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Opinion: Nixon on blacks, Jews and women: Talk about impeachable offenses

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We have always wondered if Richard Nixon, who designed the Republican Party’s infamous Southern Strategy, was motivated by racial distrust or sheer political ambition.

You may recall that it was Nixon’s political genius to co-opt the all-Democratic South by appealing to white conservatives to bolt to the Republican Party with not-so-subtle signals -- opposition to school busing and affirmative action -- that it would welcome their support.

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Now, from the latest batch of tapes released by the Nixon Library, come fresh evidence that the 37th POTUS -- the only president to resign from office under threat of impeachment -- had at best stereotypical opinions about blacks, Jews and women.

Responding to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision to legalize abortion, Nixon told aide Chuck Colson that generally abortions were a bad thing, ‘It breaks the family,’ he said. But, Nixon added, ‘There are times when abortions are necessary -- I know that. ... Suppose you have a black and a white,’ he said, adding, ‘or a rape.’

In one exchange that’s received a lot of attention, Nixon rings up George H.W. Bush, then head of the Republican Party, to suggest that he recruit attractive female conservatives to run for office, like those Nixon had seen on a visit to the South Carolina Legislature.

‘I noticed a couple of very attractive women, both of them Republicans, in the Legislature,’ Nixon tells Bush, who became the 41st POTUS. ‘Let’s look for some ... I think maybe a woman might win someplace where a man might not. ... So have you got that in mind?’

‘I’ll certainly keep it in mind,’ Bush replies.

‘Boy, they were good-lookin’ and bright,’ said Nixon who, to be fair, was a rare Republican supporter of the doomed Equal Rights Amendment that would have guaranteed women equal rights under the U.S. Constitution.

In another conversation, with evangelist Billy Graham, Nixon responded to Graham’s complaints that Jewish-American leaders were opposing his efforts to promote evangelical Christianity, like Campus Crusade. The two men agreed that the Jewish leaders risked setting off anti-Semitic sentiment.

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“What I really think is deep down in this country, there is a lot of anti-Semitism, and all this is going to do is stir it up,” Nixon said. “It may be they have a death wish. You know that’s been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries.”

For your listening pleasure, or disdain, 150 hours of tapes are available on the Nixon Library’s website. They are part of a years-long effort by the National Archives to declassify and make public documents and tapes from the Nixon era.

-- Johanna Neuman

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