Thursday, December 21, 2006

Flashback: Richard Nixon Comes to the Aid of David Reed Although it Took a Bit of Reverse English to Get Him There.

[More memoirs from more than fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Of the two congressional campaigns I strategized in 1966, the one that interested the Republican National Committeeman…who was also my boss, Bob Stuart, as president and CEO of The Quaker Oats Company…was that of David Reed in the 1st congressional district. For two reasons. First, Reed was a highly intelligent young African American in his late 20s with intellectual acuity and vision to challenge the old order of the machine-based Democratic party…with talents sure to last beyond what all of us recognized as his inevitable defeat that year. Second, the congressional battle in the 6th was beginning to get ugly and turn to poison despite the best efforts of many in both parties. The incumbent was Rep. Roman Pucinski (D-IL), a rising leader of House liberals, particularly on education, who got caught between the switches on the issue of busing.

Once very popular in his district, he now faced an angry electorate condemning him for all kinds of fancied evils—including urban riots and urban poverty. To defend himself, Pucinski adopted overnight a campaign to accommodate the backlash by adopting a harsh, anti-black language that could be compared to that of Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo who also turned from liberal to near-racist in his stentorian tones. To counter this, the Republican candidate, John Hoellen, strove against my earnest protests to match Pucinski epithet-for-epithet, demagoguery-for-demogoguery. In fairness, I cannot blame the two Ogilvie grunts, Tom Drennan and Jim Mack—for Hoellen was truly a loose cannon. None of us…Drennan, Mack and I…could control Hoellen just as none of the Democratic strategists, representing the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO, could hold back Pucinski. The district truly became scorched earth. Mack and Drennan were petrified that their involvement would rub off on Ogilvie who was running for president of the Cook county board; I was mortified that none of us could control this wild stallion who shouted and raged just as Pucinski shouted and raged with the national media singling the district out as an object-case in vituperation over urban chaos.

The result was that the three of us—Drennan, Mack and I—became fused together trying to get Hoellen to cease and desist…just as the NEA and labor was doing with Pucinski. We would meet frequently for breakfast in a small room at the M&M Club in the Merchandise Mart. I remember slamming Hoellen into a wall with the fury of my protests that he separate himself from unruly, red-neck Northwest Side elements that were egging him on—and I recall ducking when he aimed a swing at me, but not missing a kick that he aimed at a most vulnerable site of the body as, while I was temporarily sidelined, colleagues grabbed him around the throat yelling, “you’ll listen—you!” A waiter who came in the door at that moment stood jaw-droppingly stunned. There were identical struggles across town and in Washington with the maddened Pucinski, as well. The Hoellen campaign then continue to rocket on its own momentum with national press seizing the moment to capture spewed anger from both candidates. There was nothing we could do to stop it. I cut off funds but it meant nothing for Hoellen like Pucinski was awash in news coverage.

So while the battle raged up one neighborhood and down the other, Drennan and Mack hightailed it back to the Ogilvie campaign, slammed the door and ignored it. I did the same but concentrated on Reed who was conducting a quiet but brilliant dialogue with lots of young people in the 1st district. The question was: how to get money to Reed. The House Republican Congressional Campaign Committee denied any sizable outlay. So Bob Stuart did a very wise thing. He called on his immense credentials as the scion of a famous and wealthy family that had been involved in Republican campaigns since early in the 20th century. He sat in his office and called a private citizen, a lawyer in New York, working on Broad Street by the name of Richard M. Nixon. Nixon was crossing the country helping Republican candidates for Congress in order to pick up due-bills for collection at the next presidential go-round in 1968. He had been to Chicago to campaign for Chuck Percy and for Dick Ogilvie. Now Bob Stuart asked him to come to campaign for a black Republican congressional candidate who had no chance whatsoever of winning.

When Stuart called Nixon, Nixon had been thinking of coming to Illinois to poke his nose into the frenetic Pucinski-Hoellen House race with the view that as the polls said the margin was razor thin, he—Nixon—could get some credit if Hoellen won. But a closer look convinced Nixon the same way it did national Democrats that there was no honor to be salvaged from claiming victory by either candidate. Nixon had to come this way anyhow for Ogilvie once again with the travel and lodging paid by the Republican National Committee as it had for all his campaign trips. The trip was free so what the hell. Thus he made this bargain with Stuart: he’d come to Chicago low-key and find some time to visit with senior business people to encourage them to contribute some bucks to Reed. After all, it was no skin off his nose as the RNC was paying the bill anyhow. And no one, the RNC or Nixon or anyone else, wanted to touch the inflammatory Pucinski-Hoellen race. He said he would appreciate the invitations going out discreetly. He definitely didn’t want to be pushed into endorsing Hoellen or get involved in any sense with a campaign that was busily reenacting the U. S. Civil War on race.

