Betty Ford set a standard that all who follow should study

A portrait of Betty Ford by Lawrence Williams went to auction in 2007.

By Jim O’Neal

Every presidential trivia fan knows that Eleanor Roosevelt’s birth name was Eleanor Roosevelt. She had married her father’s fifth cousin, Franklin. Although the couple had six children, Eleanor said she disliked intimacy with him and wrote she was ill-equipped to be a mother since she didn’t understand or even like small children.

They somehow managed to stay married for 40 years until FDR died in 1945. Franklin did enjoy intimate relations, especially with Lucy Mercer, Eleanor’s social secretary. He wanted a divorce, but his mother (who controlled the family money) would not allow it. This even after a trove of love letters between Franklin and Lucy exposed their elicit relationship.

Eleanor skillfully leveraged her position as First Lady; many consider her the first First Lady since she personally championed so many women’s rights issues. She had an active public life and a serious relationship with reporter Lorena Hickok. Eleanor became well known during her long occupancy in the White House and was highly respected all over the world.

That was not true (initially) of Betty Ford, who became First Lady when Jerry Ford became president after Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. She was born Betty Bloomer and she had divorced after a failed five-year marriage to William Warren, an alcoholic she nursed during his final two years.

She was a dancer before she married the man whose name was Leslie Lynch King Jr. when he was born in 1913 (he changed his name in 1935). As a member of the renowned Martha Graham dance troupe, Ford had performed at Carnegie Hall and later earned the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was presented by the recently deceased President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Betty Ford (1918-2011) had been impressed by Eleanor Roosevelt since childhood. “She eventually became my role model because I admired her so. I loved her Independence … a woman finally speaking out for herself rather than saying what would be politically helpful to her husband. That seemed healthy to me.” Others were quick to note the similarities between the two women. Major publications compared the willingness of both to offer bold, personal opinions on highly controversial issues. I would argue that Betty Ford set a higher standard for candor than any of her predecessors.

One small example is the very first press conference in the State Dining Room. Ford seemed to have no reservations about repeating her strong positions as a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and her pro-choice stance on abortion. She admitted she had consulted a psychiatrist, had been divorced, and used tranquilizers for physical pain. Any single one of these uttered today would instantly be “Breaking News” on the cable news channels so starved for fresh material (or innuendo).

Initially, Ford didn’t consider her Ladyship as a “meaningful position,” but rather than letting the role define her, she decided to change it. “I wanted to be a good First Lady … but didn’t feel compelled to emulate my predecessors.” She simply decided to be Betty Bloomer Ford … “and [I] might as well have a good time doing it.” She succeeded on both accounts and the results were more than just surprising.

She talked about “demanding privilege” and “a great opportunity,” but also about the “salvation” that gave her a genuine career of her own … and on a national level she’d never experienced before. Her impact helped reshape her into a likeable leader with broad respect.

Her creative imagination rivaled Jackie’s. “This house has been a grave,” she said. “I want it to sing!” More women were seated at the president’s table, especially second-tier political women who needed a little boost. And they were round tables, which denoted equality. This was the instinct of a free, bohemian spirit, but not by contrivance. She had been a single woman who studied modern dance and introduced it to the ghettos of Grand Rapids, Mich. She spoke deliberately and was unafraid of listening to differing viewpoints.

There were the occasional curious remarks about her drug and alcohol use, but easily rationalized by her well-known physical pain from severe arthritis and pinched nerve courtesy of her dancing. Not even nosy reporters questioned or sought to investigate the degree of her medications. It wasn’t until after the Fords left the White House that the drinking resulted in a family intervention.

In true Betty Ford fashion, after the denial, anger and resentment subsided, a positive outcome resulted. The Betty Ford Center was founded in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The center, known as Camp Betty, has helped celebrities and others overcome substance abuse issues. It offers treatment without shame and, although not a cure or panacea, gives people control over their lives. The opioid crisis of today is using some of the experience gained from Camp Betty.

