President Richard M. Nixon is Interviewed on the U.S. Constitution
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President Richard M. Nixon is Interviewed on the U.S. Constitution

September 21, 2019


I Richard Nixon, do solemnly swear; I
Richard Nixon, do solemnly swear; I Gerald R. Ford do solemnly swear; I Jimmy Carter do solemnly swear; I Ronald Reagan do solemnly swear, that I will faithfully
execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my
ability, preserve protect and defend, the Constitution of the United States. So
help me God, so help me God, so help me God, so help me God. We the people of the United States, in
order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic
tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and
secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain
and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. The presidency is rooted in the
Constitution, but its modern dimensions created by political necessity were
never imagined by the founding fathers. Understanding the presidency is vitally
important in the success of this great democracy. That is what his program is
about. I’m Warren Burger, Chairman on the
Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. It is a rare occasion in history to have
for living former presidents. It has happened only once before when Abraham
Lincoln took office. Our Commission decided to interview our four former
presidents to record and preserve their views about the office of the presidency
and the interaction of the president with the other branches of government,
with the people and with the media. Our interviewer and narrator is the
distinguished journalist, Hugh Sidey, who began covering presidents during the
administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Richard Nixon, the 37th president, born
and educated in California, was a member of Congress from that state. He served as vice president under Dwight
D. Eisenhower and was elected president in 1969. He was the first American president to
visit Beijing and Moscow. During his second term President Nixon became the
only chief executive in American history to resign from the presidency. The Constitution tells the President and
Congress how they should share power in wartime. Near the end of the Vietnam War,
Congress addressed the responsibilities of the executive and legislative
branches in the War Powers Act. One of the central issues of the presidency
today is the intrusion of Congress into the President’s authority. For example
his authority to conduct foreign policy. Where there’s no question that the
Congress has gone too far and eroding the power of the President to conduct
foreign policy in the broadest sense. I think the most striking example was the
passage of the War Powers Act in 1973 over my veto. That’s a complicated act
but summarizing it it said very simply that a president whenever he sends
American armed forces into a foreign country or foreign territorial waters–
must inform the Congress within 48 hours and that mean he must withdraw those
forces within 60 days unless the Congress declares war or unless the
Congress authorizes keeping the forces there. Now as far as that provision is
concerned, it’s interesting to note that President Ford who succeeded me, President Carter, President Reagan,
President Bush have all rejected its application as far as their actions are
concerned. As far as my own views are concerned, I believe as I indicated in my
veto message, that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional. But, what is even
more important, I believe that it is very bad public policy. Let me give you an example. You’ll
remember because you covered at the time of the situation with the Yom Kippur War
in 1973–this was before this act was passed. At that time, I received a very urgent
call from Golda Meir. The war was going against them. The Russians had a huge air lift to the
Egyptians and she said we have to have more arms. Please help us or we will not survive–we
would be defeated. I ordered the biggest airlift and
history is even bigger than the Berlin Airlift. It was very successful. It righted
the balance. Israel survived and Golda Meir wrote afterwards in her books and
and her conversation with me and her public statements that that was what
saved the day. What is even more important, it laid the
groundwork for peace. Now had the War Powers Act been in effect at that time,
it would made it enormously difficult– almost impossible for us to go through
that very intricate kind of operation. We have to remember this, that when a
president sends forces into an area, the purpose sometimes is not to wage war
its to wage peace. That’s why we were sending these forces
and the Congress therefore should keep his hands out of that and the president
should be allowed that kind of power. As he stepped into the presidency, Mr. Nixon inherited a war that had been
going on for more than four years in Vietnam. The United States military
forces there totaled over half a million. The president’s aim was to reduce our
presence in Vietnam. But in order to put the brakes on, he felt compelled to intensify the war. The president just doesn’t get up one
day and say, look I’m going to bomb these people. You have to have the very best
people you can around you to advise you. I was fortunate in having Henry
Kissinger and an excellent staff in the White House–fortunate also on having
excellent people in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Department and in
the State Department with whom I could consult–and also consult knowledgeable
people in the Congress as well, particularly in the Senate. But once he
has consulted all these people, and when he has to make the decision, then he must
go into a quiet place and make that decision. And it must be his. I had to make several decisions that
were terribly difficult– were very controversial, but I made them
only after a great consultation. What were those decision? Well there were
several occasions. One of the most controversial was what was called the
secret bombing of Cambodia and 1969. Let’s understand what that really was–
first it wasn’t secret. I vividly recall a meeting I had with
Dick Russell and John Stennis who were the two most powerful Democrats in the House. I went over the whole situation with them. I pointed out that our military commanders
in the field we’re making the point that we were
losing many American lives because the enemy was attacking from Cambodia, which was supposed to be neutral, and then going back across the line. And we
couldn’t follow up and so they had strongly urge that we bomb those
sanctuaries. So I ordered the bombing after of course consulting also with the
cabinet, with the National Security Council, and with selected members of
Congress. It proved to be very effective because as a result of that, we didn’t
have a Tet Offensive that year. The Constitution makes the military
subordinate to civilians, especially to the president, who is Commander in Chief.
