Richard Nixon’s Even-Darker Legacy

Exclusive: Richard Nixon, who was born a century ago, cast a long shadow over U.S. politics, arguably reaching to the anything-goes tactics of today’s Republican Party. His admirers want to reverse history’s negative judgment but perhaps the Nixon centennial can finally allow for recognition of Nixon’s dirtiest trick, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

This year’s centennial of Richard Nixon’s birth has brought some of his old guard out the shadows in what amounts to a last-ditch battle to refurbish his reputation by stressing the positives of his five-plus years in the White House. Thus, there is much talk of Nixon’s opening to China and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as favorable comparisons between the relatively pragmatic Nixon and today’s crop of ideological Republicans.

However, this rehabilitation  led by the likes of Nixon’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower ignores a darker side of Nixon’s legacy, how he helped shape the behavior of the modern GOP, bequeathing a win-at-all-cost ethos that still resonates, from the crypto-racism of his Southern Strategy to his dirty election tactics in both 1968 and 1972.

There is a direct lineage from the thinly veiled racism directed toward President Barack Obama today and Nixon’s coded appeals to unreconstructed white segregationists in the South four-plus decades ago and between Republican efforts at election rigging now and Nixon’s gaming the system through the sabotage of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 and the Watergate chicanery in 1972.

Simply put, some of the ugliest tactics of the modern Republican Party can be traced to Richard Nixon. Indeed, he could be viewed as providing the DNA for today’s GOP operatives who make quasi-racist appeals to white Southerners and who seek to suppress the votes of blacks and other minorities.

And arguably, the granddaddy of all electoral dirty tricks occurred in 1968 when Nixon’s presidential campaign went behind President Johnson’s back and got the South Vietnamese government to boycott Paris peace talks just as Johnson was on the verge of bringing the bloody Vietnam War to an end.

The evidence of this maneuver is now overwhelming, both from U.S. Archives and from personal accounts of South Vietnamese and GOP participants. Still, it remains one of those thoroughly unpleasant chapters of U.S. history that even Nixon’s critics in the mainstream media hesitate to mention.

Indeed, one of the remarkable elements of the mainstream treatment of the current Nixon rehabilitation campaign is how the Watergate scandal is raised briefly to counter the pro-Nixon spin but only in the most antiseptic ways.

It’s as if the declassified records from the past several decades never were released regarding Nixon’s 1968 caper and the fuller history of Watergate. We’re back to the narrow understanding of Watergate that prevailed at the time of Nixon’s resignation in 1974, that he had participated in the cover-up, but knew little or nothing about the actual crime.

For instance, the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal reflected on the ongoing reconsideration of Nixon by writing that Nixon’s “achievements, and his liberalism by the standards of today’s Republican Party, may ultimately prove more significant than his failings.” Then, after ticking off the EPA and other progressive reforms, Rosenthal lamented that Nixon’s posthumous comeback would end like many of the failed rehabilitations during his lifetime.

Rosenthal wrote, “in the end, these achievements won’t really matter as far as Nixon the Historical Figure is concerned. His flaws and his dramatic downfall will forever reduce the importance of his positive traits. Yes, he was a great political analyst and promoted important social-welfare programs, but he also was a crook who was forced to relinquish the presidency. That is his legacy.”

But Rosenthal offered no fresh historical perspective on what kind of “a crook” Nixon was or what his full legacy entails. That topic is a focus of my latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, deriving from declassified evidence at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, and by piecing together other facts that have been known for years but never put into this new context.

The Missing File

For example, we now know that President Johnson ordered his national security aide Walt Rostow to remove from the White House the top secret file on Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks and that Nixon after learning of the file’s existence from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered Kissinger and White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman to conduct a search for this missing file.

Though Kissinger and Haldeman were able to recreate what was in the file, they failed to locate the actual file, a situation that grew critical in Nixon’s mind in June 1971 when he saw the impact of the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers, which recorded the Vietnam War deceptions from 1945 to 1967, mostly by Democratic presidents.

But Nixon knew something that few other people did, that there was a sequel to the Pentagon Papers, a file containing wiretap evidence of what Johnson had called Nixon’s “treason,” i.e. the story of how the war was prolonged so Nixon could gain a political advantage over Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968. If the missing file surfaced prior to Election 1972, Nixon almost surely would have faced defeat if not impeachment.

So, according to Oval Office tape recordings released in connection with the Watergate scandal Nixon on June 17, 1971, ordered a renewed effort to locate the missing file. One of Nixon’s aides believed the file was hidden in the safe at the Brookings Institution, leading Nixon to order a break-in at Brookings to recover the file.