However, her most lasting and important contribution concerns breast cancer. During the mid-1970s, television didn’t even allow the word “breast” until a determined Betty Ford decided to go very public with her condition. She had accompanied a friend who was having an annual checkup and the doctor suggested she do the same. After several more doctors got involved, a biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer. The White House press office squabbled over releasing information about her condition, but Betty spotted another opportunity.

By the time she was back in the White House two weeks later, women across America were having breast examinations and mammograms. The ensuing media coverage of her honest revelations was credited with saving the lives of thousands of women who had discovered breast tumors. The East Wing was flooded with 60,000 cards, letters and telegrams, 10 percent from women who had mastectomies. The First Lady told the American Cancer Society, “I just cannot stress enough how necessary it is for women to take an active interest in their own health and body … too many women are so afraid … they endanger their lives.”

Ford was a modern day Abigail Adams, but Ford used a megaphone rather than letters, and in a practical way. Bravo to an under-appreciated First Lady, who set a standard that all who follow should study.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Selecting a justice has always been a messy, partisan process

This photograph, circa 1968, autographed by Chief Justice Earl Warren and the eight associate justices, sold for $2,031 at a June 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings this week to consider the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in their “advise and consent” role to the president of the United States. Once considered a formality in the justice system, it has devolved into a high-stakes political process and is a vivid example of how partisanship has divided governance, especially in the Senate.

Fifty years ago, President Nixon provided a preview of politics gone awry as he attempted to reshape the Supreme Court to fit his vision of a judiciary. His problems actually started during the final year of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. On June 26, 1968, LBJ announced that Chief Justice Earl Warren intended to resign the seat he had held since 1953. He also said that he intended to nominate Associate Justice Abe Fortas as his successor.

For the next three months, the Senate engaged in an acrimonious debate over the Fortas nomination. Finally, Justice Fortas asked the president to withdraw his nomination to stop the bitter partisan wrangling. Chief Justice Warren, who had been a keen observer of the Senate’s squabbling, decided to end the controversy in a different way. He withdrew his resignation and in a moment of pique said, “Since they won’t take Abe, they will have me!” True to his promise, Warren served another full term until May 1969.

By then, there was another new president – Richard Nixon – and he picked Warren Burger to be Warren’s replacement. Burger was a 61-year-old judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals with impeccable Republican credentials, just as candidate Nixon had promised during the 1968 presidential election campaign. As expected, Burger’s confirmation was speedy and decisive … 74-3.

Jubilant over his first nomination confirmation to the court, Nixon had also received a surprise bonus earlier in 1969. In May, Justice Fortas had decided to resign his seat on the court. In addition to the bitter debate the prior year, the intense scrutiny of his record had uncovered a dubious relationship with Louis Wolfson, a Wall Street financier sent to prison for securities violations. To avoid another Senate imbroglio over some shady financial dealings, Fortas decided to resign. In stepping down, Fortas became the first Supreme Court justice to resign under threat of impeachment.

So President Nixon had a second opportunity to add a justice. After repeating his criteria for Supreme Court nominees, Nixon chose Judge Clement Haynsworth Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, to replace Fortas. Attorney General John Mitchell had encouraged the nomination since Haynsworth was a Harvard Law alumnus and a Southern jurist with conservative judicial views. He seemed like an ideal candidate since Nixon had a plan to gradually reshape the court.

However, to the president’s anger and embarrassment, Judiciary Committee hearings exposed clear evidence of financial and conflict-of-interest improprieties. There were no actual legal implications, but how could the Senate force Fortas to resign and then essentially just overlook basically the same issues now? Finally, the Judiciary Committee approved Haynsworth 10-7, but on Nov. 21, 1969, the full Senate rejected the nomination 55-45. A livid Nixon blamed anti-Southern, anti-conservative partisans for the defeat.

