Celebrating the great Richard Nixon at the Mayflower.
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Tricia Nixon began the evening with a superb short speech about her father and mother. Then there was fine appearance by Rev. Franklin Graham, and then dinner. Then we all sang “Happy Birthday” to RN as a kinescope of him playing “Happy Birthday” on the piano ran on screens for accompaniment.
After the meal, Fred Malek gave an upbeat, irreverent fund-raising appeal. Then Pat Buchanan made a spectacularly good speech, one of the best speeches I have ever heard. It recited accomplishments and anecdotes about RN, some extremely funny about RN’s witty wish to not be burdened by excess paperwork. It ended with what Pat wished he could say right now to Mr. Nixon about the “jackal pack” that brought him down. Quoting from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s immortal comments about the inherited rich who clung to Gatsby then dumped him abruptly, a line addressed to Jay Gatsby, Pat said he would tell RN, “They’re a rotten bunch. You’re better than the whole lot of them put together.”
This got a huge cheer and made me very happy because I had actually said that to Mr. Nixon in San Clemente after he resigned. It is one of my favorite analogies to RN in literature. Of course Fitzgerald had no idea of Nixon or his enemies when he wrote the book, but he knew types.
(I should add for completeness that before Fred Malek spoke, I gave the briefest speech imaginable about how I would never turn my back on Richard Nixon, the peacemaker.)
Pat’s speech was just terrific but I suspect that Aram, smartest of the smart, could have done even better.
Then Dr. Kissinger spoke. In a thick accent, he talked about the state of the world when RN took office. No major Arab state had full diplomatic relations with the U.S., China was our bitter enemy, the Soviet Union was implacably hostile, and we were bogged down in a quagmire in Vietnam where we had 500,000 troops and many thousands getting killed every year.
With a Democrat Congress, by the time he was forced from office, all had changed. The war in Vietnam was over and we had gotten back our POWs. We had opened relations with China. We had a major arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union. We had full diplomatic relations with every major Arab state and Soviet influence in the Mideast was nil.
Dr. Kissinger spoke with magnificent generosity, never mentioning his immense part in these astounding coups. It was a breathtakingly powerful litany about what a powerful, thoughtfully and resolutely led America can do. (President Obama, kindly take notes. Firmness plus strength and you win nothing by weakness.) I am not sure I have ever heard a better speech than Dr. Kissinger’s tonight.
Then, the piece de resistance: a very short speech by Julie about how grateful her father and mother would have been and what wonderful parents they had been.
“He was the best father in the world,” she said simply and there was not a dry eye in the house. I am bound to say that Tricia’s speech at the beginning was also magnificent. She said we were all part of her family and that moved me very much.
Then, the event was over. I kissed Julie goodbye and talked briefly to David Eisenhower. Then I looked for Peter Flanigan but he was gone. I wonder if I will ever see these people again. I will never work with such kind people as Fred Dent, who grasped my shoulder and reassured me that things would be all right as I was sobbing the day RN resigned. We all tried so hard to keep the peacemaker in office and the Pharisees laid him low. But what times we had.… We were so young and so full of idealism. (Hey, now I remember I had Cathy Rasenberger over to lunch at the White House.) We are old now but still believe in America, the state founded on idealism about human worth. That’s something. And how fortunate to have worked with such sane people.
And Nixon’s bad days lasted only for a time. We still live in the world Richard Nixon built and every day we are at peace, we have him to thank — along with our hero fighting men and women and their families — for it.
What splendid men and women I got to work with. I am reminded of a line from The Last Picture Show or a paraphrase, “If it hadn’t of been for him, I wouldn’t have known what it was all about, whatever it is” (again, a paraphrase). And, of course, it was my Pop and my Mom who put me where it all could happen. I have been blessed so far beyond what I deserve it is incalculable.
Now, to sleep. Thank you, Ron Walker and Sandy Quinn and everyone else from the RN Foundation who made such a great evening of it. Thank you.
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