Patrick J. Buchanan, setting out to correct the “myths” of his former presidential boss, this week is unleashing a memo-filled memoir that debunks several charges against Richard Nixon, including the most scurrilous: the so-called GOP White House “southern strategy” was racist.
In The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority, Buchanan provides multiple examples of the former president's “emotional empathy” with African-Americans and reminds readers that Democrats had a strong racist strain 50 years ago, as evidenced by the 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
“Just about every Klan member between 1865 and 1965 is a Democrat, and we’re charged with all this stuff?” he said mockingly in an interview.
Hired in 1966 as one Nixon’s original and closest aides, Buchanan said, “I know exactly what was done, what happened, where we were, what we said.”
The southern strategy started when he and Nixon wrote a column for the Washington Post on May 8, 1966, that criticized a century of Democratic “racist oratory” in the South and recommended that the GOP “adhere to the principles” of Abraham Lincoln.
They wrote: “The Democratic Party in the South has ridden to power for a century on an annual tide of racist oratory. The Democratic Party is the party that rides with the hounds in the North and hares in the South. The Republicans, as the South’s party of the future, should reject this hypocritical policy of the past.”
The goal: Draw attention to the hypocrisy of the Democrats and show respect for blacks. According to Buchanan, Nixon opposed Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs not because of any animus toward blacks but because he felt it would lead to a dependent welfare society.
“What the Left never understood, or would never accept, is that Nixon brought the South into the Republican column not because he shared their views on segregation or civil rights. He did not. What we shared was the South’s contempt for a liberal press and hypocritical Democratic Party that had coexisted happily with [pro-segregation] Dixiecrats for a century but got religion when conservative Republicans began to steal the South away from them,” he wrote.
In The Greatest Comeback, Buchanan also addresses other “myths” in his effort to correct the Nixon history. Key among them is the so-called “Secret Plan” Nixon had for ending the Vietnam war.
Buchanan writes that while Nixon did promise to end the war, he didn’t have anything up his sleeve other than believing a change in the White House would be the spark to an eventual victory.
“When Nixon won in November , press cynics, after castigating him for months for allegedly claiming he had a secret plan when he had none, spun around and said Nixon had won only because he lied about having a secret plan. To this day the myth lives. The truth: Nixon never said he had any ‘secret plan’ to end the war in Vietnam.”
His book ends with Nixon's election in 1968. Buchanan, himself a two-time presidential candidate, said he plans a second about the Nixon presidency, which he witnessed first hand until Watergate forced the Republican to resign in 1974. That will also be published by Crown Forum.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.