Hello, I’m Jeff Shepard, and I’m here to welcome you today on behalf of the Nixon Foundation to our 10th Nixon Legacy Panel.
We began these panels last year and we have every expectation of continuing them through the centennial of Richard Nixon’s birth in January of 2013. We sponsor these in conjunction with the National Archives and my counterpart, the assistant archivist, in charge of all presidential libraries will be here at the end to help us conclude today’s panel.
Today’s Legacy Panel is entitled Working with 37: White House Speech Writers Remember Working With Richard Nixon.
You see, soaring rhetoric alone can not sustain a presidency, it takes substance. But, substance without sizzle, can not persuade. Every administration struggles with a combination of substance and sizzle to show presidential leadership. How that was worked out with our thirty seventh president is the topic today and we have an excellent moderator with us that I’d like to introduce right now, Lee Huebner.
Lee came, Lee? Lee came to Richard Nixon’s attention in 1962 as the co founder of the Ripon Society at the University of Wisconsin. And he worked with Richard Nixon in what we call the wilderness years when he was a private citizen and successfully was with him in the 1968 campaign when he was elected president.
So Lee became the youngest member of the speech writing team that started on Nixon’s White House staff and he was by no means the least contributor. He’d been with the man so long he was a contributor from the very outset. At the end of his White House years, he then became the long time publisher of the International Herald Tribune and when that ended he became a full time college professor.
He taught at Northwestern University and here at George Washington University where he only recently stepped down as Director of their School of Media and Public Affairs. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Lee Huebner a long and good friend. Lee?
Thanks, Jeff so very much. It’s wonderful to be here to see all of you here. I should thank Jeff for the wonderful job he’s done for steering these Nixon Legacy programs over the last year and a half and the series continues. I know in good form. Jeff’s also been a leader in keeping Nixon alumni in touch with one another through the years.
So our thanks go to him and to everyone at the Nixon foundation and at George Washington University who has helped to make this program by have it come together. I’m wearing my George Washington hat this afternoon and in that role it’s my pleasure to welcome you all to the School of Media and Public Affairs.
So many students friends here, and we’re also so happy to welcome those who are joining us on C-SPAN.
When I first joined the White House staff, in 1969, there were five of us writers, and I think we’ll see a picture of that group here. That picture actually hangs in my office, has been ever since then. My office is now one floor above this auditorium. And we’re so pleased that all four of the people on that photo, who that are still living, are with us this afternoon.
A lot of others joined the staff after that point and I think that we could have a wonderful discussion with them some day as well. But I’d like to add, in looking at this photo, that first of all you will notice that we haven’t changed much in 40 years, but let me point out that Ray Price is on the left side of the picture.
Believe it or not that’s me next to him. Then comes Pat Buchanan, and then next in line, sitting on the sofa, is the Chief of Staff of the White House Bob Haldeman, carefully taking notes as he always did. Then comes Bill Gavin, he’s followed by Jim Keogh. Jim Keogh was the first Director of the White House staff.
A wonderful leader. He passed away about five years ago. Earlier executive editor of Time Magazine and later head of the USIA. Ray Price took Jim Keogh’s place as director.
Finally to right sitting closest to President Nixon of course you’ll recognize William Sapphire who died last, less than two years ago and whom we all, I know, this afternoon are thinking of with special affection.
And now, having introduced them through their photos. Let me welcome them in person and invite our White House speech writing panel to the stage. Very quickly, Ray Price, the chief speech writer for much of Nixon’s tenure. Joined the New York staff in 1967. He had served earlier as editorial page editor.
At the New York Herald Tribune and later as President of Economic Club of New York. His memoir is called “With Nixon.” Highly recommended. Buchanan was a journalist with the Saint Louis Globe Democrat before he became the first full time adviser and writer in the Nixon comeback efforts of the mid sixties.
He later went on to be communications director for president Reagan. You may also have heard that he himself has been a presidential candidate, three times, I think, if I remember that right, and you’ve undoubtedly read his books and maybe have seen him on television.
William Gavin was a Pennsylvania High School teacher who wrote a fan letter to Mr. Nixon in 1967 soon afterward became a key writer for him. Bill is about to publish a book called Speechwrite. Write is spelled with a WR to signal the craft like nature, I think, of this calling. Bill is the only one of what he has called the original five that went on to a long speech writing career.
Three decades, working mostly for Senator James Buckley and House Minority Leader Bob Michael. Ken Khachigian joined the staff after this photo was taken. and in a sense represents a lot of people who came onto the writing staff in later years. It might be a good program with all of them gathered together at some point.
Ken’s now a lawyer in California, republican political veteran. He’s worked on, what I think are nine presidential campaigns. Ken began at the White House in 1970. Worked on President Nixon’s memoirs with the President in San Clemente and was the first chief speech writer for President Reagan.
So, that’s the group, the panel and we’re delighted they’re here and we welcome them most warmly. I was asked if I would say a few more words of stage setting, and then we can move on quickly and my colleagues can pick up where I leave off and correct my mistakes or misimpressions, or confirm, maybe, some of the things I said.
The White House, when Nixon came to office, was involved in what we might today call ‘three forms of messaging’, magic word. Each was an independent operation cooperating closely with one another but reporting separately to the Chief of Staff, Bob Holderman, and thus to the President. Some historians have mixed up that point so I think it’s worth clarifying. Three units in, one in the press office, which Ron Zeigler headed, dealing primarily with the white house press core. Two communications offices headed by Herb Klein, which dealt with long range media strategy and national media contacts.
And then there was the Writing and Research staff . The first such group to have that formal name and we all dealt with the president’s own words, whether they were spoken or on paper. This unit had several sub-tasks and I may just tick them off to set the stage here.
Speech writing, of course, was the most prominent, but that form had two subcategories under it. First there was the drafting of actual speech texts. Normally the president would rewrite those quite heavily. In fact, many historians say he may have been the most active of all recent presidents in rewriting and drafting his own speeches.
That was one part of it. The second speech writing task was what we called suggested remarks. I wound up working on this form a lot. Nixon normally preferred to speak without any notes. He welcomed, however, research and background material in the form of what he would call nuggets, if I remember the word right.
And that term included a vast variety of material. Statistics, anecdotes, jokes if we could do them, quotations, slogans, parables, historical references, personal memories. And we would often send him nine or ten of these little short items, maybe three of four pages of material. Kind of smorgasbord.
We used to think of it as a list of tasty little morsels from which he could then select a few and weave them into his extemporaneous remarks. And sometimes we’d hit the jackpot and we’d use almost everything and other times we’d strike out completely.
So that was all part of the speech writing process per se. Speech writing was only one part of it, however. A lot of what we did finally appeared in written form. One example would be the president ‘s long messages to Congress where he would lay out and detail the administration’s legislative proposals.
And there were countless other documents. Ken and I were talking about this earlier. Announcements and appointments and reactions and directions and communicates and proclamations and executive orders, books and pamphlets and introductions to books and pamphlets and letters and greetings. A lot of words to be massaged, or written, or rewritten or polished as the days pass by.
Part of our staff as well, for the sake of completeness, I should say, involved presidential correspondents, that was a whole separate section reporting to the chief, the writing staff.
And then there was a very influential daily news summary prepared under Pat Buchanan’s direction and linked to the preparation of presidential press conferences. There was a very tenacious research staff which helped to produce all of the raw materials for this process and to verify it’s accuracy. And I should mention that there was a lot of writing as well for other people, other members of the administration and people, supporters around the country.
