Speaking from the grave, Richard Nixon talks trash about members of the tribe once again.

Media criticism.
Dec. 13 2010 3:57 PM

Nixon's Jewish Problem

Speaking from the grave, Richard Nixon talks trash about members of the tribe once again.

(Continued from Page 1)

What then to make of his long list of Jewish appointees? In a newspaper interview last year promoting his book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, Norman Podhoretz beat Stein to the punch on Nixon's defense of Israel but added that Nixon "was the kind of anti-Semite who thought that Jews were smarter than everybody else. That's why he had Kissinger. That's why he had Arthur Burns, Herb Stein. … A lot of Nixon's anti-Semitism is talk. ... His anti-Semitism consisted of resentment of Jews for being liberals and hating him. It's not the traditional kind of anti-Semitism." [Emphasis added.]

Podhoretz is half, maybe three-quarters right. Nixon did seem to believe Jews were exceptionally smart, although these views were obviously colored by the fact that most of his encounters with Jews in his adult life were with successful Jews. Did he similarly extrapolate from his encounters with successful Catholics that they were brilliant, too? Mormons? Cubans? Armenians?

Did Nixon really need a one-syllable abbreviation for "Jewish liberal," as Podhoretz seems to imply? I think not. Whenever I read White House tapes I have the temptation to put Nixon on the couch and ask whether his vitriol for Jews came bundled with his personal insecurities. We know he grew up poor and resentful and that those resentments only grew as he found himself surrounded by swells at the Duke law school and the well-bred know-it-alls on Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom. There was no shortage of specific and genuine Nixon White House enemies. Why blast Jews so persistently?

Plenty of American Jews understood that Nixon didn't like them. In his book Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House, speechwriter Safire notes the "indefinable suspicion" of many Jews that "Nixon just doesn't like Jews." Were they accurately gauging Nixon's prejudices or picking up on something else? Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment sought an asterisk for his old boss and old friend's behavior because Nixon was, as Garment wrote in 1999, "an extraordinarily angry politician" who "was a champion, equal-opportunity hater." Garment continues:

Mainly, he hated liberals, reserving his most intense hatred for journalists, academics and government bureaucrats, all of whom had returned the favor over years of partisan combat. Nixon thought Jews overrepresented in all these populations. He could not resist making the fevered connection.

He could not resist making the fevered connection. Why the hell not? I can understand extending this sort of excuse to an uneducated knuckle-dragger, but the graduate of a prestigious law school who had served in the House, the Senate, and two terms as vice president? Garment forgives Nixon's private anti-Semitism because it "found virtually no correspondence in his speech or actions outside those explosions."

Nixon obviously possessed more control over his connection-making than Garment gives him credit for. Why else didn't he ever play the anti-Semite in public? Because he knew it was wrong! Nixon beat up on Jews because he knew, as an accomplished demagogue, that it would stir the animal passions of those around him. Reading the transcripts, you can see members of his inner-ring second his Jew-baiting without a whisper of dissent. As Nixon transgresses—and there can be no mistake that he knows that he's transgressing, because, as Garment points out, he never talks like this outside of the White House bunker—his underlings transgress with him.

As Satan worshippers will tell you, there's no bonding like the bonding over something indecent. Performing inside the proscenium arch of the Oval Office, Nixon draws his aides into his darkness—not that it took that much effort. Ripping on Jews is a Nixon loyalty test: Can his staff pass it? He consciously sets Jews up as objects of hatred and loathing for political ends (where have we heard that story before?), hardening his men to go wherever he wants them to go to do whatever he wants done.

Nixon's routine vilification of Jews for political gain wasn't anti-Semitism. It was something worse.

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