The president – perhaps in a vengeful mood – quickly countered by nominating Judge G. Harold Carswell of Florida, a little-known undistinguished ex-U.S. District Court judge with only six months experience on the Court of Appeals. The Senate was clearly now hoping to approve him until suspicious reporters discovered a statement in a speech he had made to the American Legion 20-plus years before in 1948: “I yield to no man as a fellow candidate or as a citizen in the firm, vigorous belief in the principles of White Supremacy and I shall always be so governed!”

Oops.

Even allowing for his youth and other small acts of racial bias, the worst was yet to come. It turned out that he was a lousy judge with a poor grasp of the law. His floor manager, U.S. Senator Roman Hruska, a Nebraska Republican, then made a fumbling inept attempt to convert Carswell’s mediocrity into an asset. “Even if he is mediocre, there are lots of mediocre judges, people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation aren’t they, and a little chance?” This astonishing assertion was then compounded when it was seconded by Senator Russell Long, a Democrat from Louisiana! When the confirmation vote was taken on April 9, 1970, Judge Carswell’s nomination was defeated 51-45.

A bitter President Nixon, with two nominees rejected in less than six months, continued to blame it on sectional prejudice and philosophical hypocrisy. So he turned to the North and selected Judge Harry Blackmun, a close friend of Chief Justice Burger who urged his nomination. Bingo … he was easily confirmed by a vote of 94-0. At long last, the vacant seat of Abe Fortas was filled.

There would be no further vacancies for 15 months, but in September 1971, justices Hugo Black and John Harlan announced they were terminally ill and compelled to resign from the court. Nixon was finally able to develop a strategy to replace these two distinguished jurors, but it was only after a complicated and convoluted process. It would ultimately take Nixon eight tries to fill four seats, and the process has only become more difficult.

Before Judge Kavanaugh is able to join the court, as is widely predicted, expect the opposing party to throw up every possible roadblock they have in their bag of tricks. This process is now strictly political and dependent on partisan voting advantages. The next big event will probably involve Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a 25-year court member (1993) and only the second woman on the court after Sandra Day O’Connor. At age 85, you can be sure that Democrats are wishing her good health until they regain control of the Oval Office and the Senate. If not, stay tuned for the Battle of the Century!

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

Here’s Why Rosenwald Belongs with Titans Like Rockefeller, Carnegie

A card with signatures and a photograph of President Calvin Coolidge, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith and Julius Rosenwald, circa 1930, went to auction in 2008.

By Jim O’Neal

One fact that is difficult to verify is the total net worth of the Rockefeller family fortune. John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (1839-1937) rose from pious beginnings to become the world’s richest man by creating America’s most powerful monopoly, Standard Oil Company. Scores of muckrakers (especially Ida Tarbell) scorned it as “The Octopus” and posters protested the company by showing it swallowing the world … whole.

He is definitely the most prominent and controversial businessman in our history, especially when the trust he created came from refining 90 percent of the oil produced and marketed in America. His vocal critics charged he was an unscrupulous man who colluded with railroads to fix prices, and conducted illegal industrial espionage and outright bribery of political officials. It took Teddy Roosevelt and his team of stalwart trustbusters to break the trust, but even that inured to his benefit since he had ownership shares in all the new, smaller entities that were created.

Although the business practices were as ruthless and corrupt as charged, he was a quirky, passionate, temperate advocate who was generous and gave enormous sums to organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation, University of Chicago and what is now Rockefeller University. As an old man (he lived to be 98), he was parodied as a harmless billionaire who delighted in giving shiny dimes to needy children.

The actual story has grown much more complex after his only son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960), took over the massive estate and had five sons of his own. The last one, David Rockefeller, died last year and his personal estate was auctioned off this month by an East Coast firm. The total net proceeds were consigned to 12 of his favorite charities, which will create another layer of veneer over the money. What we know is that 1,500 items sold for over $832 million, setting 22 records in the process.

