Indianapolis, Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents

Watergate-The Indianapolis Connection.

Nixon

Original publish date:  June 29, 2012            Reissue date: June 27, 2019

Last week, I recounted the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and fall from grace of the Richard Nixon administration. There are not many voices left to clarify the events and personalities from that sad affair today. However, we are fortunate that two of the most important figures from Watergate have reunited to share their recollections of the scandal from a four decade perspective. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein recently co-authored an article for the Washington Post discussing the Nixon White House and Watergate affair as seen through the haze of history.
To me, the most interesting aspect of the Woodward / Bernstein article was the clarification of the role played in the events leading up to Watergate by a young Indianapolis attorney named Thomas Charles Huston. A man I have known for over 30-years myself. A complicated, enigmatic man to say the least. Over those years, I belonged to a political items collecting organization with Mr. Huston and even worked for him for a couple years in the early 1990s. I politely stayed off the subject of the Nixon White House years myself, but over that time picked up interesting tidbits from his relatives and friends. More on that later.

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Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.

To Woodward and Bernstein, the most amazing developments from the years since the Watergate scandal are the continuing revelations further proving President Nixon’s involvement in the whole affair. It must be remembered that the duo of young reporters were shunned by their peers, dismissed by colleagues and threatened by the Washington establishment and the government itself. If anything, the tapes proved that Nixon was involved in schemes and secret plans potentially far worse than the hotel break-in that brought him down.
Woodward and Bernstein discovered that Nixon’s first war was against the anti-Vietnam War movement., which he considered subversive and detrimental to the war effort in Southeast Asia. In 1970, the President approved the top-secret “Huston Plan”, authorizing the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence units to identify any and all individuals identified as “domestic security threats”, in short, all those considered unfriendly to the Nixon administration.
z watergate_news_4Tom Huston (derisively called “Secret Agent X-5” behind his back by some White House officials), the White House aide who devised the plan, was a young right-wing lawyer who had been hired as an assistant to White House speech writer Patrick Buchanan. Huston graduated from Indiana University in 1966 and from 1967 to 1969, served as an officer in the United States Army assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency and was associate counsel to the president of the United States from 1969-1971.His only qualifications for his White House position were political – he had been president of the Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative campus organization nationwide.
The Huston Plan was a 43-page report and outline of proposed security operations unknown by all but the most intimate Nixon White House insiders until it came to light during the 1973 Watergate hearings. The radical plan was born from President Richard Nixon’s desire to better coordinate domestic intelligence information gathering about ‘left-wing radicals’ and the anti-war movement in general. The plan was based on the assumption that, as Nixon said, “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans—mostly under 30—are determined to destroy our society.” It called for intercepting mail, wire-tapping, covertly photographing and video-taping of administration “enemies” and lifting restrictions on “surreptitious entry”, in plainer speak, break-ins and “black bag jobs.” At one time it also called for the creation of camps in Western states where anti-war protesters would be detained. Huston’s Top Secret memo warns that parts of the plan are “clearly illegal.”
z 79 HustonDespite Huston’s warning that his namesake plan was illegal, Nixon approves the plan, but rejects one element-that he personally authorize any break-ins. Per Huston plan guidelines, the Internal Revenue Service began to harass left-wing think tanks and charitable organizations such as the Brookings Institution and the Ford Foundation. Huston writes that “making sensitive political inquiries at the IRS is about as safe a procedure as trusting a whore,” since the administration has no “reliable political friends at IRS.” He adds, “We won’t be in control of the government and in a position of effective leverage until such time as we have complete and total control of the top three slots of the IRS.” Huston suggests breaking into the Brookings Institute to find “the classified material which they have stashed over there,” adding: “There are a number of ways we could handle this. There are risks in all of them, of course; but there are also risks in allowing a government-in-exile to grow increasingly arrogant and powerful as each day goes by.”
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover objected to the plan, not on ethics or principles, but because he considered those types of activities the FBI’s turf. One June 5, 1970, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover brought Huston into his office and explains that the “old ways” of unfettered wiretaps, political infiltration, and calculated break-ins and burglaries are “too dangerous,” to attempt today. Hoover says he will not share FBI intelligence with other agencies, and will not authorize any illegal activities without President Nixon’s personal, written approval. The next day, Nixon withdraws his support for the Huston plan. Although Nixon covertly personally implemented several of its provisions anyway including lowering the age of campus informants and expanding surveillance of American college students and interception of mail.