Finally, if I could just add a personal observation, I think the senior staff, and by that I probably chiefly mean Price, Buchanan and Sapphire played important roles as general purpose advisers to the President in written memoranda and also in person. So a lot was going on and it was exciting. And we were dealing with a lot of different people, a lot of different issues, a lot of different sections of the country, different parts of the world.
We all came from very different backgrounds and outlooks. I think most projects were usually assigned to us individually, but my happy memory is that we always worked very well together. And I know we all feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be there at that time and it’s really great to come back together this afternoon and have a chance to talk a bit more about it all.
So that’s the overview and let me, at this point, then call upon the first person to join the Nixon’s staff at this time, Pat Buchanan. He came to the staff in the midst of a rather incredible period in American history, and a rather remarkable moment in Richard Nixon’s life, because that was the moment when he was really beginning his comeback efforts.
Pat you want to set the stage for us?
Alright, let’s…you go back to 1964 and the Republicans, of course, as you folks know, were completely wiped out by Lyndon Johnson, reduced to 140 seats in the House. Richard Nixon was a two time loser. He had been defeated in 1960. Defeated in ’62, partly because of the Cuban Missile Crisis interrupted his momentum.
I joined up in late 1965 and I was the first full time staffer other than Rosemary Woods in his office. And our office was a tiny enclave off from the Vice President’s office. We called him the boss then, the Vice President’s office, in whom a lady who called herself Pat Ryan helped out with the phones.
Pat Ryan was Mrs. Richard Nixon and she worked helping out with the phones and I bummed an awful lot of cigarettes from her over those years, but let me take you up. In 1966, Nixon was the most avid campaigner for the Republican party across the country. He went to 80 states, excuse me 35 states 80 Congressional Districts and we won 47 House seats and Nixon had predicted this victory and all of a sudden he was alive again as a potential candidate in 1968.
Although most of the national media had written him off.
Let me talk briefly now about that campaign of 1968, where Ray Price and I and some folks out here in this audience, flew every day and were with him every day of that campaign. Ray and I started off on a plane, I think it was the thirty first of January, in order to file in New Hampshire on the last day for filing in the New Hampshire primary.
There was a horrible snowstorm. But when we got to New Hampshire and Mr. Nixon basically was put to bed for the night in Nashua, you found out that something going on in Vietnam was known as the TET offensive. That offensive lasted for weeks and was a political disaster in the United States as it was a military disaster for the Viet Cong. Walter Cronkite basically broke with President Johnson over the war, because of the Tet offensive and it completely divided the country and inflamed the anti-war movement.
Within three weeks, after Nixon had filed, our opponent George Romney dropped out of the race, the father of Mitt Romney, because we were leading him in our own closet polls 7 to 1. Then came the New Hampshire Primary and the startling perceived upset of Lyndon Johnson by Gene McCarthy. Actually Johnson won the race, 49 to 42 and Johnson was a write-in candidate, but McCarthy’s 42 percent was so dramatic that everyone said, the press said President of the United States is in deep trouble.
Four days later, after that, Bobby Kennedy, who had stayed out of the race, he jumps into the race. And I remember Murray Kempton, many people were bitter about that and said it was completely opportunistic. And I remember Murray Kempton said Bobby Kennedy entering this race proves that St. Patrick did not drive all the snakes out of Ireland.
That was, alright, he gets into the race and then we got Nelson Rockefeller who ‘s supposed to get in and challenge us. He gets up and announces “I’m not challenging Nixon in the primaries”. So we look like we got a wide open course. Still in March we are. At the end of March, Lyndon Johnson’s going to give his major address on Vietnam.
He announces that he will not run again for President of the United States. Tremendously dramatic event. Then Humbert Humphrey would be in the race with Kennedy and McCarthy. Four days later, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. And I grew up in this town in Washington, DC. There where riots up the Seventh Street corridor, the Fourteenth Street corridor, the city was on fire.
And all over the country there were riots. It must have been a hundred cities; large and small riots. That continued three or four days. And then we came to May and Columbia campus was the worst riots on the campus of all those in the 1960’s. And then came, after we, one week after we won the Oregon Primary with a tremendous victory, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles after he won the California primary.
Then came the Democratic Convention at Chicago. Mr. Nixon sent me out to observe. I was in what we called the Comrade Hilton Hotel out there when all hell broke loose right down in front of us in Grant Park. Democratic party coming apart in the streets of Chicago.
We were after our convention and Humphrey’s convention, we were leading Humphrey 43 to 29 and George Corley Wallace was getting 23 percent of the vote. That is how polarized the country was and we held that lead up until October 1, when Hubert Humphrey gave his famous speech in Salt Lake saying, I will create a bombing halt, if I’m elected.
And the left-wing of the democratic party and the democratic party and all started to come together, and it was twice as large as our party in those days. So Humphrey gained, and gained, and gained, right up until election day when Richard Nixon won narrowly; 43-43. So he took office and came to town, and let me complete on this thought, the town he came to was utterly hostile to Nixon.
It had loved John F. Kennedy. It had cherished Bobby Kennedy. Both had been assassinated. Richard Nixon was loathed by a significant part of the press.
The bureaucracy was against him. It had been built up against him during the Great Society, New Deal, Fair Deal, and it was predominately Democratic. For the first time since Zachary Taylor, both Houses in the Congress were against the President of the United States and as I said, the media, loathed Richard Nixon.
A lot of them did. And others of them did not like Richard Nixon. Here was the problem, final problem – up and down the, if you go down the East Coast, go to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Hartford Current, New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post. Anti-Nixon all of them and three networks.
Two thirds of the American people depended on the network news of those three networks as their primary source of news information about the President of the United States. All were hostile to Richard Nixon. Thus, the imperative of Nixon to communicate over, through, and around this filter, which many of us saw as distorted, in order to communicate his ideas and keep the country united behind them.
He did it by two things. One the prime time address primarily, and secondly, the national press conferences he would have in prime time which were adversary proceedings. And it was in that environment that he wrote his address which my friend here was the principal author.
Do we have a little bit, it was, it maybe that one of the rhetorical high points in the presidency came in its opening minutes but the Inaugural Address was widely perceived as addressing, in the right way, the kind of situation Pat just described and I think we have a little piece of it to share with you right now.
The greatest honor history can bestow, is the title of peace maker. This honor now beckons America. The chance to help lead the world at last, out of the valley of turmoil and on to that high ground of peace that man has dreamed of since the dawn of civilization. If we succeed, generations to come will say of us now living, that we mastered our moment.
That we helped make the world safe for mankind. This is our summons to greatness. And I believe the American people are ready to answer this call.
Ray, historians point out a lot of people contributed the so, know, a lot of people contributed passages to that speech. But you were, right there with the president putting it together. What, what’s your recollection of all of that?
Should I get up and chat or?
No. You’re welcome to stay there if you like.
…no.. no. It’s true, he was, he was his own chief speech writer. I had the title, for the last two years rather, being head of the writing and research staff. But he, from time, from his earliest days on, he, he had been a champion debater in high school and college. He was more comfortable, always more comfortable, without a text than with one.
And my educated guess, from the time that I ran the stop was, shop, was that about 1 out of 20 speeches was written, about 19 out of 20 were not, and he never used notes. Different from what, most of what, you see today. He would know what he wanted to say, he would have it well in his mind. He would have planned it all out.
