Nixon Was Firmly in Control … Until Dark Clouds Began Forming

A signed Richard Nixon photograph sold for $657.25 in February 2006.

By Jim O’Neal

By the time 1972 rolled around, the presidential campaign was really a story about President Nixon’s growing invincibility. In the summer, every poll gave him about 60 percent of the vote and even his tremendous financial advantage – $60 million vs. $25 million for the Dems – had little to do with the probable outcome.

Nixon was elected four years earlier on a tide of protest against the Vietnam War, but ending it seemed to be taking an eternity. 17,000 more Americans had been killed while he was trying, but by the beginning of 1972, he had reduced U.S. troop levels from 550,000 to 139,000. Importantly, the Pentagon’s weekly casualty list of 300 had dropped to zero by Sept. 21, 1972.

The sum of Nixon’s skills was a united party, led by a nominee who was now identified as the candidate of peace and détente. He had two superfluous opponents for the GOP nomination and one, Paul “Pete” McClosky from California, became an arcane trivia answer by winning 1 delegate while Nixon swept up all the rest … 1,347.

The convention stagecraft was awesome and Nixon had eliminated all the suspense by announcing his intention to keep Spiro Agnew on the ticket as his VP. (Agnew won 1,345 votes vs. one for TV journalist David Brinkley; NBC staffers quickly started wearing “Brinkley for Vice President” buttons as a joke.)

This marked the fifth time Nixon had been on the ballot – in 1952 and 1956 for VP, and in 1960, 1968 and 1972 for president. This tied FDR, who had one VP (1920) and four straight as president (1932-1944). Ronald Reagan chaired the convention and Nelson Rockefeller put Nixon’s name in nomination. GOP speakers touted their unity and hammered at the disarray on the other side.

In 1972, campaign material included George Wallace license plates.

The Democrats were still absorbed in savage internecine feuds and the battle to head the party was a melee. George McGovern very adroitly managed to make himself a dark horse to keep the glaring national spotlight off his nascent campaign. In the Florida primary, facing 11 presidential candidates, George Wallace was the big winner as a surprise candidate. He loudly crowed, “We beat all the face cards in the Democratic deck!”

By the middle of May, Edmund Muskie was out of it and the marathon was narrowing to a three-way contest between Wallace, McGovern and Hubert Humphrey. Then in May 1972 while in Maryland, Wallace was hit by a brick in Frederick, eggs in Hagerstown and six bullets in Laurel. He won both Michigan and Maryland, but for him, wounded and paralyzed, it was all over.

Then Humphrey proceeded to destroy McGovern’s chances by pointing out his quixotic stands on Israel, defense spending, welfare, labor law, unemployment compensation, taxation and even Vietnam. In three bruising debates, Humphrey obliterated any chances of McGovern to mount even a mild challenge to Nixon. The election was a blowout, with Nixon winning 49 states and nearly 62 percent of the popular vote.

McGovern rationalized his defeat by saying, “I want every one of you to remember that if we pushed the day of peace just one day closer, then every minute and every hour and every bone-crushing effort in this campaign was worth the entire effort.” I suspect he died on Oct. 21, 2012, still believing these self-delusional words.

At about the same time, the seeds of Watergate had been planted. A small unobtrusive dark cloud was forming somewhere in the atmosphere, and it would end up unraveling the entire Nixon presidency and legacy. The arc of fate is long and never-ending.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Masters Golf Tournament Won’t Be the Same Without Tiger Woods

A set of gloves worn by Tiger Woods during each of his four rounds at the 2011 Masters, autographed by Woods, sold for $9,560 at a July 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The modern-day golf Majors include the U.S. and British Opens, the PGA and the Masters Golf Tournament. Jack Nicklaus’ 18 victories in these events is considered the most revered record in the sport.

It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people were convinced it was only a matter of time until Tiger Woods broke that record and virtually all others of significance in the game. This was especially true in the spring of 1997 following Woods’ stunning professional debut. By the time he arrived at Augusta, he had won three tournaments in seven months as a professional, was chosen as Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year,” and, amazingly, was the favorite to win the coveted Masters.

Nicklaus went so far as to predict that Woods would eventually win the Masters 11 times!

The limited edition 2001 SP Authentic Gold Tiger Woods #45 card is popular with collectors.

As brilliant as he was, it seemed unlikely that Woods would be able to contend with the hype and pressure heaped his way. He not only did, but he made it look easy. He led the tournament by three strokes on Friday (day two), by 9 strokes on Saturday night, and a record 12 strokes on Sunday when the tournament ended. “He’s a boy among men,” Tom Watson innocently said as Woods ran away from the field, “and he’s teaching the men a lesson.” A very sincere compliment from one of golf’s biggest stars.

Woods’ victory wasn’t just an amazing performance by a young star, it was a major social and political event in American history for the simple reason that Tiger was a black man. Woods’ father was African-American, Native-American and Caucasian. His mother was from Thailand. Tiger jokingly calls himself a “Cablinasian.”

Regardless of his ethnic breakdown, the fact is Tiger was a man of color. As late as 1963, this meant that he would not have been allowed to be eligible for membership in the Professional Golf Association (PGA) since membership was limited to “Caucasian only.”

For many years, Augusta National had been a symbol of the old South, a place that clung to segregation, much the way George Wallace had, only without State Troopers. During the first 40 years the Masters was played, the only black men inside the ropes were those carrying golf bags as caddies. Clifford Roberts, who had become the sole master of the Masters after Bobby Jones died in 1971, insisted that the tournament wanted black players and would welcome them when they qualified. But during the 1960s, when both Charlie Sifford and Pete Brown won events on the PGA tour, neither was invited to play in the Masters.

