Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INT: To what extent was the debacle at Chicago for the democratic party, a source of satisfaction for you and the Nixon campaign team?
JOHN: Well that whole thing, with the Daley people and the police clubbing the hippies, and the and the fringies - was a big net plus for us. It removed a lot of credibility from the democratic political organization. And they never, they never recovered from that that year.
INT: The Nixon administration was formed in January 1969, and the perception of that administration was that it soon felt itself to be rather beleaguered. Do you think that's fair?
JOHN: No the first year of the Nixon administration was a year of initiatives, and a lot of forward motion; and the news magazines were saying, well there's a new, new man we've never seen before, and he's not just the doctrinaire conservative - he's doing some modern things, some liberal things, we're all amazed. Now it wasn't until well into the second year, that we began to get the criticism that he was too doctrinaire, too conservative, on the wrong side of issues, and so on. and it was well into the third year, before he began having real trouble with the Congress, and around the country. Richard Nixon kept track of his poles pretty well, and you could look out the window of the White House and see a mob of people marching in the street, protesting the war in Vietnam, for instance. He could take a three by five card out of his pocket and take a look, and the poles showed him, with the confidence of 70/75% of the American people - and he'd say, I'm not to going to let those people in the street make foreign policy for this country. Here's the majority, in these poles.
INT: How did the concept of the silent majority arise, and did you have a party from elected members.
JOHN: I don't where that phrase, "silent majority", came from. I rather think Nixon provided that himself; but the notion that he was speaking for people who were not out there in the street, not demonstrating, was something that was with us from the first day. Washington was visited with a demonstration of one kind or another, with banners and red flags, and the whole business, about every, what, every three or four months, I guess, we had one of those. We got so that we co-opted a lot of those demonstrations, by giving them radios, so that they could mobilize their forces, while we could listen to their radios. We knew what they were doing. so they didn't have a great impact - we were comfortable with the notion that the majority of the con-, country was with us. And that majority held until the impact of media coverage, on a daily basis, eventually eroded that majority. I'm not so sure that the majority ever tipped below the 50%, but it got down to a point where it could've gone either way, politically - and then it's when Nixon realized that he couldn't hold the line on the situation in Vietnam.
INT: Was there a sense that the anti-war movement was seen as a tool of other interests, outside of the United States?
JOHN: That was argued. We were never able to pin that down, so far as I know. from time to time J Edgar Hoover sent us over information that had been developed by intelligence agencies, to the effect that money had come to the anti-war movement through Sweden, from some other country or some other group. I never saw anything that convinced me that that was the case.
INT: There was obviously a great deal of fear that that was the situation.
JOHN: Well it, there was concern about it - there was always the question, the President always wanted to know, where these people were getting their money, because some of the organization was very elaborate, and somebody was spending a lot of money to mount demonstrations, and to dominate television; and he wanted to know, and I don't think anybody ever found out to his satisfaction or mine, for that matter.
INT: What was the impact of the shooting of students at Kent State and also at the Mississippi State unions?
JOHN: Kent State was in Ohio, a politically important state, and one where we had an alliance with the Governor. Bear in mind that the shooting was done by the State Militia, by the National Guard. So the Governor was very directly involved, and very directly subject to criticism on account of that. So our initial contact with that situation was two-fold: one was with the Governor, who was talking to the President all the time, and trying to solve his political problem; and the other was with a hoard of students, who came down from, first from Kent State itself, and then from other places, to contact their Congressmen to try and come to the White House, to express their outrage at the killing of these students. we reacted very quickly to the, to the arrival of the students, and we saw dozens, if not hundreds of them in small groups. Henry Kissinger saw them, Bob Finch saw them, I saw them, Holderman saw them - we spent time with them, we listened to them. the first wave that came were four young men from Kent State itself, and their Congressman arranged for them to come and see me. I listened to them, and they were full of passion - they had been eyewitnesses to the shooting. I went down and said to the President, I think you ought to listen to these guys - they'll give you a much better feel for what happened up there. He said, fine I'll see them if you think I should. So I went up to my office, and brought them down. They walked in: here was Richard Nixon - this fellow that they've heard of since they were babies - the battle flags, the great seal of the United States, the rug; they walked in, and they had been most eloquent up in my office, and they were tongue-tied in the presence of the President of the United States. I kept saying, you know, go ahead fellows, tell, tell the President. And he was saying, would anybody like a cup of coffee? and they missed each other. It was, it was a great shame. they said a little bit of what they had in their hearts, but it lost an awful lot in translation. They left, and the President said to me, well what was that all about? And I said, I wish you had heard the original version, because they were, they were very passionate, and very concerned for the country.