He would have made a lot of notes, and we would, we would always provide him what he called suggested remarks. These always had to be limited in size. But, it would include as, as you heard the, some ideas, some ideas, some thoughts, some possible language, some anecdotal material, which could help make his points.
But essentially his speeches were his speeches, they were not our speeches. I’ve dealt over the years, since with, I belong to a lot of these associations of writers and so forth, and journalistic things. I’m a journalist myself by profession, and I keep running into writers from other, from other administrations who like to brag about how they got the President to, without his realizing it, put forth their agendas.
I consider my, my, one of my functions, when I was running the staff, making sure, that as we circulated drafts and so forth for comment, that what the president would say, would be what he wanted to say, not what somebody else was trying to trick him into saying. which happens too often, I think, in that field today.
And, but, he had a phenomenal mind. You can’t understand the Nixon presidency without understanding the depth, and the dexterity, of his mind. And he was always thinking strategically and always strategizing. He would do it quietly, do it by himself most of the time. But, when we got into the writing, into the writing things, for things that he was going to, for speeches he was going to make, preparing our suggested remarks, as we called them, and coming up with things that might be of use to him.
It was always with that in mind that we were not trying to dictate what he would say, or what it would mean. But rather, trying to provide him with material that would help him flesh out his own ideas, and trying to protect him, from having other people’s ideas slipped in, without his knowledge or approval.
Which was part of our job. We also had a very important unit of the, what we called the writing and research department, which we took over the same three people from the Johnson administration.
The research department: three women, headed by a woman named Ceile Bellinger. And their job was to make sure that everything that came out in written or spoken form from the White House was factually correct.
And Ceile Bellinger had come from Time Inc.
I had been at Life Magazine myself and so I was familiar with this process. That is, they had red dots and dot- black dots.
Every word had to have a dot over it. A red dot for most things, a black dot for most things. A red dot for any number or name or anything that required special precision, which would have had to be double checked.
And that was a huge benefit to us, having that skill, and those three skilled women doing it, to make sure that we did not make the kind o f mistakes that too often gets, get, get made in Washington. But, but again, the writing process with him, I was his principal collaborator on both inaugurals and all State of the Unions and his Oval Office, Thursday night Oval Office, address, announcing that he would resign the following day.
I would rather not have had that, that final address necessary, but as long as it was, I was glad to be the one helping on it. And, by the time we got that one done, we, we had pretty much what, what he wanted to say for it. And, I kept hoping that he would, it had been such an emotional final week for him, that he would, he would be able to hold up delivering it, and luckily he did.
We’ll see a bit of that speech, later on. Going back to the inaugural address, one of the other key passages, which I think had originated with your writing, if I’m not mistaken, had to do with, some people here may remember, with the admonition to lower our voices.
And, that, that was in the context as Pat has described it, that, those words really rang out much louder than you would expect. It was the admonition to calm down and to think, and to listen. If we start listening to one another, rather than shouting at one another, that would be a good thing.
I’m glad you’re mentioning it, because, I had meant to mention that and I forgot to.
But, when we inherited the 1960’s, we inherited, as Pat has, I think, spelled out for our video, what I’ve often referred to as, the second most disastrous decade in American history. Second, only to the 1860’s, and the nearest thing to a civil war, since the 1860’s.
You know, but let me just say, yes, to lower our voices. But, by October 15, you had 300,000 to 500,000 people, surrounding the White House, with buses going around it, and the 82nd Airborne in the basement.
Why has this kept rising, and subsiding? And, that’s a good transition, actually, to the next little clip we have, which is from the address Nixon gave in response to that march on Washington that fall, that gathering of people.
It later become known as the silent majority speech. It was November 3rd, 1979. I think it’s an example of a speech that Nixon wrote almost entirely himself.
I remember he retreated, I think, to Camp David, and said he didn’t want to be bothered by anything.
He just wanted to focus on how to address that particular moment in American history. And here’s part of what he said:
“Let historians not record, that when America was the most powerful nation in the world, we passed on the other side of the road, and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.
And so tonight, to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support. I pledged in my campaign for the Presidency, to end the war in a way that we could win the peace.
I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge.”
And indeed, that speech was very well received, I think Nixon’s…
…poll ratings went up into the high 70’s.
Well it went up to the I think 68, but it was the highest he got in the entire presidency. And frankly, that sustained him I think, right through the four years. I mean, the only time he reached the same level is when the POW’s came home in March of 1973.
It’s a speech well worth reading carefully, and I think crafted largely by the President himself. Six months later the noise had risen again and, Pat, you were involved then in…
And let’s show another Vietnam speech, which had I’m going to say a slightly different tone. Nixon wanted a different tone and he asked you to provide it and this is the speech on the…
That’s why he didn’t pick Ray.
I think writers were really there not so much because they specialized in a style or even an ideology but they…excuse me, not so much that they specialized in a subject, but because they each had a style.
And in this case Nixon clearly wanted a tough speech and this is a little bit of what he got and then Pat You can tell us more about it.
This is April 30th, I think, 1970.
My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last five hundred years.
Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed. Small nations, all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.
If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.
Yeah, let me tell you that’s April 30th. I guess I was called into the, the President had the Oval Office and the office next to it. But he would go across the street to the Executive Office Building where there was a huge office deep in there, right underneath the Vice President’s.
And he called me in there and he said “We’re gonna,” and this was he said, “We’re going into Cambodia, with ground troops.” And he said, “Henry sent me a draft and he didn’t like it.”
Henry Kissinger, I’m sorry. And so he said, “I’ve got some notes here and here’s what I want. I want you.” And so I started taking notes from what he said, and then he would say, “And take this paragraph and put it in there.”
So, you’re taking all this, about 12 pages of this. And he said now go back and in about two or three hours give me a draft.
And so during the course of this he said, “We’re not just going to go into the fish hook and the parrot’s beak. We’re going into all eight sanctuaries.”
And so, I said, “All eight,” and he said, “Yeah.”
And I said…and he said, “We’re already bombing them.”
And I said “You’re bombing them? Sir, they’re gonna know we’re coming,”
And he said, “Don’t worry about that, Pat. We’ve been bombing them for a long time.” And that’s where I found out about the Cambodia bombing.
It was going on for almost a year.
So I went back to the office and I got working on it. My secretary was working writing real fast because we didn’t have those computers and things.
She was writing fast and then so I got the draft and I took it down to him and I of course had copies of it, and he said don’t show it to anybody.
And so this is bad news. You know Henry might be interested. So, I went up and went swimming at the University Club and then they didn’t have bathing suits. It was all men.
So, I’m swimming, paddling along in University Club and someone comes down to the pool, “Mr. Buchanan, the White House is on the phone.”
And so I go up there, stark naked, I pick up the phone and I hear, “Vere is dee speech?”
It is Henry Kissinger. I said, Henry, I’m sorry, the old man said to give it to him and that was it.
And so, that speech though, what happened in the aftermath, of course, it was an enormous firestorm created, and I got, had arthritis problem, so I went home. But three days later my buddy, Mort Allen, who ran the press summary, he called me up and he said four kids were killed and nine wounded at Kent State.
And I said, where’s Kent State? And country exploded.
And I hadn’t even known where it was, I mean it was a small school. And as a consequence of that, I think Nixon went down, and Bud Crows tells the story in his book, he got up one morning and he was tremendously concerned about that.
He went down to that Lincoln Memorial and met with the kids who tried to establish some sort of communion with them. But it was an extremely dramatic moment in the Nixon presidency. And it was at that point he decided we can be only in for 60 days. Then he pulled out.
