Richard Nixon on Technology

President of the U.S., 1968-1974


1957: Non-defense agency for peaceful space research

Nixon was concerned about who would be in charge of an American space program. Eisenhower agreed that America needed a space agency--but that it ought to be established within the Department of Defense. But Nixon had his doubts; he favored a separate office for "peaceful" research. Simply in terms of world opinion, Nixon argued, wouldn't it be much better "if non-military research in outer space were carried forward by an agency entirely separate from the military?" He pointed out that if all space projects fell under the auspices of the Defense Department, the military would then have little incentive to pursue anything that didn't have a military purpose.

Despite Ike's scorn, Senator Knowland said that he liked the idea of sending a rocket to the moon. Like Nixon, he understood how world opinion was affected by such feats. "If we are close enough to doing a probe," he said, "we should press it." Eisenhower didn't object--but only as long as it could be done with an [existing] missile.

Source: Ike and Dick, by Jeffrey Frank, p.162 , Nov 5, 2013

1971 ITT scandal: dropped antitrust suit for $400K donation

What we now call "Watergate" was in fact a confluence of currents that began flowing in 1971. The first was the International Telephone and Telegraph scandal, which involved essentially the same players, the same atmosphere, and the same activities that comprised the larger chain of wrongdoings.

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.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.323&325 , Sep 14, 2009

Installed voice-activated taping system in Oval Office

Most Americans recall the highlights of Watergate's long denouement: The bombshell that Nixon had taped all conversations and phone calls in his office since 1973; the protracted struggle for possession of the tapes; the bizarre 18-minute gap.

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.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.333-336 , Sep 14, 2009

1968: Built campaign strategy around controlling television

Nixon would appear on TV, but only if no journalists were permitted to interfere with the script. Nor would he agree to any debates. "We're going to build this whole campaign around TV," Nixon was heard telling his team. "You fellows just tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it."

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.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p.265 , Jun 3, 1996

1971: Absolutely no one should hear White House tapes

Nixon ordered his chief of staff to install a White House taping system that would assure him, not his enemies, control of his presidential record. Worried that liberal, pro-Kennedy historians and scholars would skew the accounts of his accomplishments, he decided that the remedy lay in being prepared. With recordings of every syllable uttered, Nixon would have the literal last word on the events of his administration.

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."

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p.298-300 , Jun 3, 1996

Broadcast Radio Free China and Radio Free Tibet

  1. We should resume the high-level dialogue between China and the United States. The fact that we are meeting is not as important as what we say during the sessions. Legislative-branch leaders and executive-branch officials should go to China. Tough language on human rights and political reform should always be included in their talking points.
  2. We should increase, not decrease, cultural and educational exchange programs in China. Contact with the West has been a major impetus for peaceful change. Without these programs, the ideas of inalienable rights and popular self-government that fueled the democracy movement would have remained largely unknown in China.
  3. We should open up two new international broadcasting stations--Radio Free China and Radio Free Tibet--to provide these nations with independent information and commentary.
Source: Seize the Moment, by Richard Nixon, p.178-181 , Jan 15, 1992

I did not illegally wiretap; but I did order wiretaps

The most widely believed myth was that I ordered massive illegal wiretapping and surveillance. Among the more bizarre accusations were that the White House:All of these charges were false, and no evidence was presented to substantiate them. None was ever retracted. My administration did have a carefully limited and totally legal policy of conducting wiretapping for reasons of national security. I do not at all regret having that policy. We were going to war in Vietnam.
Source: In The Arena, by Richard Nixon, p. 32-33 , Apr 1, 1991

1969: Moonwalk made heavens become part of man's world

For me the most exciting event of my first year of my presidency came in July 1969 when an American became the first man to walk on the moon. 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. I decided that when the Apollo XI astronauts actually landed on the moon, the occasion should be well and widely marked. Working with NASA officials, we made plans for a televised phone conversation from the White House to the moon.

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."

Source: RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p.428-429 , May 15, 1978

1969: Moon landing culminated program begun in 1957, not JFK

The moon landing was the culmination of a program begun a dozen years earlier after the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first man-made orbiting satellite. American public opinion was jolted at the thought of the Soviets in control of outer space.

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.

Source: RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p.428-429 , May 15, 1978

Technology misused damages environment; but can restore it

We see a natural environment; true it's been damaged by careless nuisances and misuses of technology. But we also see that that same technology gives us ability, the ability to clean up that environment, to restore the clean air, the clean wa open spaces, that are our rightful heritage. And I pledge we shall do that and can do it in America.

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.

Source: Address at Kansas State University (APP#295) , Sep 16, 1970

We're ahead of the Soviets in space, 28 launches to 8

Q: Sen. Kennedy maintains that the Administration is suppressing a report by the US Information Agency that shows a decline in US prestige overseas.

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.

Source: The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Oct 21, 1960

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022