Another son of Junior was Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979), who was governor of New York and made unsuccessful attempts to snag the GOP presidential nomination in 1960, 1964 and 1968. After serving in other high-profile positions, he was chosen by Gerald Ford to be the 47th vice president of the United States after Richard Nixon’s resignation. Rockefeller holds the distinction of being the last VP to decline to seek re-election when he decided not to join the 1976 Republican ticket with Ford.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was another famous philanthropist who made a fortune in steel and spent the last 18 years of his life giving $350 million to charities, foundations and universities. “I should consider it a disgrace to die a rich man.” Both the Rockefeller and Carnegie names have been well known throughout the 20th century, primarily because of the numerous foundations and buildings that bear their names.

But let’s focus now on an equally generous man who is largely forgotten because no foundations and few buildings mention him.

Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) made his fortune the old-fashioned way. He earned it. He started running a clothing store in Springfield, Ill., and then went to New York to learn about the garment business. When he returned to Chicago, he opened another modest clothing store, but also started shrewdly investing in a small catalog store with the undistinguished name of Sears, Roebuck & Company. When co-founder Richard Sears left the company in 1908, Rosenwald assumed a leadership role. With financial help from Henry Goldman (son of Marcus Goldman of Goldman Sachs), he expanded the company with a massive 40-acre mail-order plant on Chicago’s West Side.

Then, in an unprecedented move in 1906, an IPO with Goldman was created, and Sears became a public company. Rosenwald had climbed from a vice president to chairman and CEO, and the new plant in Chicago, with a staggering 3 million square feet, became the largest building in the world. In the process, Sears became America’s largest retailer and people all over the United States discovered how to order using the mail, after hours of thumbing through the sacred Sears catalog.

The demise of Sears is well known and the company is currently being dismantled and sold by brand. It may not be as quickly forgotten as Julius Rosenwald, who went to extremes to be modest. When he died in 1932, it is estimated that he had donated $2 billion to a wide range of interests, including projects that funded African-American education in the South. He funded a program to construct elementary and secondary schools in any willing black community. Over a 20-year period, 5,000 schools were constructed in the South, 90 percent of all buildings in which Mississippi’s black youngsters received an education.

Not bad for a generous man who had no need for recognition, just a desire to help needy people. Now another generation of people will know what he did, in such a humble and modest way, by insisting on closing his foundation after his death and opposing the attachment of his name to so many projects.

Bravo.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

President Ford’s Primary Task was Healing a Nation

A letter by Gerald R. Ford, signed and dated April 16, 1979, sold for $5,078 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Gerald Rudolph Ford (Leslie Lynch King Jr. at birth) was an uncomplicated man tapped by destiny for one of the most complex jobs in history. The first non-elected president and first vice president confirmed by the Senate, he was tasked with healing the nation’s wounds caused by the Vietnam War and the severe divisions resulting from the Watergate scandal. Atypical from the usual driven personalities in the Oval Office, Ford restored calm and confidence to a nation while ushering in a period of renewal for American society.

A year before his inauguration, it would never have occurred to Ford (1913-2006) that he would be thrust into the presidency. The highest office he ever aspired to was Speaker of the House of Representatives; and that seemed out of reach because the Democratic Party had a stranglehold in the House. As a result, Ford had decided to retire after the November 1974 elections.

President Ford

Suddenly, in October 1973, President Richard Nixon appointed him vice president in the wake of Spiro Agnew’s resignation. “Remember, I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln,” he said modestly when he assumed responsibility on Dec. 6, 1973. He was at peace with himself and provided a sense of restored purpose, blissfully unaware of the collapsing presidency and seemingly endless revelations of misconduct at high levels in the administration.

One bright spot was that even as it approached dissolution, the Nixon administration managed to navigate the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 and diminish the Soviet position in the Middle East by successfully sponsoring a complicated triangular diplomacy with Moscow and Beijing. The disintegration of executive power did not lead to a collapse of our international position. Nixon’s prestige after five years of foreign policy now came close to a policy of bluffing, but the sleight of hand grew more difficult and it was unsustainable.