In other crucial moments of the war, President Nixon initiated strategic
military action, even at the risk of widening the war and of canceling the
summit meeting with the Soviet Union. The second area that was very
controversial you know was the so-called incursion or invasion whatever of
Cambodia in 1970. Why was that done? It was done again because we
had these sanctuaries where enemy troops who were making hit-and-run attacks on
Americans and on our Vietnamese allies, killing them by the thousands, and we did not have the authority–they
did not have the authority–to go back and to try to eradicate those areas.
Under the circumstances, I ordered again after consultation with the all of the
top officials in the government and with the Congress and so forth– I ordered the attack. It proved to be very effective. We knocked out six of the sanctuaries, and
there were no Tet Offensive that year as well. You had no doubts about your
authority to do this? No, not at all. No, it was in–during
wartime, the Commander-in-Chief has authority to make decisions of that sort. That’s
why he’s Commander-in-Chief. I ordered the bombing and mining of Haiphong three
weeks before the Soviet summit. Many people objected to that because they
said the Soviets would cancel the summit, but the North Vietnamese with Soviet
tanks had invaded the south, and I thought–if I couldn’t go to Moscow three
weeks later when Soviet tanks were rumbling through Saigon. It worked. The summit was not cancelled, and we earned a little respect by it as well as the agreements we wanted. Perhaps one of the most difficult
decisions was the the bombing in December of 1972. We had to resume the bombing by
B-52’s. The reason was that the North Vietnamese had backed away from
the peace agreements that we thought were going to end the war, and that they
had made before the elections of 1972. I ordered the bombing. It was enormously
effective and as a result of that, the North Vietnamese came back to the peace
table. We negotiated the settlement which ended
the war and ended the American involvement in the war on January the
27th of 1973. Now all of those decisions were
controversial, but all of them I would take again because my goal at that time
was to use force in a way that would end the war. The United States opening to China was a
jewel and President Nixon’s crown in which global strategy, timing and nuances
were all important. As in war, he believe diplomatic strategy must be carried on
by the president in secret. He must not be compelled to inform the Congress on
occasions when it’s necessary, for example, to engage in secret diplomacy.
Let me be very specific on that. Had we had a requirement for informing the
Congress without secret diplomacy, we would never have the opening to China. You were there when we went to be Peking.
We would never have the arms control agreement with the Soviet Union, and we
would never had the peace agreement with Vietnam. There are times when it’s
necessary for a president to have so-called secret negotiations, and in the
case of forces, to commit forces without going through all of the legalistic
requirements that Congress would like. Do you view this as the presidency
having taken original power away from the Congress as designated by the
Constitution? I mean–has the presidency, in other
words, grown stronger and this is part of the problem? A case can be made for that, but the
reason that that is written about a great deal, is that the world has changed
a great deal since the Constitution was written 200 years ago. Let’s take for example the provision for–in the Constitution which provides first that the Congress shall have the
power to declare war, the president shall be the
Commander-in-Chief. Now that was very appropriate in those
times, because 200 years ago it was the custom, as you know, for nations before
they ever engaged in war, to declare war. That is not the case today. What about covert operations and the use of the CIA in this age, it’s become a particularly difficult thing for
president, in many instances as you know been respected from fully using the Central Intelligence Agency? Well I
believe that a–one of the–one of the negative fallout of of the of the
so-called Watergate investigations was frankly, and I put it in a very direct
language, the castration of the CIA. We need the CIA not only to gather
intelligence, but we need the CIA also to conduct a covert operations when we do
not want to have public declarations of war or what have you– actions on the part of the United States.