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Tom Huston and Richard Nixon.

Placed in a White House safe, Huston’s blueprint became public in 1973 after Congress investigated the Watergate affair and learned that Nixon had ordered illegal monitoring of American citizens. Historians consider the Huston Plan as the impetus of what Attorney General Mitchell referred to as, “White House horrors” including the Plumbers Unit, the proposed fire-bombing of the Brookings Institution, the 1971 burglary of the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the creation of a White House enemies list, the use of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to punish those deemed to be enemies, and the Watergate affair itself.
Woodward and Bernstein are amazed at the psychotic ramblings still surfacing on the tapes as they are released a few at a time over the past few years. Huston’s name continues to surface on the tapes as well. On June 17, 1971, exactly one year before the Watergate break-in, Nixon met in the Oval Office with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman and national security adviser Henry Kissinger to talk about former president Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the 1968 bombing halt in Vietnam. “You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff, and it might be worth doing,” Haldeman said, according to the tape of the meeting. “Yeah,” Kissinger said, “but Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together for three years.” They wanted the complete story of Johnson’s actions. “Huston swears to God there’s a file on it at Brookings,” Haldeman said. “Bob,” Nixon said, “now you remember Huston’s plan? Implement it. . . . I mean, I want it implemented on a thievery basis. G-d damn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” Nixon would not let the matter drop. Thirteen days later, according to another taped discussion with Haldeman and Kissinger, the president said: “Break in and take it out. You understand?” The next morning, Nixon said: “Bob, get on the Brookings thing right away. I’ve got to get that safe cracked over there.” And later that morning, he persisted, “Who’s gonna break in the Brookings Institution?” Luckily for history’s sake, the break-in was never carried out, at least not that we are aware of.

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W. Mark Felt

W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and the man who would later be identified as Woodward’s “Deep Throat” source, later called Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” The definition of “gauleiter” is, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “the leader or chief official of a political district under Nazi control.” Huston developed a staggeringly long “enemies list” that included, in historian Richard Reeves’s words, “most every man or woman who had ever said a discouraging word about Nixon.” As details of the Huston plan surfaced after Watergate, with its blatant contempt for civil liberties and disdain for the rule of Constitutional law, many historians and journalists identified it with the spirit and mood thought to pervade the Nixon White House.

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David Frost & Richard Nixon.

