INT: What was Nixon like, as a politician?
JOHN: He changed over the years. In 1959 and '60, when I first knew him, he was very stiff, very awkward, not at all comfortable with himself, and made a less than genial forthcoming appearance on television. in person, he could be very effective; he could also be very ineffective. I remember a picture that appeared in Life Magazine - he was shaking hands along an airport fence, a big crowd had come to see him; and the photographer caught him looking at his watch: you see he was shaking hands with somebody, and he was concerned about his schedule and really didn't care about the people, is what that picture said. I think that that, the problem that year was that he ran his own campaign; he decided where he would go, what his schedule would be, and so on - and he simply was not very good at that.
INT: He was regarded by many as a quintessential Cold War politician: is that tr?
JOHN: I think so. I think he was very concerned about thSoviets and the Chinese, as international rivals. and he joined the, he joined the battle, he took them on, and after he became President, particularly - he spent a lot of his time in consultations with Henry Kissinger and others in the administration, about what to do about the Russians, what to do about the Chinese; and of course he decided to create a détente with the Chinese, as a counterbalance to the Russians - and that whole thing was a pre-occupation with him for a long time.
INT: In the 1950s he was seen as almost as the head of the posse, hunting down communists at home.
JOHN: Oh he was a hard-liner, there isn't any question, and of course at that time, Alger Hiss was working in the State Department, and then in the United Nations - or, yeah, I think the United Nations - and he was exposed as a communist spy, by Richard Nixon, and some of his cohorts. Nixon drove that very hard, for political advantage, and it appalled the Eastern establishment liberal foreign policy experts, people who had been colleagues of Hiss's; and it drew the line - it really put Richard Nixon on the, on one side of the line, and a lot of very respectable internationals on the other side of the line.
INT: What was his attitude towards Jack Kennedy?
JOHN: Well they started out as pretty good friends: they were young Congressmen together, they had mutual friends who brought them together, they spent time in the, in Florida together; and then Jack Kennedy and his father decided that he would run for President, in place of his deceased brother. at that point they parted company - and they became rivals. Richard Nixon liked Jack Kennedy, as a matter of fact, but he had no use for his brothers, he had no use for his father, and all his, all the time I knew him - from 1959 on - the Kennedy's were his sworn enemies.
INT: Did he, therefore, have much sympathy with a vision of the Kennedy administration as a new Camelot?
JOHN: No, he was pretty cynical about the notion of the Kennedy's creating a Camelot. old Jo Kennedy, the father, had a heavy hand: he, Nixon felt that that Jo Kennedy had bought and paid for the President, the Presidency for his son, and was an eminence grise in that administration, and that it could never, it could never achieve idealism because of old Jo Kennedy's participation in it.
INT: The early 1960s the birth, or certainly the acceleration of the civil rights movement. What was your view of the civil rights movement?
JOHN: At the time I lived in Seattle, and practiced, practiced law. it didn't affect my life at all. There was very tiny effort at, there's what we think of as a civil rights movement, at that time. When I went to Washington, and began to work in the administration, in 1960, it became a very real political force in my life - through the campaign. Richard Nixon had to figure out what to do about this highly militant organized group who appeared to be opposed to him. Once he came into office, then they were a, they were a potent political factor, that he had to reckon with; and a lot of our time was spent in reconciling the so-called Southern strategy of Nixon's, which cracked the South for the Republicans on the one hand, and the requirements of law, which Spring Clerk was laying down at the time, saying that schools had to be integrated, and that civil rights had to be accorded to everyone, regardless of race and color.
INT: Nixon was seen as somewhat hostile to the advancement of the black cause. Is that a fair assessment?
JOHN: No, I think actually his attitude was - it's the law, we've got to do it. We are politicians, we've got to do it in such a way that we don't commit political suicide with our constituencies, but we can reconcile the two: we can successfully obey the law, integrate the Southern schools, for example, without poking our finger in the eyes of our constituents. And that's what he set about to do, and he did it rather successfully. He integrated more schools than any previous President, and he did it in such a way that he retained his majorities in the South.
INT: Taking you back to November 1963, and the death of John Kennedy: what impact did that make on you personally - the assassination of the President of the United States?
JOHN: Well I remember it very, very vividly: I was in my office in Seattle, and the news came on the radio, and everybody tuned in, and we were all shocked. we all, I think, regardless of our political orientation, had some emotional connection to John Kennedy, and it was a, it was a very heavy emotional time.
INT: Was there a feeling that he had been killed as a result of a communist plot?