I would say, further, with regard to the CIA, that as a result of the restrictions
that have been placed upon it–a the–we do not have the weapons that we need to
have to deal with the kind of a world we live in. Let’s face it, those who confront us in
various parts of the world have their own CIA’s, and for us to go in and
effect a blind up against others who know everything, is not in our interest.
But I think that the CIA, instead of being criticized, it ought to
be supported but of course restrained insofar as
activities like the very stupid –you know– moves which they were even
contemplating about assassinating Castro. In spite of those views from the oval
office, Mr. Nixon still says he honors the principle of shared powers. The
Constitution is a remarkable document in the sense that it applies so well to conditions that could not have even
been considered possible at the time it was written. But in this
case, the declaration of war provision is an anachronism. That doesn’t mean that the president
should willy-nilly go into war without congressional support. I was once a member of the House. I was a
member of the Senate, and when you’re over there, you look upon the executive with
suspicion, you don’t want too much power there. There shouldn’t be too much power either
place, but in the conduct of foreign policy in today’s world, it is very important that the
president be allowed a great deal of discretion, particularly when it’s going to be
necessary times to conduct even secret negotiations to preserve peace and to
avoid war. Let’s turn now to this matter of divided
government. The framers of the Constitution didn’t envision that we
would have a president of one party and congress of another party for as long as
we have any way, I’m sure they understood it might happen on it. Well what should be done? Well, I have
ideas as to what should be done but I don’t know how I could bring it off. Tell us your ideas. I would say this
first. Let’s look at divided government. What’s going to happen for the balance
of this century. For the balance of this century, I would predict at the present
time, you’re going to continue to have divided government. I think the Republicans will control the
White House and the executive. The Democrats will almost certainly control
the House. They were probably control the Senate,
and so it’s a fact, not a theory that we are confronted with here. We’re going to have divided government.
Now divided government is bad in some ways but not bad in other ways. I’m not one to defend it particularly. If
I were president, I’d like to have a Congress that was of my own party. But when you do have divided government,
it forces a president to speak to the country and to govern in a way in
which he crosses party lines. He doesn’t make his appeals on the basis
of partisanship, but he tries to reach out and get support from Democrats as
well as Republicans, or if he’s a Democratic president, from Republicans as
well as Democrats. And let me say, some of the great achievements have been made
when we had divided government. People forget that the Marshall Plan, the Greek
Turkish Aid Program, the great containment policies which kept the
peace in Europe, that was all passed by a Republican 80th Congress supporting
Harry Truman who was a Democratic president. So on that score, divided government
can serve useful purpose. Let me say to, that to have a government
in which a president has two big majorities in the House and Senate is not healthy. I
think it was not a good thing when Johnson had overwhelming majorities in
the House and Senate and some of the worst features of his Great Society
programs were passed at that time. They would not have been passed had you had
more opposition. I think the one area where divided
government is particularly difficult is in the area of the Senate. The president
has to have the Senate to confirm his appointment to the Supreme Court, to the
regulatory agencies, to the cabinet, etc. He also has to have the Senate to
approve treaties. And so it makes it very difficult to deal with the Senate that
is of the opposition parties. Would you limit the terms? I would– of the Senate and House–I would. The
founders expected and it proved that– this did not work out in practice. That
people would not serve in Congress over extended periods of time, that there
would be turnover. And I think it would be healthy in
today’s world in which events change so much, to bring in new generations of
leaders. And so in this instance, with the presidency limited to eight years, I think the House and the Senate should
be–the House certainly should be limited to twelve years, the Senate maybe to 18 years at the very most. I think it
would be a healthy development. But I don’t see the Congress ever passing it
because they have a vested interest in the status quo. The essence of the Constitution is its
design of checks and balances where one branch of government prevents the others
from becoming too powerful. In theory, the balance could weigh too
heavily on one side because of partisan politics. Will you stand and raise your right hand. Do you swear that the evidence that you should give to the Senate Select Committee on
will give to the Senate Select Committee Presidential Campaign Activities, will be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? The Watergate inquiry over which Senator Sam Ervin presided, was an extreme
example of the legislative branch checking the executive. Mr. Nixon
addresses the question of partisan politics in the inquiry. How much of Watergate came from this
divided government we’re talking about in which you have extreme partisanship
that comes about naturally when you have a houses of Congress in one party in the
White House another? There’s no question but that there were–shall we say
partisan overtones and the Watergate investigations. The committee was loaded.
