhaps, to wonder what he had done to deserve such calumny.

But on that Tuesday in November — before any foreshadowing of Watergate, and the Enemies List, and the drawn-out death fight of 1974 — it must have seemed to the nascent Silent Majority that the political tide had finally come around to meet them.

As with all new Presidential administrations, the future was bright. Anything was possible.

And Nixon was the one.

PS: This may be among the greatest presidential pictures ever taken; I would give several internal organs for an unedited transcript of this conversation. And no, it’s not Nixon and Elvis.

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