Now a man of color has actually won the Masters and it’s a relief that another barrier has been shattered. But there was a real controversy brewing. A television crew asked 1979 Champion Fuzzy Zoeller, “What do you think about Tiger?” Few golfers have been more friendly than Fuzzy. He is a gregarious, funny man who loves to tell jokes. As the TV cameras rolled, he picked the wrong time to be funny with his references to the potential 1998 Champions Dinner menu. “That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. … So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

When Zoeller’s comments aired a week later, all hell broke loose. He lost his No. 1 sponsor and the controversy took a long time to settle down after multiple apologies, all of which Tiger accepted graciously.

Sadly, four-time Masters winner Woods will not be competing in tomorrow’s Masters due to continued back problems. He will be missed by every Masters fan in America. It will not be the same without him.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Military Officers Swooped In and Saved Ford Motor Company

Henry Ford, left, often took trips with Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone. This photograph, circa 1924, signed by Ford, sold for $1,195 at a June 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1968, General Curtis LeMay was the vice presidential running mate with American Independent Party candidate George Wallace. This unlikely duo snagged 46 electoral votes and five states with almost 10 million popular votes. This was the last time a third-party candidate won a state.

During World War II, LeMay had implemented a controversial bombing campaign in the Pacific. It was during this time that future Ford Motor Company President Robert McNamara was busy analyzing U.S. bomber efficiency and effectiveness, especially the B-29 command of General LeMay, as part of a team headed by Colonel Tex Thornton.

LeMay and McNamara would cross paths again during the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the war in Vietnam.

During the late war years of the 1940s, the Ford Motor Company was struggling to remain viable. President Edsel Ford, son of founder Henry, died of stomach cancer in 1943 and the board made the mistake of bringing back an ailing Henry Ford in an act of desperation. The company was losing $9-10 million a month and the Roosevelt administration had considered nationalization to keep vital war materials flowing.

In 1945, Edsel’s son Henry Ford II was discharged from the Navy and the board quickly named him president of Ford. However, the company he inherited was still a shell of a corporation badly in need of modernizing its production, establishing financial controls and building an organization.

In a stroke of genius, Tex Thornton decided to market his staff of nine wartime officers to corporations that were reconverting from military to civil production. After all, his colleagues were part of a management science operation within the Army Air Force and, without a doubt, were the most talented managerial team of the century … young men who had gained 25 years of experience in just four years.

Thornton sent a cable to young (28) Henry Ford II and after an impressive interview, Ford hired the group with salaries ranging from $10,000 to $16,000. Bob McNamara was the second-highest paid and he took over finance at Ford. This is the group that became the famous “Whiz Kids” (although internally they were called “Quiz Kids” since they were always asking “Why?”). The Ford Motor Company would never be the same, fortunately, and slowly started catching up with rival General Motors.

One amusing anecdote involves The Edsel Show, a live one-hour television special designed to promote Ford’s cars. It aired on Oct. 13, 1957, and featured Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra. The show drew great reviews.

Clooney received one of the new Edsels as a gift and after the show, she and Henry Ford were walking together when she went over to get in. The door handle came off in her hand, so she turned and said, “Henry, about your car…”

Quality control was still en route to Dearborn, Mich., but arrived after the Edsel’s funeral.

More about Robert Strange McNamara, who became Secretary of Defense in 1961, in future posts.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Presidential Election Has All the Elements for a Third-Party Surprise

Roosevelt Johnson Important and Possibly Unique Campaign Flag for This 1912 Bull Moose Ticket
This Roosevelt & Johnson campaign flag for the 1912 “Bull Moose” Progressive Party ticket realized more than $5,900 at a May 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently indicated he may once again consider a run for the presidency, presumably as a third-party candidate. He had similar aspirations in both 2008 and 2012, but finally concluded it would be futile.

Most politicos presume this is a low possibility, primarily because historically, third-party aspirants have not fared well at the ballot box. Most believe that the current two-party system is tilted against third parties, unless there are unusual situations.

The most prominent example was over 100 years ago when Teddy Roosevelt broke his promise of “no third term” by declaring he had actually meant “no consecutive three terms.” Once he failed to get the Republican nomination, he broke away and ended up finishing second as a Progressive (Bull Moose) candidate in 1912. This ended up dividing Republican support for President Taft and allowed Woodrow Wilson to capture the presidency in an upset.

A similar situation occurred in 1992 when Ross Perot siphoned off 19 percent of the popular vote and Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent President Bush 41 with 43 percent of the popular vote.

Another example is the Libertarian Party, which fielded their first presidential candidate in 1972. After a convention in Salt Lake City, they chose John Hospers (who was chairman of the Philosophy Department at USC) for president and Theodora “Toni” Nathan for vice president.

Out of 77 million votes cast, they received a grand total of 3,674 official votes.

However, there was one “faithless elector,” Roger MacBride from Virginia, who decided that the Libertarians were more deserving than Nixon/Agnew and cast his vote for them (maybe he knew something?). Regardless, the result was that Hospers became the last third-party candidate to win an electoral vote and Toni Nathan became the first, last and only female to ever win one (as a third-party candidate).

For the record, Strom Thurman snagged 39 electoral votes in 1948 and George Wallace ended up with 46 in 1968. Ross Perot received almost 20 million votes in 1992, but ended up with zero electoral votes.

The “Corrupt Duopoly” that journalist Tom Friedman labels the current political elite has become very effective at limiting third-party efforts to break through. This may be a good thing when compared to the multi-party systems in Europe that require odd coalitions to form governing majorities.

This election year has all the elements to provide a surprise for the first time in many years.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].