The committees in Congress–it was a Democratic House–of course
a Democratic Senate as well. I would say however that a–there were Republicans as
well as Democrats who participated in the investigations and reached the
conclusion so that they did. So that I’m not going to to say that Watergate would
not have happened had it not been partisan, but there’s no question that
some of the excesses of the investigations in Watergate against
people like Maurice Stans and others– would not have happened had it not been
partisan. For many years journalists have found Richard Nixon to be a compelling
politician. When he was a congressman and when he
was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of California. And as I leave
the press all I can say is this– just think how much you’re going to
be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore. Some people accused the press of viewing this politician less as a news source and more as a
target. Let’s turn to another source of power in
this age and that’s the media. Has it gotten too powerful? I’d like to be just as objective as
possible in talking about the role of the media. It is very important for a president or
a cabinet officer congressman or senator to be held
accountable, to be kept on his toes, and the media the day does that. The
media is in an adversarial position with regard to public officials and that is
healthy in its way. On the other hand, we have to realize
that a president, and we’re referring on referring only to the
president at the moment, must not simply do the bidding of the media, because he
was elected and they were not. Speaking of the media to we have to realize that–and I think this is frankly not a helpful development–and that is that
television plays too much of a role today. I was shocked to see a poll of a couple
years ago to the effect that seventy-five percent of the people
polled said they made up their minds with regard to the candidates they were
going to support from what they heard on television. In campaigning, there has been some criticism that television encourages the quick line, you know read my lips with Mr. Bush and
there have been others down the way and that they get committed to things that
they don’t really believe in this way. Is there a distortion that you see in the
campaign? I liked the days in the fifties when the
writing process was more dominant because I could sit down with a good
intelligent writer–political writer and talk to him on or off the record, and I
we could have a good dialogue. I would learn from it and he would heard from it
as well. But in television, what matters is some script writer will give you a
clever line to say and you’ve got to get it across in 10 to 15 or 20 seconds and
that line is all that people are going to remember. Rather than than your maybe very
intelligent discussion for two or three minutes of a major issue. I mean for example, we discuss something
like the War Powers Act. You can’t answer that with a quip. If you do, you’re totally
irresponsible. And yet television forces candidates to be sometimes certainly a
simplistic and sometimes even silly, because only by being silly sometimes
can you really make the evening news. Then in television age, how you look is
more important than how you think–more important than what you say. Now having said that; however, it means
that when we select our candidates, we’ve got to remember that they must learn to
use television. If they are unable to communicate on
television, a president for example isn’t going to be able to get support for his
programs, and a candidate isn’t going to be elected. Good evening, the television and radio
stations of the United States and their affiliated stations– Television is a two-edged sword for
politicians, and Richard Nixon cited instances where it worked against him
as well as for him. The candidates need no introduction. The
Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon and the Democratic
candidate, senator John F. Kennedy. Mr. President, there are a lot of people back
in 1960 who listen to radio that said you beat John Kennedy in the
first debate. The people who watch television, because you’ve been ill and
many things–they said you didn’t look as good as he did and
therefore the public rule that he had won. Are you bitter about that? No, I’m not bitter about it–that’s a
something that we learned–the importance of television. And John
Kennedy was very good on television. He made a very good appearance on
television. But I must say that I have had my moments and television too. I save my political career by going on
television in the famous fun speech back in 1952–oh the Checkers speech–that’s the Checker’s speech so called. Not one cent of the eighteen thousand dollars or any other money of that type, ever went to me for my personal use. In 1969, I made a
speech to the nation the so called silent majority speech, which kept
support for the Vietnam War until we were able to end it on a peaceful basis.