INT: There seems to be some evidence that Nixon went through a very stressful time: he went out, for example, to visit students .......... (unclear). Can you tell me about that?
JOHN: My 'phone rang about two o'clock in the morning; it was one of my staff, who was on duty at the White House, who said the President is up, he's getting his car, he's going to the mall to see the students. And I said, well for goodness sakes go with him. So they went over to the Lincoln Memorial, and the President was in the process of reaching out to these young people, but the gulf between them was so vast, that he ended up talking football to them, and they ended up even more skeptical than before about him. he wound up the night by getting back in the car, and going to the Mayflower Hotel for breakfast, and a couple of people from our staff went along, and then he went back to the office. There's a, there, it was a situation where neither side got it - and they just never reached each other. It was a great shame, 'cos that was an opportunity for some reconciliation that didn't take place.
INT: How important was a man like Billy Graham to Nixon?
JOHN: Billy Graham was a very important figure to Richard Nixon, as he has been to Lyndon Johnson, and some other people in government. I'm not so sure that Nixon took Billy Graham to heart. I think it was much more a cerebral thing, than it was a spiritual or a soul thing. I think from time to time Reverend Graham gave him advice - I'm not so sure that he, Nixon, accepted the advice. They were in frequent contact, and Billy Graham was a good influence on some of the rest of us - whether he was on Richard Nixon or not.
INT: There was a famous rally in which President Nixon appeared with Billy Graham, in a huge amphitheater, full of people, with some anti-war protestors, but they ended up with everyone saying, "God bless America". Do you remember that?
JOHN: Oh very well - it cost me money. We were all sitting in a row, in the front row - the Nixon family, and a couple of us on the staff - and the time came for them to take an offering, and Nixon didn't have any money. So out of the side of his mouth he sort of passed the word down - I need twenty dollars. So I came up with twenty dollars, and I passed it around behind the row to him; and on coast-to-coast television the President of the United States made a great show of dropping his twenty dollars in the, in the collection plate. I never got repaid.
INT: How important at that time was public manifestation of support to ..........
JOHN: Oh I think very important - I think there's an element in this country who vested great confidence in anybody who was Billy Graham's friend, Billy Graham's ally, who took part in Billy Graham's programs. there's a, there's a kind of a very conservative religious center of gravity in this country, that was very much appealed to by that connection.
INT: How much was that conservative/religious center eroded by the assaults made on it by the various manifestations of the sixties counter-culture - the sexual revolution and so on.
JOHN: Oh I think that that the fundamentalist Christian critical mass in the, in this country stood shoulder to shoulder through the mid-sixties, and emerged from the sixties, and of the seventies and later, in much stronger shape. some of the religious figures of that time, like Billy Graham, retained their influence, and were in, remained very important power centers in this country.
INT: Did the anti-war movement affect the policies that President Nixon ........ particularly?
JOHN: Well yes, I think Nixon recognized that there was a strong sentiment in this country, versus the war, against the war, and he, a cornerstone of his foreign policy was to remove American troops from Vietnam on a proper basis, over a period of time. He rejected the notion of pulling them out suddenly, and leaving South Vietnam, Vietnam ex- exposed, until the very last. but he had a steady removal of troops, a down-grading of troops, all through that time, which had a great impact on my duties, because I was in competition with Henry Kissinger for budget, all through that period of time; and we would sit down with the President, and he had a certain amount of tax money available, and he carved it up between National Security on the one side, and Domestic Affairs on the other. And there wasn't enough money to go around, and usually the war got theirs first, and then we got seconds. early on, he decided that the trend would be in the direction of more and more money to Domestic Affairs, more to domestic programs, and less to the military; and within four years that ratio had reversed, so that we were devoting substantially more, percentage-wise, to domestic problems, than we were to the war.
INT: How well was the American economy functioning at this time? Obviously there must've been problems with inflation, and generally providing the wherewithal to wage a war, as well as pursuing the leftovers of Johnson's great society.
JOHN: Well I'll give you one obscure fact: 1969 was the last year in which the budget of the United States was balanced - and that was Nixon's first year in office. the inflation rate was under relatively good control; unemployment was not full employment, but it wasn't too bad; and we didn't experience kind of run-away excesses during Nixon's first term. Of course he imposed wage and price controls during that first term. He did that as we got closer and closer to the election in 1972; he got through the election in 1972, then he was beleaguered by Watergate and a number of other considerations - but the fact is that controls came off, and then there was inflation. it was predictable - our economists had said, this is going, this is going to work temporarily, this'll get you through the election; but then you're going to have to do something because it's going to be very bad inflation otherwise. he wasn't in a position to do anything about it really; when the controls came off, we got through the '72 election, he got hit with the problems of the scandal, and he became very beleaguered - and he really, basically lost control of the situation.