During the 1977 David Frost Nixon interviews, former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara told Frost’s aide James Reston Jr. that it was surprising Huston was not taken out and shot. Reston would later write: “Not only was Tom Charles Huston not taken out and shot, the plan was calmly considered and signed by Nixon, and was in force for a week, until J. Edgar Hoover objected on territorial rather than philosophical grounds.”
For his part, Mr. Huston has rarely spoke publicly of the plan that bears his name. In late 1973, Huston talked about Watergate and civil liberties with a small audience during a meeting of the Philadelphia chapter of the conservative organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). According to Huston, at that time, the country was reeling from bombings and bomb threats, closed-down schools, National Guard alerts, university ROTC buildings being burned, police officers injured and killed, civilians killed, snipers firing from rooftops; in short, a country on the brink of armed insurrection. “Looking back, it is easy to understand why people now think the administration overreacted,” he says. “And had I known at the time that if we had done nothing, the problem would just go away, I would have recommended that we do nothing. But we did not understand that, and I don’t think that any reasonable person could have known this. Something had to be done. In the last analysis, I suppose this is an example of the dangers of letting down your guard against increased executive powers—no matter what the circumstances. Not that the danger was not real, but in this case the risk of the remedy was as great as the disease. There was a willingness to accept without challenge the Executive’s claim to increased power. That’s why we acted as we did, and it was a mistake.”
z secrets-about-watergate-richard-nixonDuring the question-and-answer session at that meeting, a woman stood up to relay a story of how her son was being beat up by neighborhood bullies, and how, after trying in vain to get law enforcement authorities to step in, gave her son a baseball bat and told him to defend himself. Meanwhile, the partisan crowd is chanting and cheering in sympathy with the increasingly agitated mother, and the chant: “Hooray for Watergate! Hooray for Watergate!” began to fill the room. Huston waited for the cheering to die down and says, “I’d like to say that this really goes to the heart of the problem. Back in 1970, one thing that bothered me the most was that it seemed as though the only way to solve the problem was to hand out baseball bats. In fact, it was already beginning to happen. Something had to be done. And out of it came the Plumbers and then a progression to Watergate. Well, I think that it’s the best thing that ever happened to this country that it got stopped when it did. We faced up to it…. [We] made mistakes.”
In an interview after that speech, Huston speaks derisively about many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “you can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception. If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” Despite alleged authorship of the radical plan that bears his name, Tom Huston left the Nixon White House with his reputation intact and managed to remain above the morass of the Watergate Scandal.

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Hunter S. Thompson

He did not, however, escape the wickedly lucid scrutiny of legendary “Gonzo” journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, who said of Huston in his book, “The Great Shark Hunt” in 1979, “the Tom Charles Huston Domestic Intelligence Plan amounted to nothing less than the creation of a White House Gestapo.”
During my period of closest association with Tom Huston, he was a partner with the Barnes & Thornburg law firm and was chairman of the firm’s Real Estate Department. Huston is listed in Who’s Who in America, The Best Lawyers in America and Who’s Who in Indianapolis Commercial Real Estate and is admitted to practice law in Indiana. The mild mannered man most often seen dressed in a fine mohair topcoat, English derby hat and smoking a pipe is far from what one might expect from the author of a document that, in 2007, author James Reston Jr. called “arguably the most anti-democratic document in American history… a blueprint to undermine the fundamental right of dissent and free speech in America.”

 

John F. Kennedy, Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents, Sports

Do You Remember January 22, 1973?

jan 23, 1973

Original publish date:  January 22, 2019

Were you alive on January 22, 1973? If so, consider this a reminder, if not, let me show what a typical day was like for a late-stage Baby Boomer like me. January 22, 1973 was a Monday in the Age of Aquarius. All in the Family was # 1 on television and The Poseidon Adventure was tops at the box office. Carly Simon was riding the top of the charts with her hit song “You’re so vain.” A song that has kept people guessing who she’s singing about to this day. Is it Warren Beatty? Mick Jagger? David Cassidy? Cat Stevens? David Bowie? James Taylor? All of whom have been accused. Carly has never fessed up, although she once admitted that the subject’s name contains the letters A, E, and R.

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The month of January 1973 had started on a somber note with memorial services in Washington D.C. for President Harry S Truman on the 5th (he died the day after Christmas 1972). Then, Judge John Sirica began the Nixon impeachment proceedings on the 8th with the trial of seven men accused of committing a ” third rate burglary” of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate. Next came the Inauguration of Richard Nixon (his second) on the 20th. Historians pinpoint Nixon’s speech that day as the end of the “Now Generation” and the beginning of the “Me Generation.” Gone was JFK’s promise of a “New Frontier,” lost was the compassionate feeling of the Civil Rights movement and LBJ’s dream of a “Great Society.” The self-help of the 1960s quickly morphed into the self-gratification of the 1970s, which ultimately devolved into the selfishness of the 1980s.