So you can learn to to use television. What would you do looking back now as
far as press conferences, speeches– what would you change perhaps over what
you did when you were president? Well when I was president, I didn’t have as many
press conferences I should have had, because I can handle a press conference
fairly well, because I spent a lot of time preparing for press conferences. I
don’t do anything off the top of my head when I can avoid it. But during a war, it’s very difficult to have a press
conference. You simply can’t be candid. And of course during the so-called
Watergate period, it was very difficult to have a press conference. But had I
survived, I would have had far more press
conferences. I would have had them on television whenever possible, because I’d
rather have my views go directly to the people were they can hear me saying it rather than having it filtered through anchormen or frankly writing press who
give their views as to what I said. What about the single issue press conference
where you call in reporters with more frequency, dwell on one issue that
perhaps you’ve been working on at that time does that have a place in the
future? I like it very much. I think there’s a
tendency in the press conference today to to move from one issue to another.
They do allow a follow-up question, but one isn’t enough sometimes. Sometimes you have to have two or three. I think a single issue a press
conference would be more informative. You see the purpose of the press
conference should be, and the purpose of a television appearance should be, 1) to
inform the public 2) to educate and 3rd of course to win support for policies. Some scholars have suggested that that
adversarial relationship that you talked about had actually become destructive in
some instances. Well let me be quite candid on that.
Members of the press, whether the writing press or the
television press, don’t win prizes by programs or by articles or buy books
which are supportive or positive about the people they’re writing about. I mean you win prizes by being
against rather than be for. Well is that good? It’s not good–it’s not
good. I think a lot of the responsibility lies with the editors rather than
with the reporters. If the editors would be a little bit more responsible, maybe we would get more honest and more objective reporting. I don’t believe incidentally that you
should have a cozy relationship between a president or a congressman and a
reporter. It should be arm’s length. It should be
adversarial because otherwise you’re just going to have people that are going
to pander to you. But on the other hand, it shouldn’t be so adversarial, that the president of the Congress and so forth, is always on guard and figures
well they’re out to get me and so I’m going to therefore not tell them what I really think. In a world as complicated, difficult and dangerous as we’ve got, should a President have some power to control the media? Should there be any restraint
in other words on this huge thing called the media? There probably should be, but I
wouldn’t be for it. I think once you start down that road it’s a very
dangerous road. As irresponsible as the press is at times, and I believe it is, and
the media is at times, it’s far better not to have that kind of control. A president has a number of tools to
use in domestic affairs. Some granted by the Constitution, others implied. There
are those who favor additional limits. For example, prohibiting a budget that is
not balanced. I am opposed to a constitutional
amendment which would require a balanced budget. I think it would be a mistake, and incidentally, the very fact that we have had armed action in the Persian Gulf, the
fact that we’re in a recession, demonstrates why that is a bad idea. When
war comes, or when a recession comes it’s going to be necessary sometimes to
have unbalanced budgets. We have to understand that, so I’m opposed to
that. That is too rigid. On the other hand, the
line-item veto is a good idea. Let me tell you, I’m sure like other
— I’ve, I have at times had to hold my nose to sign a piece of legislation
which was needed for the to carry out my own program which was I thought the best
interests the country, but which had attached to it, pork barrel items that various
congressmen or senators had attached. And I had to sign it because otherwise I
couldn’t get what was needed. Now, let me say that a line item veto
would mean that the president could strike out some of these irresponsible,
ludicrous provisions. Where the economy is concerned, it’s been my experience that
the less the federal government fiddles with or interferes with the economy, the
better that it operates. Now let’s go back to what I did. I
recall so well, and you will recall it to in 1971, August of 1971, I imposed wage and price controls. Now I
didn’t do that because I wanted them. I did it because we had inflation then–incidentally it was five percent and everybody thought that was very very
high–but we had inflation, and we were coming out of a recession, but the
Congress was going to pass a wage and price control bill, and I had to frankly preempt it and pass on– and a, ask them for one that I thought was at least less detrimental. Now that decision in August
of 1971, was very popular politically. It however, was wrong from the standpoint of the economy, it
turns out to be. Wage and price controls I felt were wrong before I had to–
because of congressional pressure to compose them, and I think it’s wrong
in the future. I don’t think a president ought to have that much control over the
economy. As far as the president’s concern he does have this control as you
know. He has control over the economy because he submits a budget. He can submit requests for taxes which
a tax the Congress has to approve. He appoints the regulatory body and one
other–one other–appointment area which is very important as the Federal Reserve.