About two weeks later, Nixon proposed having ex-CIA officer E. Howard Hunt set up a special team to conduct the Brookings break-in, which apparently never took place although Hunt did organize a team of burglars whose political spying was exposed on June 17, 1972, when five of its members were caught inside the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex.

In other words, the two scandals the Nixon campaign’s 1968 peace-talk sabotage and the Watergate spying operation were linked. Nixon’s fear of exposure on the first led, at least indirectly, to the second. (Exactly what was the target of the Watergate break-ins in May and June 1972 remains something of a historical mystery. Participants offered different accounts, although the burglars seemed to be engaged in a general intelligence-gathering operation, looking for any information that might be helpful to Nixon’s reelection campaign, both what surprises the Democrats might plan to spring on the President and any insights into Democratic vulnerabilities.)

As it turned out, Johnson’s 1968 file containing wiretap evidence of the Nixon campaign’s appeal to the South Vietnamese government to torpedo the Vietnam peace talks remained in the possession of Walt Rostow who had no inclination to release it, at least not until after Johnson’s death. Even then, after Johnson died on Jan. 22, 1973, two days into Nixon’s second term, Rostow decided that the file should be kept secret at the LBJ Library for at least another 50 years.

It was not until the 1990s when the LBJ Library overruled Rostow and opened the file, which Rostow had labeled “The ‘X’ Envelope.” That began a long declassification process, which is still not complete. Though a few historians have touched on these documents in books about Nixon and the Vietnam War, the evidence of what Johnson called Nixon’s “treason” and its connection to Watergate have never penetrated Official Washington’s conventional wisdom regarding Nixon’s legacy.

Mainstream journalists and many historians still prefer to treat Watergate as something of a one-off affair driven by Nixon’s political paranoia, not from his understandable fear that his 1968 campaign’s actions, which extended the Vietnam War for political gain, might be exposed with devastating consequences for his reelection in 1972.

By June 1971, when Nixon ordered creation of Hunt’s team to search for the missing file, the war was ripping America apart as thousands of body bags with dead American soldiers continued to come back from Vietnam, as another million or so Vietnamese died, and as the war spread into Cambodia.

Perhaps, if nothing else, the centennial commemorations of Nixon’s birth on Jan. 9, 1913, will allow for this fuller and darker understanding of Nixon’s legacy.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

25 comments for “Richard Nixon’s Even-Darker Legacy

  1. kg
    February 4, 2013 at 17:29

    “(Exactly what was the target of the Watergate break-ins in May and June 1972 remains something of a historical mystery…)”
    = the plumbers were to tap the phones to capture evidence escorts/hookers were being arranged at this location. end

  2. Bob
    February 4, 2013 at 12:04

    I was in high school when Nixon was president. Everyone called him Tricky Dick. He basically fooled nobody and it won’t matter if they keep his dirty secrets forever.

  3. Steven Christenson
    February 3, 2013 at 18:18

    Al Franken would occasionally get into, “Nixon? Great president!” on his Air America show to contrast with what the Supreme Court threw us with Dubya. But that _always_ must be framed within the context of how disfunctionally insane the GOP has become today.

    In truth, there’s a lot of Nixon in Obama and the fact that Democrats and self-styled progressives act like everything Obama does comes from God’s lips to Obama’s ears is perhaps _more_ terrifying than the GOP.

  4. justintime
    February 3, 2013 at 13:11

    He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

    Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

  5. Jim Clark
    February 3, 2013 at 00:22

    He got his start as a shill for Roy Cohen during the very down and dirty McCarthy hearings. When a reporter asked “Ike” what his vice president had done, during the first term, to contribute to the executive branch “Ike” said, ” If you give me a week, I’ll think of something”.
    i was on a “huey” over Cambodia while Milhouse was telling my parents i wasn’t there. But hey, I’m not BITTER!

  6. Bonita Caracciolo
    February 2, 2013 at 21:35

    In my view, among the most heinous and insidious things that Nixon did was keep that evil misogynist- the sickening Dr. Henry A. Kissinger- on his short list. In fact, Kissinger has managed to keep his devil’s claws deep into American politics for decades. Deifying Nixon at this point in history is laughable given that the generation he actively divided is now at the wheel.