And the troops did come out of Cambodia in 60 days.
But after that I will say that the American casualties in Vietnam. They went up, spiked up during the Cambodian incursion. But after that, they dropped by half.
It was a period of incredible turmoil. And Now Kissinger in his memoirs says, raises right now, that you did not work on foreign policy speeches after that. Is that true?
Kissinger said that?
I don’t think on major, I don’t know that he had, well, I don’t recall.
I just wondered whether there was, the speech, because the speech itself was, Nixon at his, with the bark off as he like to say.
He was tough.
Well, you know Nixon…
I mean when he called me in there, rather than Ray, it was… I mean, it was for a reason, he was ticked off.
We have somewhat different styles.
Not the most stylistic, we could stay on that subject I may come back to it.
Speaking of different styles however, I want to jump back in time just a little and move on down the panel. And to do that there’s a section in Nixon’s acceptance speech in 1968, which reveals a different side of presidential rhetoric and one that was a little bit unusual for Nixon. And maybe we can play that acceptance speech.
Tonight I see the face of a child. He lives in a great city. He’s black or he’s white. He’s Mexican, Italian, Polish, none of that matters. What matters he’s an American child. That child, in that great city, is more important than any politician’s promise. He is America. He is a poet. He’s a scientist.
He’s a great teacher, he’s a proud craftsman. He’s everything we ever hoped to be and everything we dare to dream to be.
The passage goes on then, when, and in it Nixon says, you all will remember this better than I will, I see another child tonight. And then he talks about his own childhood and how he would fall asleep hearing train whistles in the night and dreaming of far off places. Bill Gavin contributed to that whole sense of heart, I think is the word that’s often associated with his writing, so Can you tell us a little about all of that?
Yes, I can. Lee was kind enough to mention my forthcoming book as, Speech Write which will be published by Michigan State University Press. The reason I say that is first of all, it’s a shameless plug. But second of all, I have spent the last two or three years researching a lot of stuff I did, I was talking to my colleagues backstage and all of us are saying gee, I don’t remember it that way or whatever it happened to be.
And one of the things I did was an analysis of that acceptance speech. I just want to speak about that for a few minutes, because it helped to solve a problem and that’s one of the things I see speech writing as. It’s a technique of solving a particular problem, it is not, in my view, an exercise in eloquence.
I think we’ve been eloquenced to death and I think that the search for eloquence is the curse of the speaking class. What our rhetoric needs, and what Nixon did in this speech, and so many of the other speeches, is he directly addressed a specific kind of a problem, and in doing so, he used every rhetorical tool he could.
Let me begin by saying, the speech was like any acceptance speech, a hodgepodge. If people, Ray contributed, Lee contributed, everybody threw something in. But, he himself worked over that speech at what, Montauk Point.
Montauk, yeah. And, he worked over it. And, the reason I know that is, in order prepare for the book, I got four drafts of the speech, of, of the acceptance speech. And particularly, in that part we, we just saw here, he made the slightest changes sometimes. I think one was, the original was, I look at a face of a child.
And he changed the “at” into “into”. I looked into the face of a child, which is a much a much more warm way of saying it, but in order to understand why that particular passage is remembered, it should be because Richard Nixon, in presenting that speech, had to solve four or five problems. The first is he had, as Pat has pointed out, a host of people who quite literally hated him.
And one of the reasons the old haters hated him was because, he had nabbed a man name Alger Hiss. They never forgot that.
The second thing is he himself had a reputation of as, Tricky Dick, that arch fiend who always manipulated people. The third is he had a reputation for what we call “mawkishness” in his rhetoric, the cloth Republican coat that Pat Nixon wore. With that little speech he gave during the 1952 campaign.
And he himself was parodied by a lot of people because of the way he spoke, the out of sync. He had to solve and make sure that all of those things were taken care of in his speech. Anybody thinks his speech is, well, it’s just words. That’s not true. Words is, the whole thing is him, projecting that.
I had been a high school teacher of English. I wrote a letter to a lawyer name Richard Nixon urging him that he run for president. I got a form letter back a week later. I didn’t know anything about form letters. I had no idea. And then eventually I got a phone call from a man name Leonard Garment who said that Mister Nixon likes what you do and why don’t you start sending in one-liners?
In December of 1967, I was still a high school teacher working as a master teacher at the graduate school of education at the University of Pennsylvania at that time but I was still a high school teacher. We get an invitation to come to Richard Nixon’s Christmas party at his Fifth Avenue thing. I’m a high school teacher.
What, I can’t believe it. Is this a fake? Is somebody kidding me, what?
So we went there, we walked in, as you walked in, you walked in and the elevator, you know, you didn’t go into a foyer, you went right into the apartment. And he was he was standing with his back toward us and I think it was Dwight Chapin, I’m not too sure, but it must have been Dwight.
He came and he introduced me to Richard Nixon and Nixon said to me, “Ah. Gavin, the one-liner man.” He had me. He had me. That was it. I’d go anywhere with him. And so, I kept on sending those things in. He eventually asked me to become a member of the staff.
And just a sidebar here, I was at the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education. So I had to get downstairs to tell them I was gonna leave few weeks early. So I go the the Dean and I say you know, blah blah blah. You know he said, Well Bill, why are you leaving? I said, I’m going to join the Richard Nixon campaign.
He just looked at me as if I had announced I had a fatal disease. And he said ‘What on Earth are doing anything like that for?’, and I tried to explain to him. but it didn’t work too well. I went up to New York, eventually went down to Miami, and before I left New York, Len Garmin stuck his head in my little cubicle and said, Did you send your thing over for the acceptance speech?
I said, nobody told me to write anything. He said, stop asking people to tell you. Get it and get it over to me. So I sent it in, went down to Miami and forgot about it.
The night of the speech I was was watching it on television and he got to this part and I wasn’t even at the convention hall, I was back in the hotel watching it on TV, well, I leaped in the air danced around, it’s my stuff, it’s my stuff. The next day Nixon had a goodbye to the staff who had helped him at the convention.
And called me over and put his arm around me and uncharacteristic gesture from a man who is not touchy feely and spoke to me for about five minutes at that section of the speech. He said ‘Now you saw what I did with that last night, you saw what I did with it. I didn’t say this but I said that. And did you see the way the press.
And I’m going, yeah, I didn’t know what to say to him. So then he said, I want you to come on the Tricia and that’s what happened.
Tricia was the name of the airplane.
The airplane. That particular part part of the speech is important. Because if he got it a millimeter wrong, it would have been mawkish Nixon. It would have been the Nixon that is satirized, the Nixon that is even demonized. But he did it. And you didn’t see this but when he finishes that passage, that whole building rocks.
Everybody’s cheering and he’s just standing there like this with this look on his face. And I said to someone, it’s like a great baseball player, Albert Pujols or somebody, when he hits a home run, they don’t smile, they just trot around the bases. “That’s what I’m paid to do, baby.” and that was the look on his face.
He hit it right on the nose. He also did that with the rest of the speech which worked. It continued with much more political things. When I was with Bob Michael, Richard Nixon came back to the House to give a speech to House Republicans. And Bob asked me to greet him at the door, the document door at the Capitol building.
And he came out and he shook hands etc. And we went upstairs and Bob says, ” How do you like being with your old speech writer there Mr. President?” and he looked at me and he said, Gavin? We raised Gavin. And of course, it was true. My story is not much too sad to be told but it’s so improbable that if I didn’t live it, I wouldn’t believe it.