As impeachment proceedings gathered momentum, Nixon’s personal conduct began to mirror his political decline. He kept abreast of policy issues and made key decisions, but Watergate absorbed more of Nixon’s intellectual and emotional capital. Routine business became more trivialized by the increasingly apparent inevitability of his downfall. His tragedy was largely self-inflicted and the only question was, “How long can this go on?”

Then on July 31, it was revealed that one of the tapes the Supreme Court ordered to be turned over to the Special Prosecutor was the long-sought “smoking gun”— conclusive proof of Nixon’s participation in the cover-up. On the tape, Nixon was clearly heard instructing Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to use the CIA to thwart an FBI investigation into the Watergate burglary.

With the tape’s release, Ford took the unprecedented step on Aug. 6 of disassociating from the president at a Cabinet meeting. He would no longer defend the president and said he would not have done so earlier had he known. Publically, he maintained silence as a “party in interest” (probably another first).

But it was the morning of Aug. 9, 1974, that witnessed one of the most dramatic moments in American history. At 9:30 in the East Room, Richard Nixon bade farewell to his staff. At 12:03 that same day, in the same room, Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States.

Earlier, General Alexander Haig had handed Nixon’s formal resignation to Henry Kissinger in his role as Secretary of State. All presidential appointments are countersigned by the Secretary of State and, by the same token, resignations of a president and vice president are made to the Secretary of State as well. With the resignation of Spiro Agnew on Oct. 10, 1973, and Richard Nixon as president on Aug. 9, 1974, Kissinger achieved what we must hope will remain the permanent record for receiving high-level resignations … forever!

Our long national nightmare had finally come to an end.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

No President has been Removed by Impeachment, Conviction

A 1996 letter President Clinton sent to a journalist, regarding an article that had moved the president, sold for $10,755 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 7, 1789, members of the Electoral College cast 69 votes for George Washington to become the first president of the United States, while John Adams, who finished in second place with 34 votes, became the first vice president.

These electors, who had been chosen by white men who were landowners in 10 states, also cast votes for John Jay (9), Robert Harrison (6), John Rutledge (6), Samuel Huntington (2), John Milton (2), Benjamin Lincoln (1), and Edward Telfair (1). Forty-four electors failed to cast a vote.

Bill Clinton

North Carolina and Rhode Island were ineligible since their statehood had not been ratified. New York did not appoint the eight electors they were eligible for since they were deadlocked in their state legislature.

We still use the Electoral College, as established by the Constitution, which has been modified several times and today gives all citizens age 18 and over the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president and vice president (only). On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, each state’s electors simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide.

Then on Jan. 6, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and, finally, on Jan. 20, the president is sworn into office. In the case of George Washington, he wasn’t sworn in until April 30, 1789, since Congress didn’t count the electoral votes until April 6.

Exactly 210 years later, on Jan. 7, 1999, the impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton began in the U.S. Senate, with senators sworn in as jurors and Chief Justice William Rehnquist sworn in to preside. President Clinton was formally charged with lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

Four years earlier, he had sexual relations with a 21-year-old unpaid intern in the White House before she was transferred to the Pentagon. Contrary to his sworn testimony in an unrelated sexual harassment case, President Clinton admitted to a grand jury (via closed-circuit television) that he had not been truthful.

On Dec. 11, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. On Dec. 19, the full House approved two articles of impeachment: lying under oath to a grand jury and obstructing justice. On Feb. 12, the Senate voted on the perjury charge and 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted “not guilty.” On the charges of obstruction of justice, the Senate vote was split 50-50.

This was the third and last time the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted to impeach the president of the United States. Two were found not guilty (Andrew Johnston in 1868 and Bill Clinton), while a third, Richard Nixon, resigned to avoid what was an almost certain guilty verdict. (In 1834, the Senate voted to “censure” Andrew Jackson).