  7. Mike Lamb
    February 2, 2013 at 18:37

    From “The Nazi Hydra in the United States” page 241, apparently using Time Magazine’s 1994 obituary of Richard Nixon as a source, quoted Nixon as telling a supporter of then Congressman Jerry Voorhis “Of cours I knew Jerry Voorhis wasn’t a communist, but I had to win. That’s the thing you don’t understand. The important thing is to win.” (source #51 which appears to be: which does not contain the article, but for those with Universities nearby the magazine may be available.

    This policy of winning at any cost appears to be still in the playbook of the Republican Party which has throught its legislative control of State Governments Gerrymandered Congressional Districts so that majorities of populations within states elect a minority of the Congressmen, and now the Republican Party has mentioned the possibility of changing the Electoral College so that they can win the Presidency with a minority of the votes of voters.

    On pages 244 to 245 of “The Nazi Hydra in America” is the claim that American oil men informed Secretary of the Interior Ickes that the price to the American government for the oil necessary to carry out the D-Day invasion would be $1.05 a barrel, almost double the price of oil per barrel at the time. The American oil men made a profit of $120 million on a $1 million investment and paid no taxes on that profit as they had registered their company in the Bahamas.
    Investigative Journalist George Seldes said the big boys are immune from prosecution.

    Well, it seems that some things never change.

    The Nazi Hydra in America by Glen Yeardon & John Hawkins

    • rkp
      February 16, 2013 at 09:57

      not one Republican has ever suggested eliminating the electoral college. The people who did that wewre democrats after Algore lost the 2000 election! I love the way everyone commenting on this story simply regurgitates all the lies and rumors told by left-leaning propagandists! If Republicans have been waging a “win at all costs” campaign, they are doing a piss-poor job of it! It is the democrats who have been using a “win at all costs” campaign! Remember they called Romney a murderer! It was black panthers who intimidated voters in Philly to keep whites from voting, not White Republicans who tried to supress the minority vote! Richard Nixon was never impeached, he was never formally accused of any crimes and he ws never punished for any crimes. The same three things can not be said about Bill Clinton! Most commenters here as well as the author of this hit-piece are certifiably insane!

  8. Bill
    February 2, 2013 at 18:10

    A Televised Documentary of this will be much more effective at putting his treasonous activity into the national consciousness. (I know you may be limited to internet print for now, mainly due to money and access). The same would be very helpful for the Reagan/Bush treason during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Further exposure and illumination of the evidence as corroborated by the many non-American intelligence gathering agencies of the Reagan/Bush crimes in that crisis will be helpful.

    Your efforts will make a huge difference in helping America understand the truly heinous activities of the Republican Party.

    Keep up the great work! Thank you. … I look forward to the day when the Washington National Airport is known again by that name only!

  9. Morton Kurzweil
    February 2, 2013 at 16:27

    Crypto-racist, crypto-traitor, crypto-saboteur no longer. The Republican Party has come out of the closet. The Teamocrats and the Autocrats have taken off their masks to reveal the pride of ownership of slave holders and
    robber barons.
    Everything has a price, including liberty.

  10. GENE
    February 2, 2013 at 16:15


  11. Some Dude
    February 2, 2013 at 15:05

    Reading this, I cannot help but wonder how the author has failed to make the obvious connection between Nixon’s treasonous efforts to extend the Vietnam War and the Reagan team’s alleged efforts to protract and extend the Iranian hostage crisis until Carter was ousted.

    I’m saying that I agree with Parry’s perspective as expressed here, but that I don’t think he really understands how very factual this is, or the grave implications of what he’s saying, and that he also fails to recognize the many ramifications of this reality on our understanding of recent political history.

    I also suspect that he is blind to the Left’s similarly cynical culpability in other matters(Serbia, for example).

    • marie
      February 2, 2013 at 16:55

      I have always wondered what it was that qualified Bush Sr to be head of the CIA, I have to believe that there is more to his story than what he is willing to tell and remember Iran Contra…