It’s a wonderful story, Let me just add something.
I was at that staff gathering that Bill describes and I haven’t heard him describe it. But I’ve described to people, and I said we were all there and Richard Nixon, an astonishing gesture came over, puts his arm around Bill Gavin and he walks apart from everybody over there, talking to him personally for five minutes, and what he was telling him and we just said it was just a grace gesture by Nixon, but what he was saying is, you did a tremendous job for me and I want everybody here to know it and it was a very moving thing to watch.
Thank you for bringing up just one last point. He didn’t have to do that.
I was, he was one of the most famous men in the world. I would need an entire K Street public relations firm to bring me to the level of decent obscurity. Three quarters of the people who were on the staff didn’t know who I was. Who the heck is this guy talking to Nixon, with the plaid jacket on?
And he was kind enough to do that and I don’t present this to the court of history as extenuating circumstances or anything like that; but that was part of the man.
For sure. Great sense of personal consideration. I think we all agree with that. And I think the less important you were, the more considerate he was in a certain sense. I mean he saw life from the perspective of someone who’d finally come up from a small town. Small horizon roots and was able to listen to the train whistles in the night and dream and then suddenly he was there.
And I think he always had and empathy for people and saw life from that perspective. He cared about words. I think that’s one thing that comes through.
He really cared deeply about words. He was afraid of being corny and I think a lot of it went back to the Checkers, as you said Bill, the use of a little dog Checkers in 1952, for which a lot of people, to this day, can ‘t possibly forget about him. Let me pick up though, where we left off, with some of the promise of the first year of the administration becoming, dissolving in the conflict and confrontations of the 1970 period, campus unrest, the economy is stagnated, the setback in the even reelection for Nixon looked like a daunting prospect.
At the same time, however, a lot was going on and a lot of other fronts. We know that the China initiative was being planned right in that period. We can talk about that later. A lot was happening on the domestic front and I think this is one of the areas where history more recently, but even the public record at that time didn’t really reflect the level of imaginative initiative that was wrapped up in the domestic program and I wouldn’t even try to tick off the ten or fifteen or twenty elements.
We had a panel here on this stage last summer about welfare reform, for example, and the whole new federalism and the war on cancer. And so many other areas of domestic initiative that tend to be obscured.
I think one of the problems, Nixon himself would say, one of our problems is we don’t have a great theme, we haven’t found an overriding slogan, we haven’t found a way to package all of this, I want to get Ken’s thoughts on this because he was very much involved in the effort to do that. But before we do, if we could just look at a little bit of the State of the Union address in 1971.
This was after the mid-term elections. And I think it was one of the better efforts to you find a phrase that might summarize some of the domestic energy that we felt was there but wasn’t always getting through to the public.
In these troubled years just past, America has been going through a long nightmare of war and division, of crime and inflation. Even more deeply, we have gone through a long dark night of the American spirit. But now, that night is ended, now we must let our spirits soar again, now, we are ready for the lift of a driving dream.
“Lift of a driving dream riting the State of the Union. Do you remember anything about it?
I don’t remember much about it. I think it was mine, but I couldn’t say for sure.
It’s his. No I mean, really I’m sure, he used that when we announced in 1968, we went to New Hampshire I talked about that was in the conference speech. You wrote in the opening speech of the campaign. And lift of a driving dream, I remember Teddy White talking about that. But let me just say briefly about the ’71 speech.
This was clearly a move to get back up on a higher level, because it was felt that, I was out with Agnew in the campaign of 1970. What we called the seven weeks war against the radical liberals. And Richard Nixon went out.
I don’t know that phrase Pat, but I.
Richard Nixon went out also and he became, Agnew was supposed to carry the hod, be the bayonet of the party. But Richard Nixon went out himself and began taking up some of the themes we were using with the Vice President. Saffire and I were out with him and he came off as exceedingly harsh and Ed Muskie had that famous Cape Saint Elizabeth address on national television where he was very calm and statesmen like and said they say we’re for crime or you know that is a lie and they know it’s a lie.
And so, clearly we were looking for an up, positive thrust and put that election behind us.
John Mitchell even said the 70 campaign and looks like running for sheriff and that was backing away maybe from some of that harsher rhetoric.
Ken, you came to the White House just at that time, and you were involved in trying to rally a lot of people on behalf of that cause. What do you recollect?
Well, I rise in tribute to the junior speech writers at the Nixon White House. You had the murderer’s row of Buchanan and Sapphire and Price and you had Lee and Bill Gavin just under them. And then you had a whole tribe of us who were really junior speech writers, who never got to work on all the big speeches.
But our job, and that State of the Union speech. I’m remembering that as when we announced six great goals.
And so, one of the jobs we had was constantly to provide background material to push the agenda that we had for the administration. So that meant writing fact sheets and talking points. And we just didn’t write for the president, we wrote for Cabinet Officers. We wrote for Senators. I was Senator Dole’s speech writer.
I was the speech writer for the Republican National Chairman. I wrote for Cabinet Officers, and I never knew it, because we would, we would, draft segments of speeches. And, referring to Congressional members, we’d write one minute, we called them cheer speeches, that we would flood the Washington, DC.
And, it goes back to this hostile atmosphere that we had, that we had to overcome this constantly, by generating, on our own, a massive amount of communication, of the White house. I actually started doing that in Herb Klein’s communication shop, and then through the political campaign of seventy- two.
And then, afterwards, we continued to do it. Now, whether it was a war on cancer, or revenue sharing, and some of the other great domestic programs we’ve had…
We’d have wage and price controls, at one stage.
Right! And, and, we…
Harder to defend it.
…well we had, we had the great controversial moments, of the Nixon Presidency, of the wage and price controls, August of 1971, and then in, in 72, may Before he went to Soviet Union on a big foreign trip, the President ordered the mining of Haifong Harbor.
Against all advice, I think. It was a gutsy, gutsy move.
It was a huge, gutsy move. They said he had taken leave of his senses and it turned out to be a phenomenal foreign policy move. You had during the Easter offensive of 1972 in Vietnam, so you had these great seminal moments when there was great national controversy and the December bombing where President Nixon ordered the B-52’s back into the air because the Paris peace talks were going nowhere.
One of our jobs was to provide this backup material to help flood the media, our supporters, our surrogates all over the. And I think we elevated to an art form. And it all basically came down from the top.
It was an active effort, things did go better, Nixon went to China, he signed the first the biggest arms control agreement of the nuclear era in Moscow. The economy picked up I think, and he won a record landslide in 72. And then by early ’73 all the troops were out of Vietnam.
POWs came home.
And that as you said was another record high. Nixon talked about it this way in another State of the Union address which was early ’74 actually.
America is a great and good land. And we are a great and good land because we are a strong, free, creative people. And because America is the single greatest force for peace anywhere in the world.
Today, as always in our history, we can base our confidence on what the American people will achieve in the future, on the record of what the American people have achieved in the past. Tonight, for the first time in 12 years, a President of the United States can report to the Congress on the state of a union at peace with every nation of the world.
Because of this, in the 22,000 word message on the state of the union that I have just handed to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, I have been able to deal primarily with the problems of peace, with what we can do here at home in America, for the American people rather than with the problems of war.