The deal was struck. I was called by a RNC staffer named Nicholas Ruwe who told me he would be traveling with Nixon to Chicago and for God’s sake keep the news of his coming here from the media which would be dogging him for comments on Hoellen. At the same time, a DNC staffer was fighting with the Pucinski people who had arranged for Maine Senator Ed Muskie, a Pole, to come to campaign with the Congressman. But Muskie who wanted to run for president in 1968 was having nothing to do with Pucinski and was canceling the engagement and arranging not to take angry phone calls from Pucinski. Both candidates were lepers with those who wanted to be president.

Therefore, Bob Stuart arranged a small cocktail party with light nibbles for the guests and passed the word that Richard Nixon would be on hand. Nixon was posturing against Nelson Rockefeller at the time and business types and contributors were running to and fro meeting both. Reed came to me and asked if I could get Rockefeller to come in for him next. I said, “David, listen to me. You’re a damn sight better having Nixon with this crowd than Rockefeller, trust me.” But, he said: Rockefeller is a billionaire to which I replied—and you’re not going to get a penny of it, my lad. In case you didn’t know, we are committed to Nixon for 1968 and if you want to get Rockefeller, I suggest you call him up in Albany yourself and get him. He winced: o.k. I couldn’t help adding: “Listen, guy. You’re one lucky candidate. I know all kinds of congressional candidates who would give quarts of blood to have Richard Nixon come in and raise money for them.”

He said: Why do I think Nixon is or was a racist? I said: “Get that out of your mind. As vice president he often cast deciding votes in the Senate on civil rights while the majority leader, Lyndon Johnson by name, was unable to get bills through thanks to his friends from the deep south like Jim Eastland of Mississippi, J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and people like that.” He said, “oh, okay. I guess I have a lot to learn” and made himself happy with the fact that as a kid from the Chicago South Side he would be the subject of Richard Nixon’s fervent endorsement—but he kept looking at me questioningly for a time. I kept on reassuring: “Don’t look at me like that. Nixon has a good civil rights record. Trust me!” He said: okay.

The letters and calls of invitation worked wonders and we had a packed crowd of people giving $500 apiece for the privilege of shaking hands with a man who came very close to becoming president in 1960 and might get elected in 1968. And it was mum to the press as well. The reception was to be held at the Drake and the presidential suite was ordered in a phony name for the former vice president. The advance man Ruwe called me when they got in, saying he was calling me from the Nixon suite. And sure enough, I could hear that famous voice behind him talking softly. So I hightailed over to the suite with about 2 hours to go to see if maybe I could get a little face-time in with Nixon.

I swept by the reception room 45 minutes later as people were already starting to arrive. By George, the crowned heads of Chicago were starting to come: John Swearingen of Standard Oil (Ind.), Robert Ingersoll of Borg-Warner, Robert Galvin of Motorola; Bob Stuart’s father, R. Douglas Stuart, the former ambassador to Canada; David Reed was there and I took him around for a bit and noticed that he was making a particularly good impression. Then someone nudged my arm. I turned and saw Ruwe the Nixon advance man. One look at his face—of abject terror—and my blood froze. As we walked to the side, I calculated what possibly had gone wrong. Perhaps that madman Hoellen had heard Nixon was here and was storming over to get his endorsement and the two would tumble onto the rug and slug it out. Perhaps Nixon had had a stroke in his suite. Perhaps something had gone wrong in Washington, like another presidential assassination with a chance of command—meaning that Hubert Humphrey was now president. What could it be?

“Listen,” said Ruwe. “You and me—we got trouble. Maybe we got to cancel this thing.” Cancel! Impossible! Why?

“Nixon is up in the suite now. He just got a phone call from Ray Bliss.”

Ray Bliss was the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, the former legendary state chairman from Ohio.

“Ray Bliss just dropped a bomb on us!” said Ruwe. “He just told Nixon that Nixon has to pay all the bills from his national trips himself—that the RNC won’t cover them. This despite the fact that Nixon was told earlier that the RNC would.”

I said calmly: “What does that have to do with me—or my reception for David Reed?”

“WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH IT!” Ruwe screamed—then as people looked around, he lowered his voice and looked around conspiratorially. “What it has to do with this party is this: Nixon was promised by the last RNC chairman, Thruston Morton, that the party would pick up all his bills. Now the deal is off! All of us traveling with Nixon—me, the security detail, two clerical people—are all being charged to his account. Nelson Rockefeller is raising hell with Bliss because Nixon is getting a free ride so Bliss pulled the plug on it. Do you realize that this means Nixon is stuck with the tab of well over $100,00…well over that!”

I said again, calmly, “Nick. That’s too bad. But I still don’t know what…”

“I’ll tell you what it has to do with it! He told me to make plane arrangements to get the hell out of here tonight! He’s in a terrible…dreadful…temper and I don’t blame him!”