The Federal Reserve can probably have more effect on an economy than any other
institution in government. There are those who think that the
Federal Reserve should be moved under the Treasury Department. I disagree with that. The Federal Reserve
should be independent as it is today– independent because if you if you have
it under the Treasury Department, it means you get too much control to the
executive over the economy. And then when mistakes are made, they’re very very big
ones. I want to have any controls over the
economy spread out as much as possible so that when mistakes are made they won’t have as bad an impact. Mr.
President, let’s turn to another area of a great
deal of discussion these days. Would campaign spending reform help diversify
the Congress and really prevent some of those kind of entrenched power areas
or people? There’s no question that as far as
spending is concerned, that it is–it is totally out of control. A congressman has to spend over fifty
percent of his time attending fundraising functions and that was not
the case when Jack Kennedy and I were freshman congressman back in 1947, in the 80th Congress. We were bright eyed and we were going to remake the world and we
had plenty of time to think about such great issues is the Marshall Plan and the Greek
Turkish loan and so forth. The congressman the day has got to spend so
much time and buttering up the contributors that he doesn’t
have the time that he should have to spend on the affairs of state. One reform
that might work is to provide free television time. Now that’s television networks and are not
going to like that, the business sides and the rest, but that
is the customs as you know in many foreign countries, and I think it ought
to be considered now. That at least levels the playing field. The other area; however, which is even
more important, is to cut the perks. The perks that congressman have, their
huge staffs that they have. That gives them an advantage, a huge advantage over
anybody who’s trying to run to unseat them. It’s the–in fact, the Congress today
is many times simply ends up and in an organization for the preservation of
incumbency, and that is not a healthy thing. President Nixon had ample opportunities
to exercise his constitutional authority to reshape the Supreme Court. He made four appointments approved by the Senate, that of the Chief Justice Warren Burger, and Associate Justices Harry
Blackmun, Lewis Powell, William Rehnquist. However, the Senate rejected two: Clement
Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell. Mr. President, let’s turn to the Supreme
Court. You named four justices. You had to turn down, what happened there? Has it gone too far
in partisan politics? Well, incidentally it is not new. I had
to Titanic debates as you know with the Senate over two of my appointments. One of which was a poor appointment, the other which is a very good one. But let me give you a little background here. When
I was attending law school 55 years ago, I remember that the two
justices of the Supreme Court who impressed me the most were Brandeis and
and Holmes. They were called the great dissenters. Incidentally, Holmes was famous for writing the shortest opinions and Brandeis for writing
the longest opinions. But they’re both great justices. At the time, I was shocked
to find that Brandeis had a very difficult time being confirmed. He was
without question qualified, but the American Bar Association didn’t approve
them because many thought of anti semitic views of whoever happened to be
the leaders of the American Bar Association at that time but what I lost
to the country of Brandeis had not been approved. Climate Haynesworth who
recently died, would have made a great justice. He lost because of a phony ethical charge that some of those who made it later agreed with phony, but the reason
he lost was because he was conservative– an honest conservative, not a racist but
just a conservative, and that was a loss. If the president sends to the Senate for
confirmation a judge who is qualified and approved by
his peers–the American Bar Association for example then I think the Senate
should confirm that individual and not put up these arguments that they are
against him for reasons it really aren’t the art the real ones–the real ones
being that that they are looking at his views rather than his qualification. Mr. President, what were your majors of
men women to bring into the government cabinet-level agency heads and that? What
did you look for? Well I looked at first for intelligent
brains. I looked also for what I call heart, and
I looked also for guts. Let me explain that. In an organization
you need people who have brains, heart and guts, and perhaps the most important
is the last. Let me explain what I mean. If you have
somebody that’s just intelligent, that is enough. He’s going to
approach he or she problems coldly– cold intelligence is not what I want to