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The line between want and need became hopelessly blurred and remains so to this day.
Twelve years before, John F. Kennedy decreed, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” On January 20th, 1973, Richard Nixon, purposely twisted JFK’s inaugural line by declaring , “In our own lives, let each of us ask—not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?” At that moment, the idealism of the sixties gave way to narcissistic self-interest, distrust and cynicism in government of the seventies. Although it had been coming for years, when change finally arrived, it happened so fast that most of us never even noticed.
January 22nd was warm and rainy. It was the first Monday of Nixon’s second term and it would be one for the books. That day, Nixon announced that the war in Vietnam was over. The day before, his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Lê Đức Thọ signed off on a treaty that effectively ended the war; on paper that is. The settlement included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam. It addition, the United States agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and advisers (totaling about 23,700) and the dismantling of all U.S. bases within 60 days. In return, the North Vietnamese agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war. It was agreed that the DMZ at the 17th Parallel would remain a provisional dividing line, with eventual reunification of the country “through peaceful means.”
That same day, the United States Supreme Court issued their landmark decision 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Better known as Roe v. Wade. Instantly, the laws of 46 states making abortion illegal were rendered unconstitutional. In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to privacy extended to her right to make her own medical decisions, including having an abortion. The decision legalized abortion by specifically ordering that the states make no laws forbidding it. Rove V. Wade came the same day as the lesser known ruling, Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), which overturned the abortion law of Georgia.

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The Georgia law in question permitted abortion only in “cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother.” Other restrictions included the requirement that the procedure be “approved in writing by three physicians and by a three-member special committee that either continued pregnancy would endanger the pregnant woman’s life or “seriously and permanently” injure her health; the fetus would “very likely be born with a grave, permanent and irremediable mental or physical defect”; or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.” Only Georgia residents could receive abortions under this statutory scheme: non-residents could not have an abortion in Georgia under any circumstances. The plaintiff, a pregnant woman known as “Mary Doe” in court papers, sued Arthur K. Bolton, then the Attorney General of Georgia, as the official responsible for enforcing the law. The same 7-2 majority that struck down a Texas abortion law in Roe v. Wade, invalidated the Georgia abortion law.
The Roe v. Wade case, filed by “Jane Roe,” challenged a Texas statute that made it a crime to perform an abortion unless a woman’s life was in danger. Roe’s life was not at stake, but she wanted to safely end her pregnancy. The court sided with Roe, saying a woman’s right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Dozens of cases have challenged the decision in Roe v. Wade in the 46 years since the landmark ruling and the echoes of challenge are heard to this day.

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And what did Nixon think about that day’s ruling? The same Oval Office taping system that would bring about his downfall in the Watergate Scandal recorded his thoughts on Roe V. Wade for posterity. “I know there are times when abortions are necessary,” he told aide Chuck Colson, “I know that – when you have a black and a white, or a rape. I just say that matter-of-factly, you know what I mean? There are times… Abortions encourage permissiveness. A girl gets knocked up, she doesn’t have to worry about the pill anymore, she goes down to the doctor, wants to get an abortion for five dollars or whatever.” Yep, that was the President of the United States talking. And his day wasn’t even over yet.
At 3:39 p.m. Central Time, former President Lyndon B. Johnson placed a call to his Secret Service agents on the LBJ ranch in Johnson City, Texas. He had just suffered a massive heart attack. The agents rushed into LBJ’s bedroom where they found Johnson lying on the floor still clutching the telephone receiver in his hand. The President was unconscious and not breathing. Johnson was airlifted in one of his own airplanes to Brooke Army General hospital in San Antonio where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Johnson was 64 years old. Shortly after LBJ’s death, his press secretary telephoned Walter Cronkite at CBS who was in the middle of a report on the Vietnam War during his CBS Evening News broadcast. Cronkite abruptly cut his report short and broke the news to the American public.

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His death meant that for the first time since 1933, when Calvin Coolidge died during Herbert Hoover’s final months in office, that there were no former Presidents still living; Johnson had been the sole living ex-President Harry S. Truman’s recent death. Johnson had suffered three major heart attacks and, with his heart condition recently diagnosed as terminal, he returned to his ranch to die. He had grown his previously close-cut gray hair down past the back of his neck, his silver curls nearly touching his shoulders. Prophetically, LBJ often told friends that Johnson men died before reaching 65 years old, and he was 64. Had Johnson chosen to run in 1968 (and had he won) his death would have came 2 days after his term ended. As of this 2019 writing, Johnson remains the last former Democratic President to die.

