Richard Nixon was like many a Millennial (or middle-aged politician) who's gotten busted for sending racy emails or sexts — even though he knew everything he was saying would be archived forever, he still said really inappropriate things. The Nixon Presidential Library released the last set of Nixon White House tapes on Wednesday, and like many of his tapes released over the last few decades, this set confirms that Nixon was not very enlightened when it came to racial and ethnic minorities. Take a phone call with Henry Kissinger on April 19, 1973 about an upcoming U.S.-Soviet summit. Nixon was concerned someone would cause problems, and if they did, they would pay for it, he said: "Let me say, Henry, it's gonna be the worst thing that happened to Jews in American history."
Nixon continued, "If they torpedo this summit — and it might go down for other reasons — I'm gonna put the blame on them, and I'm going to do it publicly at 9 o'clock at night before 80 million people." ("I agree completely," Kissinger, who is Jewish, said. "They brought it on themselves.") Then Nixon really got going about the Jews. "I won't mind one goddamn but to have a little anti-Semitism if it's on that issue," the president says. "They put the Jewish interest above America's interest and it's about goddamn time that the Jew in America realizes he's an American first and a Jew second."
The Nixon library is somewhat helpful in hunting for scandalous things Nixon said. There are separate MP3s for each conversation, and PDFs for sections of phone calls or Oval Office conversations that list who's in a conversation, who's participating, and the general issues it covers. The library's descriptions can be a little quaint. In reference to a May 1, 1973 phone call between Nixon and press secretary Ronald Ziegler, which got into a statement issued by Nixon aide and lawyer Leonard Garment (pictured at right), the PDF notes they cover "Garment’s Jewish background." On the tape, Nixon said he wants to fire Garment for what he felt was an undermining comment, yelling, "Goddamn his Jewish soul!"
The tapes cover from April 9 to July 12, 1973 — a stressful time for Nixon. On April 30, 1973, he announced the resignations of two of his closest aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, who were tied up in the Watergate scandal. There are 340 hours of tape, which is a lot to sort through, and not all of the audio is clear. But The Atlantic Wire has picked out a few interesting conversations that give more insight into Nixon's paranoid, bigoted mind. (For people who are obsessed with Watergate, there's interesting stuff if you want to get in the weeds. A series of calls — with Watergate stars like Chuck Colson, Alexander Haig, Haldeman, plus Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — after he announced the resignations is fascinating for Nixon obsessives, showing his insecurity and loathing of the press.)
In a June 14, 1973 Oval Office meeting with Anne Armstrong, counselor to the president, Nixon said black people couldn't run Jamaica. "Blacks can’t run it. Nowhere, and they won’t be able to for a hundred years, and maybe not for a thousand. … Do you know, maybe one black country that’s well run?" He gave some guidance on what appointees should be like: "No Jews. We are adamant when I say no Jews. … But I mean don’t say anything don’t let anybody know we didn’t [audio unclear] Jewish. But Mexicans are important. Italians, Eastern Europeans. That sort of thing."
In a June 13, 1973 conversation with secretary Rose Mary Woods, Nixon discussed the entertainment at an upcoming event. Johnny Mann and Debbie Reynolds are in. What about Danny Kaye, Nixon asks, "and not because of his ideology." Kaye, a singer and comedian, was born David Kaminsky to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants in 1913 (pictured at right via Wikimedia Commons). Woods starts to say, "Well they were going to try to get him but…" And Nixon cuts in: "He's Jewish?" Woods ignores him, continuing, "I don't know what happened whether—" Nixon interjects again: "He's Jewish." Woods explains, "They had to check him out with the Russians."
In an April 18, 1973 phone call with Spiro Agnew, Nixon said Jews were holding American foreign policy "hostage to Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union." He added, "Some of the Jews picket can raise hell, but the American people are not going to let them destroy our foreign policy — never!" This was a subject to which Nixon repeatedly returned.
The bigoted mixes with the banal. In an April 14, 1973 phone call, the president tells his wife he'll be working late on a speech, so he'll miss dinner. He asks about a garden tour she did with children. "You know it's funny, the little black kids are so uncommunicative, aren't they? Good golly," Nixon said. Pat Nixon (pictured at left, via Associated Press) replies, "Yeah but these were better than most, did you know that? They're all dressed up and everything." Nixon was surprised. He had a tougher time with black kids: "They didn't react, though." The first lady explains, "Well, with you they were a little different." At her event, "They were better, you know."
Additional reporting by Eric Levenson.
Top image: Nixon bows in response to remarks of Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel, as the chief executive welcomed his guest on the south lawn of the White House in Washington on Sept. 25, 1969. (AP Photo)