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Nixon on blacks, Jews and women: Talk about impeachable offenses

President Richard Nixon releases transcripts of tapes of his Oval Office conversations

We have always wondered if Richard Nixon, who designed the Republican Party's infamous Southern Strategy, was motivated by racial distrust or sheer political ambition.

You may recall that it was Nixon's political genius to co-opt the all-Democratic South by appealing to white conservatives to bolt to the Republican Party with not-so-subtle signals -- opposition to school busing and affirmative action -- that it would welcome their support.

Now, from the latest batch of tapes released by the Nixon Library, come fresh evidence that the 37th POTUS -- the only president to resign from office under threat of impeachment -- had at best stereotypical opinions about blacks, Jews and women.

Responding to the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision to legalize abortion, Nixon told aide Chuck Colson that generally abortions were a bad thing, "It breaks the family," he said. But, Nixon added, "There are times when abortions are necessary -- I know that. ... Suppose you have a black and a white," he said, adding, "or a rape."

In one exchange that's received a lot of attention, Nixon rings up George H.W. Bush, then head of the Republican Party, to suggest that he recruit attractive female conservatives to run for office, like those Nixon had seen on a visit to the South Carolina Legislature.

"I noticed a couple of very attractive women, both of them Republicans, in the Legislature," Nixon tells Bush, who became the 41st POTUS. "Let's look for some ... I think maybe a woman might win someplace where a man might not. ... So have you got that in mind?"

"I'll certainly keep it in mind," Bush replies.

"Boy, they were good-lookin' and bright," said Nixon who, to be fair, was a rare Republican supporter of  the doomed Equal Rights Amendment that would have guaranteed women equal rights under the U.S. Constitution.

In another conversation, with evangelist Billy Graham, Nixon responded to Graham's complaints that Jewish-American leaders were opposing his efforts to promote evangelical Christianity, like Campus Crusade. The two men agreed that the Jewish leaders risked setting off anti-Semitic sentiment.

“What I really think is deep down in this country, there is a lot of anti-Semitism, and all this is going to do is stir it up,” Nixon said. “It may be they have a death wish. You know that’s been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries.”

For your listening pleasure, or disdain, 150 hours of tapes are available on the Nixon Library's website.  They are part of a years-long effort by the National Archives to declassify and make public documents and tapes from the Nixon era.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Nixon prepares to turn over transcripts of his recorded Oval Office conversations to Congress during the Watergate investigation. Credit: Associated Press

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its common knowledge even among liberal intellectual elites that bussing is and has been a faliure, that's not fair to critizise nixon for that critisism. also, what is not reported here is that nixon signed affirmative action into law . . . how about that? nixon also ended the vietnam war with a peaceful position with china to allay the aggressive russian sentiment. there was a lot to this man than is the steriotype - he was a very capable executive which is often overlooked in favor of eccentricities.

Matt, you have no clue.Nixon was a crook and a racist. And next time do a spell check. ha ha ha

Nixon, like most of or grandparents... said a lot of problematic things, particularly in regards to Jews. But he saved Israel, and I guarantee that if any other President had tape recordings as extensive as he did that they probably all would be impeached. Nixon is likely no more a crook or a Bigot than JFK, Clinton, or anyone else at that high a level of power. Heck, JFK was FAR worse than maybe any president ever, yet he is a folk hero to most of us (somewhat deservedly).

Obama for example has said a ton of bigoted things about middle America, publicaly, not privately. Now I am sure he regrets saying that, and likely did not mean it the way he said it. Though like Nixon, it exposes certain prejudices and biases that we as human being ALL have.

I think the Bible verse that says "Judge not lest you be judged" is particularly applicable. Not that I do not think we should not be able to resoundingly condemn many thing Nixon said an did, but we need to also recognize that his sins are very common to man. Looking at Nixon is looking in the mirror for us, amazing how so few people realize this.

That said, I think Nixon did a lot of terrible things. Like affirmative action, supporting the ERA, wage price controls, etc...

He meant well, as all supporters of such initiatives do, but they did not or would not have accomplished their goals and were or would likely have made things worse.

Republican Equal Rights Amendment supporters weren't "rare". The Republican Party was the first to support ERA in 1940 and almost all Republicans in Congress voted for it. As the Republican leadership accepted a petition for the ERA during a nation-wide women's rights demonstration in 1970 it was a Democrat who called the new feminists "a bunch of braless bubbleheads". Eisenhower and Ford also supported ERA. So did Reagan until 1976 -- when he ran against Ford and switched his position to court the ultraconservative anti-ERA vote since Ford was such a big supporter of Women's Liberation that all the Republican feminists were in his camp.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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