  12. elmerfudzie
    February 2, 2013 at 14:51

    Mr. Parry you are an excellent writer and historian, that said, I cannot understand this curious and endless preoccupation with the Nixon years. Virtually all our presidents suffered from moral turpitude. From law breaking to adultery and then murder, a worn out story and they shared one characteristic while in office, that is, getting blood on their hands. Now it’s more important to focus on how the “lost file” incident has evolved over the years into a stampede of rubber stamping, secret or top secret designation affixed onto even the most ordinary of correspondences. I call it bitcoining the written word, done in such a way that even a FOIA request does not unearth all the meaning, creators and or their recipients. For example, the CIA won another Rosemary award for obfuscating, wherever possible, detectives who submit FOIAs on the JFK assassination. In the old days before internet clouds and digital signatures, venturesome documents were signed off by using the round robin method, to mask the leader of the malcontents and before the age of print, verbal interrogation was used. God himself had to open an inquiry and thus the biblical Quote…the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth…So we all plainly understand what the real issues are in our quest to preserve democracy. It’s all about secrecy versus openness and shades of gray between these two words. Note again, how the devil did not give a specific response to God himself. Nixon is but one in a sea of examples of government conspiracies done in the shadows. Unveiling his wrongdoings now is almost as absurd as filing new murder charges against Al Capone. Alternatively, I suggest the creation of a citizens fourth branch of government or at least a more concerted effort. It began with FOIA and can be improved upon by strengthening those legal challenges against agencies that diminish the intent of the Act. It’s our old enemy, Secrecy, Tricky Dick’s middle name.

    • Shatrajit
      February 3, 2013 at 17:31

      I love the bible quote. Never came across it before. Can you send me chapter & verse?
      [email protected].
      Back in my college days I saw visits with speeches from Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas on alternate weekends, when they were both running for Senate. We all thought Nixon was so disgusting that I felt glad to live in a country where somebody like that would never get anywhere.

      • elmerfudzie
        February 9, 2013 at 11:58

        Job 1 6 to 7

    • 77-S
      February 4, 2013 at 11:17

      You’re correct that many presidents suffered from moral turpitude – – after all, they are politicians. However, some have disgraced the oval more than others. And clearly Tricky Dick is one who stained the office more than most. For this he SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE… AND WE SHOULD NEVER FORGET IT.

      Thank you, Mr. Parry, for continuing to shine the light on such a smarmy president. We should never forget what such a paranoid, spineless and deplorable man did to tarnish his own legacy… but more importantly… what he did to tarnish his office and this country. I truly hope you shine the light on Dick Nixon’s treatment of American citizens, such as John Lennon. Dick was such a loathsome and miserable human being.

      Lastly, to the person to whom I replied, take your religious rant somewhere else and save it for a sermon on Sunday. This is not a religious site.

      • elmerfudzie
        February 9, 2013 at 11:48

        I reserve the right to publish my opinions where-ever I please in accordance with those general provisions found within The United States constitutional guarantees of free speech and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, adopted by both christian and non-christian nations alike.

    • Bill Gleed
      February 4, 2013 at 19:35

      Did you miss that the traitor Nixon and his still at large and influential republican cabal commited acts of treason to extnd a war which saw tens of Americans die and millions of others die just to put this POS in office?

    • Mary
      February 9, 2013 at 02:57

      Republicans love to say that every President needs a pardon, but not many go all the way back to God and the Bible. No, Nixon is the only one.

  13. TrishaJ
    February 2, 2013 at 14:15

    For some reason the people in this country take the maxim, do not speak ill of the dead, to the extreme of glorifying people after they die even if they are not deserving of praise.

    Telling the truth, accepting the truth, and seeking the truth seem to have lost their place as an American value. If we, as a people, have a moral compass anymore, it is so out of whack it bears no resemblance to any real standard of right and wrong.

    People call themselves Christian as they lie and cheat to get what they want telling themselves that their goal is just and therefore anything goes to achieve it.

    Convictions and principles only hold during easy times. When things get difficult – the time those convictions and principles really count – the need to win kicks in and replaces them.

    If we are not active participants in this national degradation, we are at least complicit by our silence.

    • marie
      February 2, 2013 at 16:54

      The American people want to live in Disneyland, it is easier than facing the grim reality and the fact that millions voted for the policies that have imposed austerity worldwide…

    • Anthony-Frank
      February 2, 2013 at 17:12

      Well stated! Nevertheless, the “truth” about the hypocrisy of democracy is covered-up and withheld from us from when we are children in “school”. And by the time we’ve figured out what’s actually what, there’s a brand new crop of children to indoctrinate with the same old hypocrisy. Stay Well.

  14. Ahem
    February 2, 2013 at 13:23

    “Perhaps, if nothing else, the centennial commemorations of Nixon’s birth on Jan. 9, 1913, will allow for this fuller – and darker – understanding of Nixon’s legacy.” One can only hope.

    • Dickie Trickie
      February 2, 2013 at 17:17

      Commemorations? What commemorations? I haven’t heard of any scheduled nor planned for the dead dog. I guess our fascist ruling elite believe in leaving a dead dog’s lies lay. One thing’s for sure, I have faith that Mr. Trickie is now sitting in a place of honor up in Heaven (Christian version) on the cupped right hand of Rev. Jerry Faltwell.

Comments are closed.