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Nixon mentioned all of these events (and more) on his famous tapes. All the President’s men are there to be heard. Along with Colson, Nixon talks with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman (whom ha calls a “softhead” that day), Bebe Rebozo, Ron Ziegler, and Alexander Haig. Haldeman is the first to inform Nixon of LBJ’s death in “Conversation 036-051” by stating “He’s dead alright.” For his part, Nixon states in “Conversation 036-061” that it makes the “first time in 40 years that there hasn’t been a former President. Hoover lived through all of 40 years” and then refers to the recent peace treaty, “In any event It’ll make him (LBJ) look better in the end than he would have looked otherwise, so… The irony that he died before we got something down there. The strange twists and turns that life takes.”

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Another event took place that night to round out the day, but unlike the others, you won’t find mention of it on the Nixon tapes. In Jamaica, a matchup of two undefeated heavyweight legends took place. Undisputed world heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier (29-0) took on the number one ranked heavyweight challenger George Foreman (37-0) in Jamaica’s National Stadium. Foreman dominated Frazier by scoring six knockdowns in less than two rounds. Foreman scored a technical knockout at 1:35 of the second round to dethrone Frazier and become the new undisputed heavyweight champion (the third-youngest in history after Floyd Patterson and Cassius Clay). This was the fight where ABC’s television broadcaster Howard Cosell made the legendary exclamation, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
“This is a peace that lasts, and a peace that heals.” Nixon announced to the American people the next day. The announcement came exactly 11 years, one month and one day after the first American death in the Vietnam conflict: 25-year-old Army Specialist 4th Class James Thomas Davis of Livingston, Tenn., who had been killed in an ambush by the Viet Cong outside of Saigon on Dec. 22, 1961. For you budding numerologists out there, that translates to 11-1-1. It was all downhill from there. LBJ’s death precipitated the cancellation of several Inauguration events and a week later, on January 30, former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy, James W. McCord Jr. and five others were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. The dominoes were falling and eventually “Down goes Nixon! Down goes Nixon!”

Politics, Pop Culture

Tricky Dick Nixon and the Hook Up.

