Nearly 28 years after his resignation, Richard Nixon still demonstrates a remarkable capacity to provoke acrimony.
I've a theory about why he didn't save himself by burning the tapes that continue to incriminate him: He simply couldn't bring himself to admit that all those hours and hours of Nixon being the real Nixon was such a time-wasting catalog of malign drivel. He may also have had a pathetic idea that the enemies he cultivated would take a charitable view of his most provocative ravings.
That still leaves the mystery of why so many voters trusted a candidate who as early as 1948 demonstrated the congenital opportunism, the shiftiness of a man who, when he grew up to own orchards of power, went on stealing apples.
Yet who'd have imagined that the stain on Nixon that won't wash out in the strongest bleach is the one he managed to keep largely secret until after he resigned? This was his pathological loathing or was it envy? of Jews. He was, after all, a Quaker, a nominal member of a sect identified with tolerance and pacifism.
So Nixon's scandals will drag on. There's still an unreleased backlog of Nixon tapes, 1,100 hours of Jew-baiting opportunities, simmering menacingly in the National Archives. We got a new taste of them last month, and Nixon's rehabilitation now looks even more hopeless.
Earlier tapes hinted of Nixon's anti-Semitism. New ones reveal it as a full-blown case of paranoiac delusion. I can't buy the notion that Nixon merely saw Jews as likely to be Democrats, his natural opposition. It's also appalling to hear such godly figures as Billy Graham committing vulgar anti-Semitism in Nixon's company, like a couple of old biddies.
Egged on by Nixon in 1972, Graham volunteers that Jews have a "stranglehold" on the media.
"This stranglehold has got to be broken, or the country's going down the drain," he said.
"You believe that?" says the tape-recorded 37th president.
"Yes, sir," says the overheard man of God.
"Oh, boy," says the leader of the Free World. "So do I. I can't say it, but I believe it." Graham confesses some of his best friends in the media are Jews but "they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country." I guess both men were as contemptuous of friendships as they were obsessed with Jews.
Nixon's remaining defenders have their work cut out. I wonder if Henry Kissinger will ever publish memoirs confessing what a toad he felt like, what agony it was to go on flattering and humoring Nixon, even arguing with a straight face that Nixon was an "intellectual."
On the day he resigned in disgrace, top Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman confides in his diary that he was comforted by none other than Billy Graham, who assured him "that he didn't believe that in government he had met two finer men than Ehrlichman and me."
What comforted the penitentiary-bound Haldeman was that Graham "has great affection for me as a man." In what godless hell does such hypocrisy thrive.