That last little bit I asked to be added because it gives me a chance to talk about just one thing that I was involved with, with that speech. That 20,000 word message he mentioned, which he had handed physically to the presiding officers at the beginning of the speech. It was a message I’d worked on because it was his effort to reconcile two very differing obligations that a President has in the State of the Union Address, Ray might want to speak to this.
On the one hand, this is a great State occasion, a great ceremonial occasion. Diplomatic corps is there, the congress is there, the military officers are there, and it’s a chance to speak, in a ceremonial way, to families gathered in living rooms across the country. On the other hand, there’s an obligation to the administrative role of the President, as the leader of the federal government.
Bringing in, and sending out again, signals from every department, and agency, and bureau, for what’s called the State of the Union message every year, which often turns into what is popularly called a laundry list. And, Nixon is the only president who has done this. I don’t know why, it’s a schizophrenic assignment, I think, but he decided to do it in two parts.
Ray worked on an inspiring speech to the country. And some of us, and I , I think I had a lead role on this, at that moment, worked on a twenty- thousand word, carefully drafted, detailed message to the Congress. And, he had it both ways, he had a 2 tier communication approach.I think you two thought that was an idea that one.
Yeah, yeah, it was very good and actually, what made it possible was what the Constitution, the state of the union is provided for in the US constitution. But what the constitution says is that the President shall, from time to time, report to Congress on the state of the union. Does not say anything about format.
In the earlier years of the country, these were written messages. Eventually sometime probably around the advent of television, it became common for a president to make a State of the Union address.
Woodrow Wilson was the first one to go.
To a live, to address the Congress. But these things could be awfully ponderous things. If you had to listen to one, you might fall asleep several times. And they’d be good if you’re trying to sleep at night trying to read one. And so Nixon decided to have the best of both worlds, and he started this practice of having two versions, a spoken version, and a written version.
They would, the spoken version would be covered by stuff in the written version. The written version would be much more spelled out in detail. And would be a sort of a sophisticated analysis of why the things he was asking for in the spoken message should be done. And, it worked well.
As he would, he would take the two written copies, hand one to the Speaker of the House, one to the President of the Senate, Senate, and then he would deliver the address. And, it was, I think, a very helpful innovation.
You know, Lee, I worked on one earlier, and I was going to mention this, but, words? That’s a little over done. I worked on one myself, after one of Ray’s speeches was delivered by the President. And we had a 6,000 word address. And, what you would get there is various departments had policies they desperately wanted to get…
… in the State of the Union. And, we said we can’t do it, because the President wants to deliver a speech. And Lyndon Johnson would get up there, and we’re gonna do this, and we’re do this, and we’re gonna do this…
Bill Clinton went for an
hour and a half…
Exactly and they’re listing all these things and so President Nixon said put all those in the message it will have the same standing, so that people can point to it. This is White House policy and this is administration policy, and get it all written and we’d start that up.
I wrote one. Mine with six thousand and I never thought we got to twenty thousand.
The written message got to twenty thousand deck early. So the President said “I think i would finish it about eight in the morning and went home to bed”. And the president had, I wasn’t signing these things with a signing pen and one of them I still have somewhere here definitely designated for me and when I wasn’t there because I was home sound asleep he was said to have said “Oh, did we kill him in the process”.
And maybe it came close.
I wanna make two observations based on what we have been seeing here. First of all you listen to all those speeches that you’ve been watching, he’s not using a even the state of the union speech, the inaugural speech and all those major speeches he did not use a teleprompter. So we’ve transitioned significantly over the years in fact, President Reagan didn’t use them that often either.
If I didn’t mention it, Ken was the key speech writer on President Reagan’s first inaugural address, and they had a speech writer at that time.
The second observation is that what you’ve heard today is that how Vietnam permeated so much of what we did in the White House, until 1973, when the war ended. Theoretically ended. And it’s just dominated everything we did. In fact dominated probably half of what I did as doing these kinds of things that I did.
We had, against all odds, trying to get public opinion to continue to support these very difficult policies even though we were withdrawing troops from Vietnam in huge numbers.
We had in the national security staff, working for secretary, Henry Kissinger, three people in sort of a Vietnam war room, Dolph Droge, Hans Van Kramer, and Don Bruster. And they worked in annenimity, and I’d be up there probably once every two or threes day because they collected vast amounts ofspeeches and communication, whatnot, but Vietnam just dominated everything so much, until we got to have Watergate dominate everything.
You mention 1974. You’re talking January then, that is after the Saturday Night Massacre. That is after the Irvan committee hearings had gone on and had been concluded, gone on for a couple of months and then concluded, and by then I think the whole impeachment process was underway, so I think you see a little more stress and strain in the President of the United States there, than you saw earlier.
You got to see those contrasts.
While my friends were solving great geopolitical problems in rhetoric, I was doing what is known as rose garden rubbish. And rose garden rubbish was the contemptuousness name they had for these things that Lee was talking about before. There’s just so many things that the president is asked to speak on or write something about.
And most of the time, those things are forgotten almost immediately after they are said, but they have to be done. So, while all of these world shaking events were going on, I was doing like Saint Patrick’s Day stuff.
Especially the Saint Patrick’s Day stuff.
I knew that, yeah. And Arbor Day, and the, one good thing was the Duke Ellington medal of freedom. I worked on that.
But the point, and Lee made it right at the beginning is, there is no end to the things people want presidents to do and when I hear even scholars sometimes say is, “Why do these presidents have speech-writers? Why don’t they write their own stuff?” Well, one reason is if they did that, they’d never come out of the Oval Office, which in some cases might be good, but you’ve got to have people and he put together, and again Lee stressed this, he put together a staff that had different styles.
And I once read a criticism of that, in which they said, that just makes the President one day he’s Ray Price, the next day Pat Buchanan, whatever it happens to be.
And the answer to that is, you can get it from art or you can get it from your own life. Presidents, like anybody else, have many dimensions to them. They have many sides. They have many ways of communicating. And when you have people on your staff like fellows like this. It makes it easier for you to do that.
Speaking of being multidimensional, Richard Nixon was surely, surely that. The end of that speech we just saw, I guess Pat was implying, he sort of left the formal part of the speech. And said I must add a word about Watergate. The first time he used that word to the Congress anyway. And he talked briefly about how the business of the country would go on.
And eight months later, of c ourse Ray was called in and asked for a thousand words of something to say to you. And we all have heard this segment of rhetoric before, but I thought we should also share it now. This is the resignation speech on a Thursday night, in August of 1974.
I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But, as president, I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full time President, and a full time Congress. Particularly, at this time, with problems we face at home and abroad, to continue to fight through the months ahead, for my personal vindication, would almost totally absorb the time, and attention, of both the President, and the Congress, in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad, and prosperity without inflation, at home.
Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.
Ray, can you tell us about that experience?
One lead up to it I’ll throw in there that the, on I guess it was on Tuesday before the Tuesday of that week, we had the, Al Hague had convened in his office many heads of departments to strategize the battle ahead, and went all through all sorts of strategic discussion here. Just fighting the impeachment battle in congress.
And then that ended and we were scattering and Al’s secretary came and asked me to come back in and Al said “That was all a sham. We need a resignation speech.” And, so I started on that on Tuesday, he delivered that address on Thursday evening, it was a very busy couple of days. I was sorry it had to be done, and I was gonna be the one doing it.
And we went back and forth. The president and I went back and forth through. We numbered several drafts, as we did with anything like that, we prepared it, pared it down and worked it over until he had what he wanted to say the way he wanted to say it and he was satisfied with it, which he was.
