RICHARD NIXON AND BILLY GRAHAM
RICHARD NIXON AND BILLY GRAHAM
by William H. Benson
November 8, 2012
Since I am writing this on the Sunday before the Tuesday election, I do not know that election’s outcome. As to who will sit in the Oval Office for the next four years, I dare not predict, other than to say that it is difficult to beat the incumbent, who has a better field position and a head start. Yet, it has happened in recent years. Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980, after Carter served only a single term, and Bill Clinton soundly defeated the first George Bush after he won the Persian Gulf War.
Carter and Bush I were outclassed. Walter Cronkite called Ronald Reagan “the most winsome man I ever met,” something that the American public instinctively knew and appreciated. Reagan’s jokes and affable manners were as attractive as Carter’s somber demeanor and hesitant leadership style were repellent. And Bill Clinton was a golden Wonder-boy when contrasted with the elder George Bush.
For every election’s winner there is also a loser, and to lose an election is extraordinarily painful. George McGovern recently passed away, but in 1972 when running against Nixon, the incumbent, McGovern won only a single state, Massachusetts. Then, in 1984 Walter “Fritz” Mondale also won a single state, his native Minnesota, when running against Reagan, the incumbent then.
After his devastating loss, Mondale called McGovern and asked him, “George, how long does it take for the hurt to wear off?” “Fritz,” said McGovern, “I’ll call you when it does.”
The sorest loser in modern history has to be Richard Nixon. He ran for President in 1960 and lost to Kennedy, and then in 1962 he ran for California’s governor against the incumbent Edmund G. Brown and lost that race also. On November 7, 1962, the day after the election, Nixon appeared at a press conference in Los Angeles and announced that he was finished with campaigns and elections and that he was retiring from politics. The reporters looked up at him, stunned by his frankness.
Then, Nixon spoke directly at them, saying, “just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” This was an unfortunate choice of words, because eventually he did return to politics, did run for president six years later, and did win the 1968 election, defeating Hubert Humphrey.
The press now had more opportunity to kick Nixon around, and kick him they did. His presidency was marked by sheer animosity for the media, and it was the media, specifically Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post, which finally did him in by exposing Nixon’s coverup on Watergate.
Throughout his career as Congressman, Senator, and Vice-President, Nixon had befriended the Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham, and once Nixon was President, he invited Graham frequently into the White House, to stay in one of the bedrooms, and visit him in the Oval Office. One biographer wrote that “Richard Nixon and Billy Graham were simply two pieces cut from the same American apple pie. They were just naturally fated to gravitate together at some point in their lives.
Graham considered Nixon his friend, and spoke up for him when his enemies spoke or wrote ill of him, but they saw in Richard Nixon what Billy Graham would or could not see. “Like some dark enchantment,” Billy “proceeded in a kind of perceptual and moral glaucoma,” dwelling in an “abiding eager innocence throughout his relationship with Nixon.”
It was the tapes that knocked Graham’s perceptions of Nixon off kilter. Billy read the transcripts of the recorded tapes of Nixon’s conversations in the Oval Office, and was stunned. “Those tapes,” he said, “revealed a man that I never knew; I never saw that side of him.” His language was indeed foul, coarse, and vulgar, but it was the conniving, deceitful, and manipulative manner that he governed himself and the White House that struck Billy most hard.
Watergate was Nixon’s subordinates’ attempt to ensure that he, the incumbent, won the job of President in 1972, and he did win, defeating George McGovern forty-nine states to just one. Watergate was so pointless, so needless. He would have won without his Plumbers Gang breaking into a Watergate hotel room. How foolish it was to go to such extremes to win an election already won.
Years later, Billy admitted, “I think I always thought a great deal more of him than he thought of me.” Face it, Billy; he used you. He befriended you, for a reason: to earn political points, and so that the American public would think that he agreed with your Christian principles of decency and fair-dealing, when he did not.