Richard Nixon’s private views of ethnic groups
More Nixon White House tapes
—the tapes, I remind you, that President Nixon himself secretly had made—have been released by the Nixon Library. They show him in conversation with his aides making negative remarks about Jews, blacks, Irish, and Italians. He says that the Irish can’t handle liquor and that “Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks.” He says that the Italians are “wonderful people,” but “don’t have their heads screwed on tight.” He says Jews “are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.” Of course it’s pretty common, or at least it used to be, for people to describe Jews as aggressive and abrasive. But for the president of the United States to state that Jews as a group are “obnoxious” is strong stuff.
However, most interesting politically is what Nixon says about blacks. In a conversation with his secretary Rose Mary Woods, he dismisses the notion, held by his Secretary of State William Rogers, that blacks will improve themselves and strengthen our society. He says any significant improvement among blacks will take “500 years.” Which is another way of saying never. Yet it was Nixon who more than any other president created the vast system of affirmative action and special help for blacks under which we now live. The conclusion is that Nixon did not create this system of racial group privileges, so ruinous to America and America’s principles, in order raise blacks’ capacities and abilities, but in order to buy them off, in order to pacify them.
The cynicism of Nixon has been known at least since Joe McGinnis’s 1969 The Selling of the President, which among other things showed candidate Nixon in 1968 expressing total contempt for his cheering conservative audiences just before he went out on stage to address them. But the depth of his cynicism can still come as something of a shock.
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Gary Moe writes:
It is likely most of your readers also do not know that it is Nixon we have to thank, to a large extent, for the mess we’re in with multiculturalism.
The racial/ethnic category “Hispanic” was created under the Nixon administration and they were also early proponents of bilingual education. Up until that time, Mexican Americans were classified for census purposes as “white,” and were happy to be viewed as such. Nixon’s calculation was that since affirmative action for blacks was a given, by creating a competing grievance lobby, whatever political power blacks wielded might be diluted, or at the very least friction would be created between two camps that ordinarily voted Democrat. How’d that work out for us?
I’ve never understood why Nixon was so reviled by the left. He wasn’t a likable character, I’ll admit, but his administration was basically a continuation of LBJ’s policies, at least domestically. Fast forward 30 years, and George W. Bush provoked the same reaction on the left, while they never seemed to catch on that his ideological godfathers were Nixon and LBJ, not Reagan.
In my view, multiculturalism would have come into existence without the official ethnic categories created by the federal government under Nixon. Multiculturalism is the belief that America consists of a number of ethnically based cultures, all of which are equal, and with the former majority culture of the U.S. just another of these equal cultures. Because of the rise of black consciousness and the black adversary culture in the Sixties, and because of the post-1965 mass immigration of non-European immigrant groups, particularly Hispanics, which were culturally unassimilable into the American majority culture and racially conspicuously different from the American racial majority, and which, moreover, saw themselves as different from the American majority, it was inevitable that these distinct groups would soon demand to be treated as distinct groups with their own group rights and privileges.
The standard, race-blind conservative view is that multiculturalism is the result of the imposition of multicultural ideology on a multiracial society which, absent that ideological imposition, would have remained unified.
My race-conscious view is that multiculturalism is the inevitable result of the transformation of America into a conspicuously multiracial society.
Newer readers who are not familiar with my ideas on this subject may want to read two of my articles in National Review from the early 1990s:
“The Forbidden Topic,”in which I argue that immigration is the main cause of multiculturalism.
“Avoiding The Issue,” on mainstream conservatives’ avoidance of immigration as the main factor driving multiculturalism.)
Other than book reviews, to my knowledge these are the only two articles that have ever appeared in the mainstream conservative press stating that mass nonwhite immigration is the principal cause of multiculturalism.
Jim C. writes:
As an Irishman, I have to agree with Nixon’s assessment of some Irish. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the term fighting Irish was tied to inebriation. Italians are difficult to stereotype because northern and southern Italians are quite different. I’d guess that Nixon’s stereotype of Jews being aggressive derives from his experience as a lawyer. As to blacks, I’d guess that most intelligent Americans share his dim outlook, even saintly lefties like at Harvard Law’s Larry Tribe.
A reader writes:
Most of the things Nixon said about ethnic groups are correct. The Irish (not all) don’t handle liquor well. Italians are excitable and overreact to things. And Jews are often obnoxious. So his assessments were fairly on the mark.
On the black thing, he said that a long time ago. He did not think that blacks had the ability, so that is why he thought you had to do affirmative action.
Paul K. writes:
Gary Moe wrote, “I’ve never understood why Nixon was so reviled by the left.”
Nixon-hatred is a sacred tenet of the liberal catechism. It arose as a reaction to his early anti-Communism, particularly his successful U.S. Senate campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1948, whom he dubbed the “Pink Lady,” and, even more, to his earlier role in the Hiss case, when as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee he brought out the truth of Whitaker Chambers’s account of his contacts with Alger Hiss, thus establishing that Hiss, an icon of the liberal establishment, was lying when he denied Chambers’s accusation that he had been a Communist spy. The Hiss case made Nixon a villain to the left and a hero to the right, leading to his election to the U.S. Senate and his selection as GOP vice presidential nominee in 1952. This subject is covered at the PBS site, which says, “liberals would not forget how Nixon had played the Communist card in his ruthless drive to the top.” Of course, the PBS article about Nixon is highly tendentious, as if Communism had been a purely imaginary threat, but that’s to be expected from them.
Lyndon Johnson was at least as cynical about racial matters as Nixon, of course. His HEW Secretary, Joseph Califano, wrote that Johnson threatened a liberal congressman that he’d “put a public housing project right in the middle of his fancy Westchester district” if he didn’t vote Johnson’s way; in other words, Johnson, champion of civil rights, knew that no liberal wanted to live near poor blacks.
As with Nixon, George W. Bush is an object of an insane level of hatred on the left despite his liberal policies. There was a recent profile of Bush on Fox News, focused on his alliance with Bono to fight AIDS in Africa. I found it pathetic. Bush sounded all the liberal notes, talking about our obligations to the suffering people of Africa, and how he spent more money combating AIDS than any of his predecessors. I’m sure this gives him a warm feeling, but I hope he didn’t expect to get any credit from the left for it.
James R. writes:
Though never intending to excuse Nixon, I’m often somewhat tempted in discussions with friends to point out that Nixon didn’t do anything many of their heroes did. In many ways the man gets less credit from liberals than he deserves for entrenching and expanding what they had enacted. So from their point of view he wasn’t all that bad, and their hatred of him is misdirected…but
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 11, 2010 08:30 AM | Send
While I’m tempted to make those arguments and often start them that way, I can never forget what he revealed about himself in tapes like these. Each new release drives the nail home. The man was so odious, so lacking in character as revealed by his own words, had the same contempt for conservatives that the left did and does but also the same contempt for their mascots, really for everyone other than himself, and was the consumate insincere manipulator.
It can be tempting to dismiss people in politics as “all the same,” but I can’t imagine Reagan (for example) behaving like that, even towards groups that didn’t support him and who he is often accused of being, for example, racist towards. There’s simply no comparison and it’s unimaginable that Reagan would have spoken the way Nixon did towards his own supporters, or even towards blacks as blacks, Jews as Jews, and so on.