I said, “But as regrettable as this thing is, a former vice president of the United States can raise the money to cover this thing. There ought to be many people to…”

“No, Roeser. You still don’t understand. Ray Bliss harpooned us, don’t you see? He’s listened to Rocky who hasn’t done a goddamned thing for this party this year and is making Nixon pay his own bills! He’s in a…well what I would call a cyclonic rage! And I am asking you to go up there with me and try to calm him down—for his sake—for my sake—for Bob Stuart’s sake—for all our sakes! I have seen him like this! The last time was when he lost the California governorship. It’s not pretty! He’s throwing things up there! Come up with me now and help me figure out what to do with him!”

We took the elevator to the presidential suite. As we opened the door the anteroom had a mirror on it which was directed to the spacious parlor where, with jacket peeled off, tie lowered to half-mast, I saw the spectacular ski-jump nose, the black hair glistening, the eyes snapping as he held the receiver to his lips—waving us in with an exaggerated gesture of exasperation.

We entered timidly and sat down. He ignored me, held the receiver away from his ear and said in an guttural whisper to Ruwe: “Bliss” and pointed meaningfully to it.

I won’t try to repeat what he told Bliss but in substance: Ray…let me say this. I was told that all my trips would be paid for—was told it! Was told it! Listen to me: WAS TOLD IT! I’ll tell you this, Ray! Tell you this, Ray! Tell you this, Ray! I’ll make good on all my bills. Make good on all my bills! I’ll either pay for them myself or by god I’ll raise the money. But I want you to know this. You better goddamn hope…and he expressed the thought that if he ever, ever got near the presidential nomination much less the presidency, Ray Bliss would be hiking his ass back to Ohio…

Slam went the receiver! Then, standing up, came a long tirade of injustices and ingratitude from all whom he had helped…monumental ingratitude! Now here he was, in Chicago out of the goodness of his heart, expected to speak for a black candidate who had no chance of election…a black candidate who probably voted for Kennedy…who probably would vote against him—Nixon—were he to be once again on the ballot but by god he never would…never would…he’d leave the party rot in hell before he would…leave it rot in hell with Nelson Rockefeller…leave it rot in hell with all those who had betrayed him earlier…the people who were against him when he ran for the House the first time…the people who wanted to let him hang out to dry about Alger Hiss…the people who wanted him to get off the ticket with Ike…the people who put obstacles in his way in 1960…and here he is, in the vote goddam fraud goddam center of the nation.

I had not been introduced and I was thankful for it. Then, unexpectedly, Ruwe joined in to agree with him. Nixon was just saying that, speaking about Negroes, Lyndon Johnson that cunning s.o.b., would so structure votes when he was majority leader so that Nixon would have to cast the deciding vote on civil rights—thereby losing all the credit he had built up with the South…and at the same time not getting a single goddam black vote for his pains!

“Yes,” said Ruwe, “and here you are ready to speak for another black candidate! And will the blacks on the South Side vote for you again? Hell no!”

I decided Ruwe was cruel, allowing me to listen to this tirade from the both of them. Nixon’s color blanched as he listened to Ruwe. I was preparing to get out of there and cancel the thing when Ruwe said:

“And they’re counting on you to close this thing down tonight, the people who have always gone after you! They say, he’s got to cancel this thing, this thing with the black candidate. They’re counting on you doing that!”

Nixon turned suddenly calm, ashen. “Yes,” he said, “they are. Well, by god they’re going to get…” here he used a scatological word derogatorily characterizing sexual intercourse. “They’re going to get…, Nick, because I’m going to give this thing everything I got and afterward--.”

“And afterward, you’re going to grab Ray Bliss by the collar,” said Ruwe, “and give him a ……”

“Yes,” said Nixon as we rode down in the elevator. “What’s this kid’s name? David Reed? Okay.”

The reception was filled and in we came. He gave a speech I will long remember: Our party believes in civil rights—and civil rights is being throttled by machine tactics in the city of Chicago when a young man like David Reed who has so much to offer has been detailed to stand-in-line with the ward hacks…etc. That’s why I am so pleased to welcome this fine young man into our party and we will-make-it-HIS-party, won’t we?

The checks were written right there. Reed picked them up and looked beatifically at Nixon as the greatest man of the universe.

And as he and I left, he turned to me and said: “You were so right. He is a very great man. The fact that he came here to do this…”

I said: well, it’s been a long evening. Go home and get some rest, David.

No, he said, I’m energized. The fact that he did this--.

Yeah, I said. And at his own expense.


Late that night Nick Ruwe and I had a drink.

“The party called back and they’ll pick up all the bills. But what you saw is known as Reverse English with those of us who deal with him,” he said. “You use that only as a last resort when he’s in a state like that. You say that his enemies will be expecting him to do such-and-such. They’ll be counting on that. And with luck, he’ll decide to surprise them. But the guy who’ll get it in the end will be Bliss, I promise you.”

The night Nixon became the 1968 nominee in Miami Beach, Ray Bliss was canned. And, frankly, I didn’t feel sorry.

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