If you heard the tear-jerking eulogies at Richard M. Nixon's funeral and wondered, as I did, what happened to the "Tricky Dick" you used to know, cheer up. You can hear a much less sanitized, much more authentic-sounding Nixon in the newly published diaries of H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, the late president's late chief of staff and Watergate co-conspirator.
Published as "The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House," Haldeman's copious notes reveal a man with grand plans, but a narrow mind.
In an April 28, 1969, discussion, for example, on how the then-new president would live up to his promise of welfare reform, Haldeman says Nixon "emphasized that you have to face the fact that the WHOLE (Haldeman's emphasis) problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this, while not appearing to.
"Problem with overall welfare plan is that it forces poor whites into same position as blacks. Feels (sic) we have to get rid of the veil of hypocrisy and guilt and face reality.
"Pointed out that there has never in history been an adequate black nation, and they are the only race of which this is true. Says Africa is hopeless, the worst there is Liberia, which we built."
Later that year, on May 13, we hear Haldeman describe a Nixon meeting with Ralph Abernathy, then president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as "pretty ridiculous. President handled beautifully. Abernathy went out and stabbed us on TV. Proved again there's no use dealing honestly with these people. They obviously want confrontation, no solutions (sic). Pretty fed up with blacks and their hopeless attitude."
Haldeman's dismissive use of "these people" tells me that the truly "hopeless" attitudes belonged to Nixon and Haldeman.
What are we to make of Nixon's curious analysis of welfare as putting poor whites "in same position as blacks"? What level did Nixon assume them to be in before welfare?
As for history never showing an "adequate" black nation, that's true for those who have a shallow knowledge of history. Democracy has never gotten much of a foothold in Africa until recent times, but the same could be said of the former Eastern Europe, couldn't it?
Perhaps we should forgive Nixon for the shortcomings of his Eurocentric education. It is a common handicap among Americans, especially of his generation.
But my favorite comment comes on April 2, 1970, where we read Haldeman saying that Nixon "broods frequently over problem of how we communicate with young and blacks. It's really not possible except with Uncle Toms, and we should work on them and forget militants."
That's right. Work on them.