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Link Between Value of Money and Gold a Quaint Relic of the Past

This Serial Number 1 Stephen Decatur $20 1878 Silver Certificate, Fr. 306b, is believed to be the first silver certificate ever produced. It sold for $175,375 at a May 2005 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1961, I was a member of a high-powered bowling team that competed on Tuesday nights at the South Gate Bowling Center in Southern California. We all had 200-plus averages, but only managed to win one league championship in the four years we were together. In February, one of my teammates, Carl Belcher, bowled a perfect game (12 strikes) and received 250 silver dollars from a promotional gimmick the arena used to attract customers. Nobody paid much attention and I personally thought it was an unnecessary inconvenience to lug the sacks to a local bank to get rid of them.

Most of the silver dollars in circulation were probably in Nevada since all the Reno and Las Vegas casino slot machines used them instead of tokens. Even paper currency was printed with the promise to “pay to the bearer on demand … one silver dollar,” which evolved into “one dollar in silver.” For a while, it was possible to get a small plastic bag of silver equivalent to the denomination of the paper currency.

Silver certificates were authorized by two Acts of Congress. The first on Feb. 28, 1878, followed by another on Aug. 9, 1886. These notes are particularly attractive, quite rare and sometimes expensive. At one time, I owned an especially distinguished $20 bill with the head of Captain Stephen Decatur, naval hero of the War of 1812. It was serial number 1 and experts believe that since the Treasury generally printed the $20s first, this note was probably the first silver certificate ever printed. Heritage Auctions auctioned it in 2005 for $175,000 when I sold my currency collection.

However, after Executive Order 6102 of 1933, there were no more gold coins or silver dollars minted in the United States and paper notes were used for denominations above 50 cents. Up to 1964, dimes, quarters and half dollars were minted in 90 percent silver, and half dollars contained 40 percent silver from 1965-70. Even the lowly penny had most of its copper content removed and is now made primarily of zinc, with a thin copper plating.

For 4,000 years, the only period in which civilization has not based its currency on metal, especially gold and silver, is the past 46 years. On Aug. 15, 1971 (“A date that has lived in infamy”), President Richard Nixon announced the temporary suspension of dollars into gold. The White House tapes from the previous week reveal that he thought gold prices would explode after being de-linked since the Federal Reserve would print money like crazy once the currency was not collateralized and this overprinting would affect jobs (unemployment had just gone from 4 percent to 6 percent). And Nixon was “not about to be a hero” (his words) on inflation at the expense of employment.

Then the administration imposed a rigorous regime of wage and price controls, enforced by IRS audits and leverage over federal contracts. The plan failed spectacularly and the 1970s were rife with double-digit inflation, energy shortages and ultimately the “stagflation” that torpedoed both the Ford and Carter presidencies.

Flash forward to today as we are still trying to use monetary policy to solve economic issues and unwilling to even touch the critical fiscal issues that are fundamental to the future economic challenges everyone acknowledges. The only thing that has changed is that there is no need to actually print money when it can be “whistled into existence” via monetary legerdemain called quantitative easing, where the Federal Reserve loans money to the Treasury Department.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the world’s central bankers have materialized $12.25 trillion by tapping on a computer keyboard. For perspective, the value of all the gold that’s ever been mined, according to the World Gold Council, is a mere $7.4 trillion. The historical linkage between the value of our money and its metal content is a quaint relic of the past.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Life, History Have Not Been Fair to Pat Nixon

As the wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president, Pat Nixon, above at her husband’s 1973 inauguration, was trained at the knee of Mamie Eisenhower, the quintessential 1950s political wife.

By Jim O’Neal

As the nation seems transfixed again on the White House and there is a special counsel investigating “everything,” it is nostalgic to see old faces popping up on CNN as the “I” word is faintly heard.