TRicia Nixon and Prince CharlesOriginal publish date:  July 8, 2015

Last week I tried, perhaps in vain, to make President Richard Nixon’s eldest daughter Tricia seem cool. Her musical choice for a July 17th, 1970 party in honor of Britain’s Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne was a Canadian band known as “The Guess Who.” The band was scheduled to play live on the White House lawn for the Royal fete despite the fact that their most popular song was an Anti-American war anthem; “American Woman”. The possibility of an International Incident was avoided when first lady Pat Nixon, through her press secretary, asked the band not to perform that song as a “matter of taste.”
Asking the Guess Who to play a party? Trendy to be sure. Cool? Possibly. But what was going on behind the scenes was the real story. Seems that Richard Nixon, President of the United States, was scheming to play matchmaker by marrying his daughter Tricia off to His Royal Highness Prince Charles, heir to the throne of England.
In the summer of 1970 Nixon was securely in the White House, miniskirts were popular, and 21-year-old Prince Charles and his 20-year-old sister, Princess Anne, arrived in Washington, D.C. It was their first trip to the United States and temperatures had reached the mid-nineties. Keep in mind that if the U.K. hits 80, it’s a heatwave. The White House garden party was on the second day of a whirlwind three-day visit for Britain’s royal pair. The day before, America’s first family welcomed them on the South Lawn of the White House where Prince Charles told the press that he and his sister had always longed to come to America.
The Nixon’s had a tightly packed schedule planned for the Royals, starting with a visit to Camp David for a picnic, skeet shooting, and a swim. That evening the couple visited the Washington Monument and young Charles walked down all 898 steps. On day two of their visit, the Prince and his sister met with Senate and House leaders in their chambers, where 28 Senate pages shook hands with the royal couple. Next came a tour of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Frank Borman served as their guides, a luncheon sail on the Presidential yacht Sequoia to George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon followed by tea at the British Embassy.
The Press reported that the usually bubbly Princess Anne seemed to be “in a mood”. It was discovered that she had hoped to visit a horse farm, a discotheque, and go shopping, none of which were on the Nixon schedule. That evening was the dance on the White House lawn hosted by Nixon’s two daughters, Tricia and Julie, and his son-in-law, David Eisenhower. The Canadian band Guess Who and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap provided the music.
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Soon after the Prince’s arrival it became embarrassingly clear that President Nixon was trying to pair him off with his daughter Tricia, who was three years older at 24. According to royal biographer Anthony Holden: “Seating plans constantly had Charles and Tricia side by side while the programme had them spending all of each day together, even to being left alone with each other in various parts of the White House.” Prince Charles noted that Nixon famously told him: “My wife and I will keep out of the way so you can feel at home.”
Any matchmaking hopes were doomed from the start. Charles was “distinctly annoyed” because of “his sense of his position not receiving its accustomed deference” and told insiders that he found Tricia “plastic and artificial”. After all, it was barely a year earlier that Prince Charles officially received his crown from his mother the Queen on July 1, 1969. Cupid never got a shot as the distracted bachelor prince and the “American Princess” danced awkwardly together at the party then parted ways. The Royal couple left town the next day. Prince Charles would not return for 11 years.
For her part, Tricia reported the she felt the Prince was too young for her. She told a London newspaper interviewer, “Well, let me just say that Prince Charles is my sister’s age. I think he’s going to make an outstanding king. He’s got considerable poise for his age.” When asked if age would be a barrier to love, she replied “if you’re in love with someone, I suppose age would not matter.” Tricia then admitted that newspaper reports attempting to marry her off had embarrassed her. “It would make life simpler if they would not do that, because it is most embarrassing to both parties concerned because they say you’re in love and everything,” she said.
But wait, there’s more. That same year Tricia Nixon was involved in a romantic hook-up that turned out to be a Presidential threesome! Now that got your attention don’t I? President Nixon and future President George H.W. Bush were trying to play matchmaker to Tricia with future-future President George W. Bush. Tricky Dicky, George and W. Now THERE is a threesome!
In 1970, George H.W. Bush was a second term Congressman and a favorite pet of the President. That year, Nixon convinced Bush to give up his Congressional seat and run for US Senator from the longhorn state (he lost to Lloyd Bentsen). No one knows for sure who came up with the idea, but somehow it was decided that the Junior Bush, then training to be a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, would escort Tricia Nixon on a date. The occasion was a party at the Alibi Club not far from the White House honoring NASA astronaut Frank Borman. His father thought his young pilot-in-training son would get a kick out of rubbing elbows with some astronauts with Tricia on his arm.
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George arrived in his mom and dad’s brand new 1970 Purple Gremlin equipped with snazzy denim seats (Yes, blue jean covered seats were standard in 1970 Gremlins). He took the elevator to the second floor and met Tricia in the family quarters. From there, the couple climbed into the back of a secret service car, leaving the stylish Gremlin behind, for the short ride to the party. It had the potential to be the start of a new American political dynasty: unfortunately, the date did not go well.
Years later, George W. Bush recalled the date, “During dinner, I reached for some butter, knocked over a glass, and watched in horror as the stain of red wine crept across the table…Then I fired up a cigarette, prompting a polite suggestion from Tricia that I not smoke,” he continued. “The date came to an end when she asked me to take her back to the White House immediately after dinner.” Thirty years later, as he drove through the gates of the White House as president, “I thought back to my first visit and had a good chuckle,” Mr Bush writes.
Within a year, Richard Nixon got his wish when Tricia married Harvard law student Edward Finch Cox on June 12, 1971 becoming the only child of a U.S. President to be married in the White House Rose Garden. It was an all too predictable end to a bumpy ride that, for a brief moment, offered so much potential for political intrigue.