Then delivered the address Thursday night.
Most people who remember anything about the television of this time. What they remember is his emotional farewell to the staff from the East Room, which was very dramatic. because he delivered this resignation address Thursday night to the nation on television. But then, they assembled some of the staff in the East Room on Friday morning.
Then he came in. Going over there, I didn’t know much if anything was gonna be done, I thought it was just a farewell. He delivered a more informal talk here. Everybody was trying to keep their eyes dry and so forth. And then, we gathered on the south balcony, to wave goodbye, as they left and got aboard the helicopter to take them out to California.
And one, one of the things I remember about that most is, we were all pressed tightly together, on a balcony, waving goodbye. And, the woman, on my right, had tears streaming down her cheeks, was Barbara Bush, George Bush’s, senior’s wife. And, they climbed aboard the helicopter and went back to San Clemente, and that was, that was the end it.
I mean if I can, the, what led up to that was, Ray was, and I, and Al Hague, and Ron Ziegler, and Jim St. Claire, came in on Sunday, and we went to Camp David. And, there was a, they were talking about the tape of June 23rd. And, we didn’t know exactly, what was, you know, what it contained. but that’s what being demanded and we call Steve Roll and he got the tape of the 23rd.
And we found out the tape of the 23rd contained statements that seemed to contradict what President Nixon had been saying for three months. And the President himself had heard that tape three months before when he said, “I am not going to send it over to the special prosecutor.”
And so that, led us to believe that when that tape was dropped there would be a preceived credibility crisis.
That was called “the smoking gun”?
Smoking gun, and so what we decided up there that the tape was fatal and that what we should do is we should go back to the White House and proceed to drop the tape. And when the tape hit, the support that still existed for the President which were considerable in the senate, frankly, the bottom will drop out, and then our friends and our lives and the present supporters would see that it was not survivable.
So that it was not some kind of staff pushing the President out or, pushing him to do something, they just d rop something in it, and it was like something fatal had hit, and everybody knew that. And as Ray has written in the New York Times, I believe it was.
Barry Goldwater and Huey Scott and Congressman Rhodes came over to the White House and they were on the lawn, I guess it was Wednesday of that week. And the mythology is that they went in and talked to the President and the resigning, but that was nonsense because Ray Price was already working on the resignation speech when they came to the White House.
Yes, it was. But it was a secret from them, but they took credit for it.
We had some slides of the Presidents’ reading text. And on a happier note, I think, we even page or two of the inaugural address. So maybe, if we can have those on the screen, we’ll just take a quick.
Now this mark on the left hand says, therefore I shall resign the Presidency. And then the double line for the bottom marks of pause.
This very much Nixon’s call to himself.
Just for that happier note is the inaugural slide also available, seen, get a glimpse of…It’s fascinating to go into the archives.
The national archives are very much a part of this event today, but it’s fascinating if you look in some of these documents. It`s part of the inaugural adress.
First inaugural is it?
First inaugural adress, yeah. We want to have some time for audience questions and so on. Maybe this is a good time to move to that. There’s a microphone, I think, somewhere and we’d love to have you participate in this discussion.
Just before you get to that I want to make one observation about the process. We didn’t have computers and Microsoft Word in those days. And when you did speeches and they had to be edited, they had to be actually retyped, and edited and retyped. And so, this a tribute to those secretaries in those days.
Well that’s good for you.
Who worked in all hours of the night but we worked on those IBM typewriters. And then you corrected them and you edited them onto the sheet and then rewritten several times.
It was a whole different technology.
Nixon himself never learned to type.
Yes, I think I can see faintly through the lights, if there’s a question in the back of the room.
I do have a question. This has been a fascinating forum, and I thank all the participants for being here. I must also observe that it has been informed that Nixon might love, Nixon’s mother might love but it’s also taking place at a university. And so, one of the questions I have is this, the title of the panel is `Writing for thirty seven` And so Nixon has been presented in a certain kind of way.
We might reflect on certain aspects of the controversies of the Vietnam war. The bombing of Cambodia is not something we perhaps want to be laughing about. Nixon did prosecute a war for four more years. Got the same peace deal he could have gotten in 1969. Nixon was someone who inaugurated the racial strategy, the southern strategy, in American politics using race in a very ugly way.
And then we have Watergate, an umbrella term for a wide range of criminal activities. The smoking gun tape did not reveal a preceived credibility gap. There was a huge gap. The elephant in the room here, as the distinguished gentlemen in the forum, are implicated in this. What’s it like to write for a President who should have been driven from office?
That would be fascinating to reflect on now we’ve had some, what 35 years to think about that.
Well, I for one simply would not accept his premises.
Go ahead, Ray.
No, when you said that… I fought the battle with him throughout that because I, we believed that, and I still believe, whether you do or not, that we were on the right side of that battle. If I had not believed it I would not of been there. I did believe it and I still believe it and I think you’re wrong.
Well, let me say with regard to the war in Vietnam, when General Eisenhower left office and Richard Nixon left office in 1961, there were six hundred American advisers in South Vietnam. When we arrived back in the White House after a democratic decade, democratic overwhelming control of both houses and of the Presidency of the United States.
We had 535,000 Americans in Vietnam, and Richard Nixon said “I’m going to end the war with honor”. He did not promise to cut and run. He worked tirelessly. He worked hard and through all that period of time, with demonstrators in the street against him, he did not start that war. He supported it, but he never said we’re gonna cut and run.
And so all those four years, I’ll tell you who’s responsible. Take a look at the best and brightest who took us in there. Take a look at the wise man, take a look at the New York Times and Washington P ost and all the others who cheered America into that war and suddenly when Richard Nixon enters the White House, it is Nixon’s war?
He simply wanted to end that war with honor and in 1973 we had all the POW’s home and the South Vietnamese were in control of every provincial capitol. He had won the war basically. What happened was Congress then began to cut off all the military equipment until the North Vietnamese said: “Nixon…” Be in the Congress forced the South Vietnamese to fight a poor man’s war.
It was not Richard Nixon who marched us into Vietnam but he tried to get us out with honor and he succeeded in doing so, quite frankly, against the opposition of a lot of people who were responsible for having all those guys over there.
The controversy continues. It’s useful to be reminded that this was a terribly controversial time and that there were many advocates on the other side. The people that have been gathered here were all, at one time or another, advocates on one side. So it’s natural that you’ve gotten a certain interpretation.
I suppose there was a larger question for speech writers. And that is, how do you assemble a coalition of speech writers who have different views, and how if you are a writer, do you always agree with the principle your writing for? When you don’t agree, how do you handle that in your own mind? At what point do you leave?
At what point do you…
Gotta bring it, give that to Bill.
Bill has written about this.
Yeah, I’ve written speeches longer than anyone here. Not as good as anybody here might write but longer. And I used to speak to college audiences, and they’d always ask me this question.
It’s a good question once you put the question.
It’s a big question with college kids. When do you get off the boat here? And I always said, if it’s a serious matter of conscience, and this happens very rarely, but it’s a serious matter of conscience, you follow your conscience, you’ll leave the job. That’s it. You can’t do that. But on a certain issue.
What is it? Maybe a moral issue, an issue of policy, whatever it happens to be. And you just got to ask yourself the question. Is this the best way for me to keep on helping this person, man or woman, I’m working with, even if do not agree with him or her? Let me give you an example from my own background.