John Dean has returned with his colorful Richard Nixon anecdotes and even Richard Ben-Veniste is back. Ben-Veniste was a special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal and chief counsel for the Democrats in the less-famous, but much longer and tedious Senate Whitewater Committee, which was investigating the Clintons (especially the first lady) over their curious relationships before they left Arkansas.

Rarely does anyone mention earlier first lady Pat Nixon. She grew up on a small truck farm in Artesia, Calif., about 20 miles from my high school (Compton). She lost her mother to cancer when she was 12 and was forced to take over the family household chores, including the laborious task of doing the laundry, which involved building a fire in an outdoor brick fireplace and lifting the clothes with long sticks from cauldrons of boiling water into cold water and then hanging them out to dry.

She also took care of two older brothers and her father for five years until he died from silicosis (miner’s disease). She was an orphan at 17 and determined to get a college degree. She worked her way through the University of Southern California, graduating cum laude in 1937. She met Richard Nixon when they were auditioning for parts in a local production of the mystery drama The Dark Tower. She was teaching shorthand and typing at a high school and he was a young lawyer from Duke University Law School. (He had been accepted into the FBI, but never received the notice.)

They married in June 1940, and then he was off to the Navy for several years. He ran for Congress with Pat as his office manager. She basically devoted the rest of her life supporting his political ambitions. She was crushed when he lost the 1960 presidential race to John F. Kennedy and never understood why reporters never investigated the speculation that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had stolen Illinois’ 27 electoral votes or why her husband had not demanded a recount.

Nixon promised Pat that he was finished with politics after he lost his 1962 comeback campaign for governor of California, famously blasting the deeply hated press with his parting message, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Pat was relieved and her happiest days were after that defeat, when the family moved to New York and Nixon retreated to private life as a lawyer.

By the time they did get to the White House in January 1969, the Vietnam War was raging and the feminist movement was in full swing. As the wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president, Pat was trained at the knee of Mamie Eisenhower, the quintessential 1950s political wife.

Although she never publicly crumbled, Watergate took a terrible toll on Pat Nixon’s health. She lost sleep, lost weight and rumors of her drinking started.

Her loyal aides fought back, saying she enjoyed an occasional highball and a cigarette at the end of a long day. However, Pat told her daughter Julie, “Watergate is the only crisis that got me down. It is just constant and I know I will never live to see the vindication.”

She was right about that. Life and history have not been fair to Pat Nixon … period.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Vice President Agnew Believed They Were Out to Get Him

Spiro Agnew in his memoirs suggested Richard Nixon and Alexander Haig planned to assassinate him.

By Jim O’Neal

Spiro Theodore Agnew was elected vice president twice … in 1968 and 1972. However, he became the second vice president to resign in 1973. Although accused of several crimes along the way, he finally pleaded no contest to a single charge of not reporting $29,500 income in 1967.

Lesser known is that in 1995, his portrait bust was placed in the U.S. Capitol. An 1886 Senate resolution stipulated that all former VPs were entitled to a portrait bust in the building. Agnew proudly attended the formal ceremony.

He later claimed that both President Richard Nixon and his Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, had threatened to assassinate him … “Either resign … or else.” (That would have really been a first!)

Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as president – No. 22 and No. 24.

He was the first Democrat elected after the Civil War, which he conveniently sidestepped by hiring a replacement to take his place in military service.

Some of his firsts include:

• Only president to admit fathering an illegitimate child.

• First and only president to marry in the White House.

• First president to have a child born in the WH.

During the Panic of 1893, he secretly had a cancerous jaw replaced with a rubber mandible. It was done on a yacht at sea to avoid spooking the markets. Perhaps the absence of any “leaks” was because he was a tough man who had (personally) hung two crooks when he was a sheriff in Buffalo.

Thomas Riley Marshall is still a relatively obscure vice president despite serving eight years (1913-21) with Woodrow Wilson, and in 1916 becoming the first VP reelected since John Calhoun (1828).