Music, Politics, Pop Culture

Guess Who’s coming to Richard Nixon’s White House?

Tricia Nixon and the Guess WhoOriginal publish date:  July 12, 2015

If you were born after 1970, this story probably won’t mean a thing to you. But if you’re a baby boomer (like me) you might get a giggle out of it. First families seem boring nowadays compared to the sixties and seventies. Caroline, John-John, those strung out Ford kids, Amy & Billy Carter and even the dissenting Reagan siblings, they always made for good copy. True Roger Clinton had his moments and the Bush twins had some hi-jinx, but for the most part…BORING! But those Nixon girls, now THEY were some rebels!
Okay, maybe not. Julie Nixon (Eisenhower) was America’s sweetheart and her sister Tricia Nixon (Cox) was not far behind. But for a time, Tricia gave “wild and crazy” a run, even if was in a very WASPish sort of way. For our generation, finding out that Tricia might have been edgy and cool is like watching The Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Lady Gaga sing with Tony Bennett. Might be hip, but it ain’t very cool.
45 years ago this Friday (July 17, 1970) Tricia Nixon’s favorite band, The Guess Who, played the White House. The Guess Who, a Canadian rock band from Winnipeg, Manitoba led by Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman (of Bachman–Turner Overdrive), had a string of hit singles, including “Laughing”, “Undun”, “These Eyes” and “Share the Land”. So I suppose the Guess Who were about as cool as Tricia could get. By the time the band hit the White House, they were in the midst of a transformation from AM radio popstars to a louder, sharper Underground Rock Band for FM radio. With songs like “No Time”, “No Sugar Tonight” and “American Woman” (which would hit # 1 on the charts), the band was changing it’s image. That change in tone did not go unnoticed by Tricia’s mom. Pat Nixon.
maxresdefaultDespite it’s popularity and Patriotic sounding title, “American Woman” posed a problem for the Nixon family and more importantly, the Nixon White House. The song was viewed, rightly or wrongly, as as war protest anthem and this was not your ordinary White House garden party. It was a royal reception for England’s Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who were guests at the White House. No doubt the fact that the band was from Canada, a British territory ruled by the Royal guest’s mother, made perfect sense and sealed the deal.
In the summer of 1970, America was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam, still struggling with Civil Rights, the Cold War, Inflation and global instability. America was a target, and here was this ubiquitous song, heard everyday on radio stations across the country, casting further aspersions on the United States. And worse, the band that sang that song was invited to play on the White House lawn. This could get complicated.
Canada’s official diplomatic position during the Vietnam War was that of a non-belligerent. Although our neighbors to the north imposed a ban on the export of war-related items to the combat areas, they weren’t necessarily against supplying equipment and supplies to the American forces, as long as those goods weren’t sent directly to South Vietnam. Those goods included relatively benign items like boots and gear, but also aircraft, munitions, napalm and commercial defoliants, the latter of which were fiercely opposed by anti-war protesters at the time. Between 1965 and 1973, Canadian companies sold $2.47 billion in materiel to the United States. Canada, in accordance with existing treaties, also allowed their NATO ally to use facilities and bases in Canada for training exercises and weapons testing. A sticky wicket to be sure.
But what about THAT song, “American Woman”? Let me refresh your memory. Although the band denies it, critics and wags alike claim the song is a “Thanks, but no thanks” anthem about the Vietnam War. Rightly or wrongly, Canadians believed that America was trying to get Canada to adapt nuclear missiles and join them in their Cold War jungle conflict. When the song warns the American Woman to “Don’t come hangin’ around my door, I don’t wanna see your face no more, I got more important things to do, then spendin my time growin old with you” he’s basically saying that Canada has its own troubles and that the USA burned the blister, now they must sit on it.