find. I want somebody who has heart— who in addition to being very intelligent, has
a feeling for people–knows how to treat people and treat them well. And by guts I mean you have to have somebody who
when the going gets really rough, that he or she will not jump ship. They will stand with the man whether
it’s a–particularly when he has to–he, the President or she whoever happens to
be, has to take a position which is unpopular. It is so easy these days and so tempting
when the polls show that a particular measure is unpopular for people to
desert or two in effect as I say jump ship. And whoever is in the presidency
for example he’s got to have around him not a group of people that are just
loyal and always say what he wants to say, I want them to tell him what he needs to
hear as well as what he wants to hear, but he must have people who will
recognize that it is a very difficult position and while he wants their best judgment
he’d also it deserves their support if the going gets rough and if he has to
overrule what they may happen to advise. Outnumbering by far his political
appointees with the career government employees, and Mr. Nixon, like other
presidents faced what seemed to be an immovable object. The vast entrenched bureaucracy. Its one of the most difficult responsibilities a president or a cabinet officer or a
government official has, because too many bureaucrats think that they should make
the decisions and too many of them get too big for their britches. In order to
get the best out of them, it is very important that you consult
with them, but you must also keep them in line and they must understand that after
they have given their best advice and the decision is made then all debate stops. That’s true of a
cabinet officer, it’s true bureaucrat, is true of anybody else, and that they
should support it–or resign. Could you see some reforms that would
make our system a little more like the parliamentary system where for instance
you have a shadow cabinet you have people in place who experience but
that be wise? I like the idea of a shadow cabinet, but
here you’ve got the Congress to deal with. Their very jealous of their
prerogatives of the minority and in the Congress. The difficulty with the
parliamentary system though is this. It doesn’t apply in the United States,
because as you know, a British cabinet is made up of individuals who have been
elected to Parliament. They have their own constituencies.
Therefore they are part of the elected members of the government and
consequently must be consulted that way. None of the cabinet officers and the
president’s cabinet is elected they depend only on him for their position,
and that’s why cabinet government will work in Britain, it would not work here. What are the ingredients–the principal
ingredients of leadership that you think of president ought to possess? Well among the principal ingredients
are frankly that to recognize that a president is elected the lead and not to
follow. I do not believe in consensus government.
Consensus government means the lowest common denominator. I don’t believe, for example, a president
should have a cabinet around him, take a vote of the cabinet, and then go one way
or another. Second, I do not believe that a president should follow the polls. This
obsession with poles is ridiculous. If you follow the polls, that again is the lowest common denominator. A great president is one who
rather than following popular opinion, changes it. Rather than following the
polls, changes the polls. It is very easy for a president, for
example, to do what is popular. But the great decisions that most presidents
have been made, have been those when they have moved against what seemed to be
popular, and by their persuasion, and by their actions, have made those particular
programs popular. And I think that’s the major ingredient of leadership. To really
lead and not to follow. Running for president is a great ordeal, there’s no question about that. But on
the other hand, how an individual campaigns is a test of whether he ought
to be President– how he handles a staff, how he handles
pressure and crises during a campaign, how he is able to communicate, whether or
not he’s able to win people to his point of view. As you look at a presidential
candidate during a campaign, you can make a decision as to whether or not he would
be a good leader in the event here elected president. So therefore, while I think campaigns are
too strenuous today, I wouldn’t change it because you’ve got to put through your
candidates through the fire in order for them to develop the steel to be an
effective leader of the most important and the strongest nation in the world.
When his administration was cut short by the aftermath of Watergate, President Nixon had much remaining on
his foreign and domestic agendas. I’m assuming that Watergate and your
resignation probably was your greatest disappointment that let’s set that aside.