Many historians argue that he should have assumed the presidency when Wilson suffered his debilitating stroke, but a small group around Wilson (including his wife) were able to keep it a secret. Some Wilson signatures appear to be forged, however Marshall had little interest and confined his duties to calling each day to inquire about the president’s health.

Marshall is famously credited with saying, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar!”

Three of our first five presidents died on July 4, as did Abraham Lincoln’s first VP, Hannibal Hamlin.

Calvin Coolidge Jr. was born on that historic date. After President Warren G. Harding died in San Francisco in 1923, Coolidge assumed the presidency and won re-election in 1924. His father swore him in in 1923 as he was a judge/notary.

“Silent Cal” was a real tax cutter, and by 1927, 98 percent of the population paid zero income tax. Plus, he balanced the budget every year and when he left office in 1929, the federal budget was lower than when he started.

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 chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Public Intrigued by Private Lives of Nixon Daughters

This signed family portrait of the Nixons, showing the first daughters and their husbands, sold for nearly $200 at an April 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

By most accounts, Patricia “Tricia” Nixon was the most beautiful of all White House brides. She was featured alone as the cover story on Life magazine not once but twice. By January 1971, the public was fascinated by her romance with Edward Finch Cox, a young Harvard Law student who had once worked with consumer activist Ralph Nader and written for the liberal New Republic.

Tricia and Ed came from opposite social and political poles. The young Mr. Cox could trace his lineage to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His parents both had social pedigrees and spent their summers at the Long Island estate that had been in the family for six generations.

Richard Nixon was already a lightning rod for an increasingly adversarial media and traveled in much different circles. He had earlier defended himself from using a private fund for personal use by showcasing his modest lifestyle. He bragged that his wife could not boast of a mink coat, but owned a “respectable Republican cloth coat.”

Ed accompanied Tricia to the International Debutante Ball and discovered they had a lot in common. He was “aloof and private,” and she often avoided White House events and was called the “Howard Hughes of the WH” by her popular younger sister Julie. In fact, when Julie married Dwight David Eisenhower II in 1968, it was a small, private ceremony performed by minister and bestselling author Norman Vincent Peale. This alliance of the Nixon-Eisenhower dynasties was intriguing to the public, which naturally assumed Tricia was sure to follow in a more understated manner.

Surprisingly, the private Tricia chose a large White House wedding with a guest list of 400. First Lady Pat Nixon suggested a Rose Garden event and, after a long debate over the risk of rain, the date was set for June 12, 1971. Priscilla Kidder, the “doyenne of bridal outfitting,” designed the dress, and WH pastry chef Heinz Bender produced a 350-pound cantilevered cake that was dissed by some pompous food critics as a “lemony, sweetish non-entity” (tough crowd!).

There was intermittent rain in the morning, but the sun broke through right on schedule. Eighty-seven-year-old Alice Roosevelt was on hand, complaining that her seat was wet. Talking about the Nixon girls, Alice would offer one of her patented biting comments: “I like Julie better than Tricia. I’ve never been able to get on with Tricia. She seems rather pathetic, doesn’t she? I wonder what’s wrong with her?”

It has been pointed out that there were deep reasons and issues behind the famous quips of Alice Roosevelt. Sitting in her damp seat in the Rose Garden, her own glorious moment long forgotten and her famous father now covered over by multiple layers of important personalities and issues, Alice Roosevelt may have been lashing out at the only White House bride whose beauty transcended her own. Pure jealousy is a powerful emotion that takes a long time to dissipate.

The day after the wedding, Ed and Tricia were off to Camp David for their honeymoon. The New York Times broke some story about some “Pentagon Papers” from a little-known military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation. Few probably suspected that this would lead to an even more complex situation that would eventually jar the entire nation.

Fate seems to be indifferent to the emotions of mere mortals.

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].

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].