You likely won’t hear about how he established the Environmental Protection Agency either (2). Nor would his name bring to mind the accomplishments of the race to the moon during his presidency (3). But none of this will be what “Tricky Dick” will be remembered for.
The thought of Richard Nixon instead conjures the image of political cartoons with oversized noses with his infamous quote “I am not a crook,” uttered in response to one of the biggest political black mark’s on the country’s record: the Watergate Scandal.
The scandal involved members of Nixon’s reelection committee breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s office to steal documents and bug phones. Nixon denied any involvement and the public believed him. Their trust resulted in his reelection in 1972 by one of the largest landslides in U.S. history, with 520 of the 538 electoral votes (4).
Vietnam War Prolonged
Following reelection, Nixon used his presidential power to deliberately obstruct justice. As the 37th President of the United States, Nixon is best known as the first and only president to resign from office, which occurred when evidence clearly demonstrated his involvement in the scandal.
Nixon’s presidency was controversial at best. However, his political philandering started before he was sworn into office.
In 1968, President Lyndon B Johnson announced efforts to cease bombing in North Vietnam while peace talks were underway. With the presidential election quickly approaching, Republicans questioned if the move was an effort to help the Democratic party and LJB’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, clinch the election.
Johnson’s efforts to end the Vietnam War, after 30,000 soldiers had already lost their lives, were usurped for political gain. Anna Chennault, a Republican activist and Nixon’s aide with known ties to South Vietnam, delivered a message that encouraged them to hold off on negotiations with promise of a better deal from Nixon’s office after he would take over the presidential office (5).
Nixon’s entire campaign was structured around opposition to the war, and without it his platform would need to be completely restructured. While pledging peace to gain votes, Nixon was prolonging the war behind closed doors.
The Paris Peace talks were put on hold as South Vietnam refused negotiations. Nixon won the popular vote by less than one percent and ended up expanding the war into Laos in Cambodia. The result was the loss of another 22,000 American lives and countless natives in their respective countries.
It wasn’t until 1973 that an agreement was reached and the Vietnamese War was put to a stop, prolonging the war for an additional five years (6).
History’s Strange Twists
As it turns out, LBJ was well aware of Nixon’s involvement in the negotiations. The president had the FBI bug conversations with Chennault at the South Vietnamese embassy, as well as Nixon’s campaign planes. But admitting this openly would mean he would have to confess to bugging the phone of South Vietnam’s ambassador (7).
Instead, Johnson urged Republican Senator Evertt Dirksen to advise Nixon to cease and desist, blatantly pointing out, “this is treason” (8). He was right – it was a complete violation of the Logan Act (9).
Anna Chennault herself confirmed her involvement in her autobiography, The Education of Anna, only mentioning her talks and not the nature of the discussion, so as not to incriminate herself.
Johnson also brought the criminal action to the attention of Nixon’s opponent. However, with only days left before the election, Humphrey decided to withhold the information. They feared the accusation of treason could threaten the nation’s security (5). Ultimately, Johnson agreed and abstained from public release of the information.
Had different decisions been made by the involved administration, history would’ve been changed forever. Who knows how many lives could’ve been saved or the political impact it would’ve had on the country. At this point, we’ll never know.
References & Image Credits:
(1) New York Times
(4) US Election Atlas
(5) The Wire
(7) Smithsonian Mag
(8) Miller Center
(9) Logan Act
(10) Photo of Lyndon B Johnson
(11) Photo of Richard Nixon