JOHN: I didn't, I didn't know, and I don't know it today. One of our problems is that the whole Kennedy episode is left with so many unanswered questions. the Warren Commission didn't close all the doors - there're still remaining questions. I suppose at the time I worked in the White House, I could have gone to work to try to answer some of those questions, but I had too many other things to do, I really didn't have time. the Bay of Pigs remains; for that matter Watergate remains, with many unanswered questions. We seem to have a lot of trouble in this country tying down the four corners of our major historical episodes.
INT: Of course America found itself at war in Vietnam. What was the war of the anti-war movement - what did you feel about it?
JOHN: I, my feeling during the campaign, the '59 campaign, and into 1960 - excuse me, the '71 campaign into '72 , the '69 campaign into '70 - was that these people were not taking seriously the role of the United States in the world. the idea that we could simply pull a string and unilaterally pull out of a commitment to South Vietnam, it seemed to me to ignore the realities of the world. we had alliances, we had dependents around the world, and for us to have done that, would have sent a very unfortunate signal to countries like Japan, that are, that were our clients. so it seemed to me a great luxury for people to be able to protest the war, and just disregard all the ramifications.
INT: Was there a tendency to regard such protest as potentially treasonable?
JOHN: No I didn't think it was treasonous, I just thought it was foolish, that they were not, their calculus was incomplete - they were not adding up everything that needed to be taken into consideration.
INT: The 1960s, and particularly the middle years of the 1960s, saw an explosion of youth culture, the sexual revolution, drugs, etc. What was your view of that?
JOHN: Well I'm the father of a lot of children, and the middle sixties I had some kids in college, and some at high school. so I had a very, a very direct and personal interest in long hair and tie-dyed shirts, and things of that kind. one of my kids announced that he was going to go and live in the woods, and you don't simply say to a son like that, no you can't. You say, well take the family tent, and I hope you're warm and dry, and who's going to fix your dinner - and those kinds of things. we got through that episode, and a bunch of other kinds of episodes. but it was a tough time to be a parent.
INT: Were there other manifestations of the generational war within your family?
JOHN: Yes, we had some drugs, we had some sexual liberation - not on a grand scale fortunately, but nevertheless something that my wife and I had to cope with; and it, we were not immune. when the demonstrations started over the war, I had anguished 'phone calls from college campuses from my kids, saying, you know, you're in the White House, and you're Henry Kissinger's friend, but my friends are all in the streets - and then what am I to do? A tough spot. I was fortunately in a position where I could take that youngster, and bring him home and sit him down with Henry Kissinger, and let Henry explain to him what the war was all about - and Henry was pretty good at that.
INT: How did Nixon re-establish himselfas a credible candidate for the 1968 campaign?
JOHN: He worked very hard in the out years, to become a creditor. He appeared at County Lincoln Day dinners, he appeared for congressiocandidates, he did political favors for people - he ran very hard. in this country, particularly since 1960, it's it takes a candidate about twelve years for him to establish himself in his party, and to win the primaries that he needs to win, to win the convention, and so on. And Richard Nix-, Richard Nixon worked very hard at that. I was in on the 1968 convention, at Miami Beach: we organized that, every detail dominated it, controlled it, froze out Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan, and won it on the first ballot - narrowly, but we won it, by superior organization and hard work.
INT: Part of that superior organization and hard work involved taking on board television, as a propaganda tool for the first time. Can you tell me about how that was done?
JOHN: We had a television consultant, who worked with us in planning the convention. he wrote, with our help, a script for that convention; and then he was in touch with all the networks - and in those days, unlike today, the networks gave you beginning to end coverage: so our man was on the 'phone to NBC saying, you'll want your cameras to be at entrance number three now, because members of the Nixon family are coming in; or you'll want your cameras to be out front because a limousine is going to pull up and a number of our supporters are going to get out and do something that'll be wonderful television. And we dominated the television coverage of that convention, by a lot of planning, and by very close liaison. it's a lost art at this point, because the networks have become disenchanted with that coverage, and they only show an hour or two. the parties don't have contested conventions, like they used to, so that's sort of by the boards; but at that time it was terribly important.
INT: How exactly did Nixon work out his campaign platform? What was it, and how has he evolved?
JOHN: Well, here here's a man that had been in politics for over twenty years; he had a position on the books - unfortunately every issue there was - so it was just a question of researching what he had said on a given subject, and going back and then asking him: is this still where you want to be on this? But it is true today, and it was true then, that the so-called platform of a political party in this country, is not terribly important. It's what the candidate is saying out there on the stump, and what he's saying on the television cameras for the evening news, and what's in the newspapers - that's sort of his living platform. The party platform is kind of very often a sort of dead hand of the past.