Gosh, it's forty years ago since Nixon resigned the presidency. That was closer in time to the end of WWII than it is to us.
I almost nailed Nixon four years before he resigned. Therefore it seems even longer ago that the perpetually ill-shaven Nixon strode up the steps of that plane and then turned to face us, raised his arms, flashed his phony smile and gave the V-shaped peace sign with both hands as a final gesture. He's the only man who could give the finger with two of them, four if you count both hands.
It was his signature gesture, going all the way back to his first dirty trick, the beginning of Watergate before there was Watergate. In 1970 he came to San Jose, California, quite near where I lived and where I was active in Democratic politics. He was there to campaign for a failing GOP senator, movie tap dancer George Murphy, challenged by John Tunney, son of the great prizefighter. California had just invented the weird candidate thing and was having a lot of fun.
But Nixon wasn't there for fun. He was there to start a riot.
To that end he left the auditorium where he had spoken, climbed on a car, and did the double-wave double-finger. To flash a pseudo-peace sign at the crowd facing the car was to invite a riot indeed. In the crowd were a brown-shirted (I'm not kidding) torch-carrying, wildly anti-war and anti-Nixon contingent. They were the cadres summoned to the site by a pair of Stanford U's avowedly Communist professors. Earlier that day I'd asked the wife prof of the Communist couple what their goal was. "To overthrow the government and introduce anarchy." Well, at least they had a clear goal, though not particularly Communistic. "We want to egg the government into over-reacting with violence so people get rid of government." A goal and a plan.
So there were two agendas running that night, both with the same idea. Nixon wants a riot because he wants to blame the "anti-war Democrats" and so do the only avowed Communists I've ever encountered. (Communists particularly hate liberals because we stand in the way of their extremism.) But the Communist couple and Nixon didn't get their riot. There were other people in that parking lot, the ones I'd brought who were just angry at high unemployment and the war but definitely not interested in a riot. I also now suspect that the Stanford profs had cut a deal with Nixon: Let us alone when our guys show up virtually jack-booted and we will be the backdrop for what doesn't really happen, for what you pull off as a fake riot.
Of course, the foregoing presumes some sort of conspiracy against the Democrats but what else did the Communists and Nixonists do but conspire? Even we paranoids have real enemies.
To guarantee that Nixon got the riot he wanted, Nixon's people had a group standing on a traffic island with stones and boards in hand. After Nixon got off the car and drove past, this group let loose on the press bus following Nixon. Nothing else happened. That was it. A modest attack on a press bus. It was enough, however, to dupe a lot of the Washington press corps into writing about Nixon's "riot". And at the airport, Nixon's people proudly showed off some "dents" created by stones thrown at Nixon's vehicle. I subsequently found the San Jose firemen who had washed the vehicle on its arrival in San Jose, and they said the dents were already there. We all know that firemen don't lie, even if presidents do.
Nor do some cops. Two of them got hold of an attorney friend of mine and told him that the White House advance had met with the police and said, "There will be a hot time in the old town tonight. No matter what happens, don't try to stop it." The two cops were pissed at being put in harm's way for a political agenda.
But their story and that of the firemen never got public. These guys were scared and wanted the protection of a Congressman. GOP Rep. Pete McCloskey got wind of it and stepped forward to be that Congressman, with me as the go-between. Only he didn't really step forward with both feet. He put the informants off and put them off until they got disgusted and walked away. I was never so disappointed and angry in my life. The fate of the nation was in the hands of a scheming ruthless crook, but hypocrite Pete McCloskey, the Republican pride of the intellectual anti-war Democrats, sells out the country just to gain points with the Nixon wing of the GOP, which loathed him and was always trying to unseat him in primaries.
With the help of a KQED-TV reporter, I got the Washington Post and some other reporters to raise questions about the authenticity of the "San Jose Riot", and the Democrats took the GOP tap dancer's Senate seat and did well elsewhere on election day.
Nixon then went on to Watergate, the Daniel Ellsberg burglary, the IRS auditing of Nixon's "enemies", the bribing of the burglars, the "deep-sixing" of evidence by the head of the FBI, fraudulent post-dating of Nixon's tax returns, etc. etc. etc. He looked out at the American public on TV and solemnly said, "I am not a crook." No, he was a lot worse.
Well, it was probably all for the best that Nixon slipped though my fingers in 1970. We Democrats all had a peachy good time later with Watergate. A couple of good young reporters got a good book out of it. And we got a good movie out of it too.
I don't like to think of the additional GIs and Vietnamese who died because Nixon didn't get caught earlier. That's the part that really is enraging. But I had tried. I really had. Even when the FBI began calling me and following me, I didn't stop trying.
So, yes, this is a very happy fortieth anniversary for me, the downfall of Richard Nixon.
I wonder if it is too for those firemen and the two cops.