Richard Nixon on Technology
President of the U.S., 1968-1974
In the summer of 1971, an internal ITT memo amounted to the first "smoking gun" of the long Watergate affair. It explained why the administration had quietly dropped the antitrust investigations against ITT: the company had struck a secret deal with the administration to donate $400,000 to bankroll the San Diego convention. (The city itself had refused to finance the event.)
Why San Diego? Nixon was a Californian who loved the coastal stretches and the political climate below Los Angeles. The region was a good deal more conservative than Los Angeles or San Francisco, and Nixon wanted a televised show of popular enthusiasm to contrast with that of his likely opponent, George McGovern.
American have wondered where Richard Nixon came up with the idea of recording the conversations that ultimately brought him down. I believe I know the answer: he got it from my brother Jack.
Pres. Kennedy had a taping system in his office. He was not the first president to do so, but it was Jack's system that seems to have caught Nixon's imagination. My brother's recordings included the intense and historically invaluable deliberations over the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Perhaps Richard Nixon envisioned compiling a comparable record of his own presidential triumphs. His fatal modification was to install a voice-activated mechanism, which removes the user's volition. Jack and other presidents, by contrast, relied on the conscious procedure of flipping a switch.
Each day, with clockwork precision, a single campaign event would be scheduled early enough and near enough to an airport so that the film could be shipped to NY for inclusion in the evening news. Given no optional pictures to be aired that night, the networks fell into line, showing exactly what the Nixon people had programmed.
The goal was not just to get across the Nixon message but to protect him from the hapless stumbles of the 1960 race, when he had been driven to fatigue and mistakes and pummeled daily by a hostile press.
The retrofitted Nixon machine was doing the job. Like Kennedy eight years earlier, Nixon had his party's 1968 presidential nomination locked up long before the convention.
The impetus was Lyndon Johnson. The former president made the compelling argument to Nixon that any chief executive needs a record of his meetings to defend his place in history. Uncomfortable fumbling with buttons, Nixon switched later to a voice-activated system.
"Do you want me to start getting someone to transcribe these things, because the tapes are piling up, and logistically it's going to be a real mess," the chief of staff recalled asking. "Absolutely not," came Nixon's snap answer. "No one is going to hear these tapes but you and me."
On July 20, aides and I stood around the TV set and watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. Then I made my phone call to the moon. Armstrong's voice came through loud and clear. I said, "Because of what you have done the heavens have become part of man's world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth."
In Cabinet and NSC meetings during this time I strongly advocated a sharp increase in our missile and space programs. Pres. Eisenhower finally came around to this view and approved a proposal for manned space vehicles. While he justified this decision on military grounds, I felt that something more basic was involved. I believe that when a great nation drops out of the race to explore the unknown, the nation ceases to be great.
The space program was already well under way when President Kennedy captured the national imagination in 1961 by setting the goal of a moon landing by the end of the decade.
Oh, I know the fashionable line among some: Wouldn't it be great to live in a country that didn't have all these problems of material progr Not at all. I've been to them. I've seen them. And I simply would like to say to you that great as our problems are as a result of our material progress, we can do things for ourselves and for others that need to be done, and we must see it i Look at our Nation. We're rich, and sometimes that is condemned because wealth can sometimes be used improperly.
NIXON: The report to which Sen. Kennedy refers is one that was made many, many months ago and related particularly to the period immediately after Sputnik. America's prestige abroad will be just as high as the spokesmen for America allow it to be; when Sen. Kennedy states over and over again that the US is second in space and the fact of the matter is that the space score today is 28 to 8--we've had 28 successful shots, they've had 8; when he makes statements like this, what does this do to American prestige?
KENNEDY: What I downgrade, Mr. Nixon, is the leadership the country is getting, not the country. I believe the Soviet Union is first in outer space. We may have made more shots but the size of their rocket thrust [is ahead]. We're first in other areas of science but in space, which is the new science, we're not first.
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George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)
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