The rest is pretty self-explanatory: “I don’t need your war machine” refers to nuclear weapons. “I don’t need your ghetto scenes” refers to the after math of the explosives. “Colored lights can hypnotize” refers to explosions of the bombs. “Sparkle someone else’s eyes” means, well, get lost. Despite the fact that the song was a huge hit at the time, it wasn’t the type of song Tricia would play for the folks. The Guess Who didn’t perform “American Woman” that day because they were asked not to “as a matter of taste.” That request came from first lady Pat Nixon’s press secretary. Fits right into the “clean hands doctrine” of the Nixon White House that would end a President’s tenure a couple of years later, huh?
Burton Cummings, who wrote and sang the song, insists it has nothing to do with politics but is a song about, what else, girls. “What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous,” he told the Toronto Star in 2014. “When I said ‘American woman, stay away from me,’ I really meant ‘Canadian woman, I prefer you.’ It was all a happy accident.” Yeah I know, that excuse doesn’t wash with me either.
In John Einarson’s book, “American Woman-The Story Of The Guess Who”, Cummings offered a more plausible explanation: “People read their own meanings into that song. They thought the American woman I alluded to was the Statue of Liberty and RCA contributed to that image with the ad campaigns. It came from looking out over a Canadian audience after touring through the southern U.S.A. and just thinking how the Canadian girls looked so much fresher and more alive. As opposed to an anti-American statement, it was more of a positive Canadian statement. ”
45758d0412b1a49eae642d00c598e257--the-guess-who-electric-warriorCummings went on to say this about about playing The White House: “It was strange. All the guests were white, all the military aides were white in full military dress, and all the people serving food were black. And the way the White House was landscaped it kind of looked like Alabama …before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It left a bad taste in my mouth. It was terribly racist and this was 1970. I remember sitting with Edward Lear, heir to the Lear Jet fortune, and Billy Graham’s daughter was there. It was really the so-called upper crust aristocracy of America, very stuffy, boring people…We were told not to play “American Woman” but we did “Hand Me Down World.” We thought we were just as cool for doing it. But we did get a great tour of The White House, though, and (band mate) Leskiw and I spent an hour going through all these rooms and corridors seeing stuff most people don’t get to see.”
The 68-year-old Cummings now has no doubt the band was brought in to impress the royal guests. “It left a bad taste in my mouth,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press recently. “They wanted a Commonwealth act when Charles and Anne went there. We were the token Commonwealthers.”
Even though he had left the band by the time of The White House gig, guitarist Randy Bachman remembers the song having a much more spontaneous genesis: it was written on stage with no thought given to deeper meaning or politics.The Guess Who was playing a show at a curling rink in Ontario when he broke a string on his guitar. In those days, that meant stopping the show until he could replace it. His bandmates left the stage, and Bachman put a new string on his ’59 Les Paul. The next challenge was getting it in tune (he didn’t have a tech or even a tuner in those days), so he went in front of Cummings’ electric piano and hit the E and B notes to give him reference. As he tuned his guitar a riff developed, then something magical happened.
“I started to play that riff on stage, and I look at the audience, who are now milling about and talking amongst themselves,” Bachman said. “And all their heads snapped back. Suddenly I realize I’m playing a riff I don’t want to forget, and I have to keep playing it. So I stand up and I’m playing this riff. I’m alone on stage.” The band’s drummer Garry Peterson, who had made his way to the audience, jumped on stage and started playing. Bassist Jim Kale heard the ruckus and joined them, and finally Burton Cummings came up and grabbed the microphone. “Sing something!” Bachman implored him. Burton obliged: the first words out of his mouth were, “American woman, stay away from me.” The crowd, which included a fair number of draft dodgers and war protesters, loved it. And the rest was history.
Tricia Nixon cool? Well, maybe not by today’s standards. But maybe you’ll see that Guess Who gig in a different light when you learn what else was going on at that party. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll get a kick out of next week’s article when we explore Tricky Dick Nixon and the hook-up.

Next Week: Part II: Tricky Dick Nixon and the Hook Up.