What would have been, in terms of policy, foreign or domestic, your your greatest
disappointment that you didn’t get it done. Well I think if I had been able to
survive in office, I had some plans to to put Latin America
at the top of my priority list, and the Mideast. Those were the two areas that I thought– those were my next objectives. I was unable to carry them out. I also
had plans to because I’ve been interested in third world as you know
from having traveled there so much, to try to develop an effective program
dealing with the new countries in Africa. The fact that I was unable to carry
through on those foreign policy initiatives with the disappointment. And
in the area of what I call welfare reform, I think it had I survived, I would have been able to have made some
progress and having a better system, because the present system is still a
terrible boondoggle. And we we can say all we want about the progress that has
been made, the fact that Americans are doing better and then they used to, that
we’re better off than people in other countries. But what is happening in our
cities today– the permanent underclass is
something that has to be dealt with. And if I had survived, I think I might have been able to have
made some progress in that area. What was your most gratifying
achievement in your time in office? Well in the field of foreign policy most
would say that the opening to China was the major achievement because it’s
something that would not have happened unless I had been president. I was the
one that could do it and I did do it, and the world would be a very different and
potentially looking to the next century when China will be a major nuclear power
much more dangerous if we hadn’t had that opening. I think ending the war in Vietnam was an
achievement. I think the the arms control agreements we negotiated with the Soviet
Union and achievement. What we did for example to end the Yom
Kippur War was an achievement. That’s in the foreign policy area. In the
field of domestic policy, I would hope that historically it may be said that
one of our major achievements was the cancer initiative. Progress has been made
on that. I feel very strongly on that because of our own family, so many
people have been involved in that dread disease. And I would hope that, for
example, that in the years ahead there will be some progress in that area. Most of Richard Nixon’s adult life has
been involved in Major League politics. Here is his advice to young people
preparing for a career in politics, including the presidency. First I would probably limited television viewing to one hour a day. I would read for five or six hours that they normally
spend now looking at the tube. I mean television does not educate.
Television sometimes informs, but the way to develop your mind, you must read, you must think and so forth. So my–I wouldn’t advise him for example to take a lot of courses and
political science. I didn’t have a course in political
science. We didn’t teach it at Whittier college where I was. Now maybe if I had
one, I might not have even lost when I ran for governor. But on the other hand, generally speaking,
political science teachers don’t realize that politics is not a science
it’s an art. And I would say in preparing for public office, to run for public
office, the most important thing first is to read, to develop the mind so that you
are able to tackle the issues effectively from a broad background. The other point that I would make is
this: don’t depend on speech writers to tell you what to say. Don’t look at the polls to find out what
you should say. But sit down and think it through. The difficulty today, too many
congressmen, too many senators, rather than think the problem through, they have
good speech writers who could probably write better than they can. They have
perhaps good researchers who can probably study it through better than
they can. But they are elected to do the thinking themselves and I would like to
see more of our candidates and more of our elected officials to do their own
thinking rather than depend upon a lot of unelected people to tell them what to
think and what to say. How is your personal life affected by
being president. The personal life of a president is a–
certainly, its probably shortened a bit, although some seem to thrive on it. I think we’re the presidency does have
an adverse effect is on a family. It’s very difficult to raise children
in an arm away, in the spotlight. Now this is true not only of presidents,
it true of cabinet officers, its true justices of the Supreme Court. It’s true
of celebrities generally and you will see so often the children of celebrities
they they don’t get the attention that they should have, and consequently they have problems. As I
look back people say well what was one of your major legacies are major
achievements and I think it’s the family. And Mrs. Nixon was an outstanding
first lady and she went through a great deal as we all did, but the fact that she
was able to survive it in a couple of strokes and is still a very active and
strong today is a great tribute to her inner strength. But also our two
daughters, Tricia and Julie, wasn’t an easy time. The demonstrations during
the war were not pleasant. The demonstrations during the Watergate
period. The resignation, which they all opposed, was certainly not pleasant. It was a great ordeal. The fact that both survived that and
they have grown up to be– I still think of the young, will say
they’re young although there in the early forties, to be such outstanding
young ladies, I think it’s a great tribute to them and
had a great tribute to their mother because I can’t take much responsibility
for that. It’s very difficult for children to grow
up in the White House and to lead a very normal life. Difficult indeed not only
for children but for all of those who must dwell in the fish bowl of the White
House but the adventure has never lacked volunteers. yeah yeah ok

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