When I was with Senator Jim Buckley — great man that he is — Jim as you all recall, gave a speech, asking President Nixon to resign. It was a heart rending thing. It was just so difficult for him to do. Before he gave the speech he had it drafted by I think it was Jim Burnham of National Review.
Yeah, I think so. Before he gave the speech, he showed it to me. So there I was, you know, I had worked for Nixon. I don’t want Jim to be giving this speech. What I said to him, you give this speech, you’re not gonna get reelected first of all and second of all you know but I helped to clarify it a little bit.
I didn’t think that was a matter for me for resignation. But each speech writer has to make his or her own judgment as to when that bright red mark comes up. And believe me, in my experience in it, very rarely is it a matter of complete conscience, of war and peace, whatever it happens to be. Almost always it’s a matter of policy and then you have to say to yourself, do I go along with this policy and make it as analytic and good as I can in the pros, or do I say to the guy I can’t do this.
That’s it. I think there were a couple of other people who wanted to ask a question. Yes, I’m having I’m having difficulty seeing hands raised.
I’m Brad Patterson I have the honor of being one of your colleagues on the Nixon staff and I was also a Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Eisenhower. I had a question. How did President Nixon handle conflicts among his staff on issues on messages or speeches? I can think of an example. In March of 1970, the Supreme Court has said, you’re going to have desegregation of the schools, the southern schools, and you’re going to do it now.
And this was a very controversial political and some kind of controversy across the country and for the President. He asked my boss to do some research on this. I was put your hand to one of the great state papers of the next administration in March of nineteen seventy and message to congress on school segregation.
It’s a very complicated and controversial subject. And which as I remember he asked the Congress to appropriate sums of money to help the southern districts go through this terribly difficult process. But there were people on this staff, I think Pat you were one. Bryce Hallow was another. So there was difficult, there was a controversy on the staff.
And in the Eisenhower’s times, and I was there and can give you an example. I would have a cabinet meeting. My understanding is, in general President Nixon didn’t like to have meetings in people face to face with long controversies face to face in front of him. And a cabinet running at the time. But I think he took this message to his thinking room over in the executive office building, and made his own decisions.
But to my query is, how is that or other controversies how were they handled in the Nixon White House?
Well, I think Brad, I recall being in that. It was a very tough series of meetings. Secretary, excuse me, Attorney General Mitchell sort of chair then, Vice President Agnew was there. I was there. You were there. Brice Harlow was there. I think there was real conflict in there and I think at the end was Bryce Harlow, was it not who was asked to draft the statement that was being made on.
Basically let me say this, the whole issue was desegregation of the southern schools. In terms of what was done when we arrived, ten percent of the southern schools were desegregated. When Nixon left, seventy percent were desegregated. But there was a huge battle over the issue that had come out of the Charlotte decision of court ordered busing which would take people, kids from one district to another in order in achieve racial balance where Nixon was opposed to that but he was in favor of desegregation.
But my recollection is that battle basically was won by those who argued for going forward and with the tough decisions, getting the money and getting it done.
And one P.S. on that, which is not a speech writing matter. But how this was done? What made, why Nixon was able to do successfully what everybody had said could not be done successfully? George Shultz was the key to this. And George he was our Secretary of Labor and then Secretary of the Treasury and so on.
But he had been a leading labor negotiator, moderator and so forth beforehand in his present life, a brilliant man. He set up a program which we had. We had committees in the various southern states, each black, mixed black and white committee. They had clear mandate, this was going to happen. The schools were going to be desegregated.
They could be desegregated and saved, or desegregated and ruined. It’s going to be up to you to work it out in your state by state. How, Len Garwin was of course a key player in this too, as you remember. And what you make it work so we set up these committees, black and white, and each state had one.
And then started doing it, state by state. Finally he invited the, I’ll try to shorten this up but, he invited the members of the Mississippi delegation, I think George organized this, to come up to the White House and be put together there. And they all came together first in the Roosevelt Room and then the were moved to the Oval Office to meet with the President.
It was a very emotional thing for them and for the President too. And finally they just, I think the leader of the black group and kind of the guy who was the leader of the white group got together and they finally just said to one another, if you and I can’t do this, nobody can. So they took it on themselves to make it happen and happen right.
It worked in Mississippi and then it worked throughout the rest of the south.
That’s quite a story to hear.
I’d be interested in the style.
In Eisenhower’s style.
It was indeed, and Brad Patterson’s a great witness to so many of those things. Not in big dramatic speeches in this case and a lot of small careful conversations and that’s another part of leadership. It also speaks to the issue that was made earlier about race and minority affairs. Tom Whitaker, thought to be a rather liberal New York Times correspondent writes, A book about one of us.
Wrote a book on one of us in which he says that more progress was made in about a year and a half in desegregated schools on the Nixon and most of us, most of saw different ways at going at this and different ways of evaluating it. Can we take one, perhaps one or two more questions, again I cannot quite see, I’m short.
I have a question that sort of goes back to technique. You talked earlier about the substance and the sizzle, but there’s also the delivery of the speech. I worked as a speech writer. One of the things you always had to worry about is the delivery of the person you’re working for. Was there a challenge with that?
Did anyone, was there any advice ever given to Nixon on how to deliver a speech or did you just work around the way you did?
You know the answer to that, from what Ray said earlier, I mean, some speeches I worked on, we went through 8 or 9 drafts, and by the end of it, I couldn’t find two words put together that belonged to me. They were all his. He turned it into his words and his formulations and his way of saying it, that he was comfortable with.
So that made it frankly, relatively easy. There were some cases when you were on campaigns and even in Reagan where you might have to give a President one draft to the speech that he has to read. But all the big speeches that Nixon gave were his own and when he gave the written text. And obviously when he spoke from notes, or no notes rather, it was all him.
So it was relatively easy.
We all complained that he spent too much time writing speeches.
But it was probably a good judgment in the end and that’s a good point to make.
And he knew how to deliver. He was a lawyer, he had been a champion debater from high school on.
He insisted on two things that were kind of interesting that go right to the point. He would say the speech doesn’t happen until it’s given. You can’t talk about a copy of your speech. The speech is out there in the mind of the audience. He would insist that the writer go along on any assignment that the writer had worked on, which took us to far flung corners of the world sometimes because we had worked on, he wanted us to hear how it went.
Secondly, he did a thing at one stage where he asked us to underline in every text, the part that we thought would be the lead in the evening news or the next morning’s newspaper.
Because he knew that unless we had a sound byte, it wasn’t, the press wasn’t going to pick it up unless we had the capsule well honed, it was less like, the message was less likely to get through. I think it was just too little indications, i think, of his sensitivity to what happened in the mind of me.
Whether it was a big national speech on national television or Rose Garden remarks or proclamation, every speech writers name was on the top.
Of the speech, or the draft, or the remarks.
That’s a really nice.
So he know who did it.
Point to remember. Yes Lee, I’ve snuck up behind you. We have hit our hour and a half and we could go all afternoon.
Glad you’re keeping track Jeff. You sure could.
I want to thank the panelists for putting together fantastic forum.
And I would, I would leave you with one thought one of the nice things about the Nixon administration was how many young people there were. Here we are 40 years later and we’re doing these panels with veterans of the Nixon White House and Nixon administration who can tell you about what it was like to be there.
And we have almost the full original staff of speech writers. We are gonna be talking about a lot of other but it is because there was a very, very young staff. And we have matured quite nicely. You saw the colored hair in the beginning of the slide and we look across and we do not have that any more, sure.
Thank you all for coming.