RICHARD NIXON: 1913-1994 : Clinton Plays an Ironic Role for Nixon Funeral : Presidency: Two decades ago, he protested the war while Hillary Rodham aided Watergate probe. Now the White House is planning rites for a respected adviser.
The President who once protested Richard Nixon’s war policies--and whose wife once helped try to impeach him--is playing a major role in honoring the former President with a state funeral.
The Clinton White House and State Department are handling many of the preparations, including the logistics for the media, the congressional delegation and the foreign leaders who will make up the majority of the private service.
Nixon’s body will be flown to the West Coast aboard one of the planes in the presidential fleet, and his funeral will include a military honor guard to carry the flag-draped coffin to the garden at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda.
It is all part of a surprisingly close professional relationship President Clinton and Nixon established during Clinton’s 15 months in office, an alliance that both men sought and drew benefit from.
For Nixon, it was the final piece of a 20-year effort to resurrect his prestige after the disgrace of being forced to resign under the threat of impeachment. He was publicly functioning as the reflective elder statesman, the wise man to Presidents. According to Nixon’s informal advisers, part of his carefully constructed strategy for his public rehabilitation was not to appear too partisan.
For Clinton, in turn, Nixon provided a valuable ally and prestige in his most vulnerable area: foreign policy. And the relationship enhanced Clinton’s standing with Republicans.
Within the first hour after Nixon’s death was announced Friday night, Clinton paid tribute to the former President in a live TV statement from the White House Rose Garden. He also noted that he had spoken with Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Cox and Julie Eisenhower, by telephone after hearing the news.
And Nixon himself asked that Clinton give a eulogy at his funeral. Late last week, after Nixon’s stroke, the Rev. Billy Graham conveyed to the White House Nixon’s desire to be eulogized by the President, U.S. News & World Report reported today.
White House aides are being unusually reticent about the details of the funeral at the behest of the Nixon family, including the reasons for the former President’s decision to eschew lying in state at the Capitol in Washington.
“There is much I can’t tell you because we are trying to respect the family’s privacy,” an Administration official said.
Until Tuesday, Nixon’s body will remain at an undisclosed New Jersey funeral home, where his family and invited friends will be able to pay their respects, according to the late President’s New Jersey office.
Nixon’s body then will be driven north to Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y. An aircraft from the presidential fleet will fly the body to El Toro Marine Air Station in California.
His coffin will be taken by motorcade to the library’s main lobby, where Nixon is to lie in state until 11 a.m. Wednesday. Officials are expecting thousands of mourners--so many, in fact, that they are reserving parking lots miles away and chartering shuttle buses.
“This is a tidal wave coming at us,” one library official said.
In keeping with Nixon’s wishes, his coffin will remain closed as mourners file past.
The funeral service at 4 p.m. Wednesday, for invited guests only, will be broadcast on all major television networks. Music will be provided by the Navy choir and orchestra.
Family members will occupy seats on the lawn, while the hundreds of guests will fill bleachers that are being hastily erected in the library’s parking lot.
The Clinton Administration’s prominent role in the funeral proceedings is yet another in a long list of ironies in Nixon’s incredible career. As President, Nixon described students who protested the war as “terrorists.” Clinton was one such protester while a student in Britain. Hillary Rodham Clinton worked as a staff attorney on the House committee that voted to impeach Nixon.
Once Clinton was in office, however, the two men exchanged letters, phone calls and held private meetings. Clinton offered Nixon briefings on U.S. foreign policy, and Nixon presented reports on his foreign travels.
When Pat Nixon, the former President’s wife of 53 years, died last year, Clinton dispatched the plane that had served as Nixon’s Air Force One to fly her body home to California.
When Clinton asked, Nixon vigorously lobbied members of Congress on behalf of increased aid to Russia. And as Nixon made his last trip to Russia in March, Clinton called to say that the former President’s plans to meet with opponents of Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin would be “useful” to the White House, a calculation that later resulted in Yeltsin furiously refusing to see Nixon altogether.
“Our relationship (was) warm and constructive,” Clinton said Friday, “and he went out of his way to give me his best advice, and I was incredibly impressed with the energy and the vigor and, frankly, the rigor that he brought to analyzing this issue.”
But in a book completed shortly before his fatal stroke--and excerpted in Time magazine today--Nixon does criticize Clinton’s handling of the situation in Somalia while warning that America’s next war will be an internal battle for unity.
“The debacle in Somalia was a lesson in how not to conduct foreign policy,” Nixon wrote in “Beyond Peace.” “What began as a highly popular humanitarian relief program under President Bush became a highly controversial U.N. nation-building project under President Clinton.”
Nixon also denounced Clinton’s health care reform plan, whose “1,342 impenetrable pages is less a prescription for better health care than a blueprint for the takeover by the federal government of one-seventh of the nation’s economy.”
The book’s other message, about national unity, might seem particularly ironic, coming from the President who employed dirty tricks against his political foes, kept an enemies list in the Oval Office and whose own close advisers talked about the depths of his paranoia.
The United States must “learn the art of national unity in the absence of war or some other external threat,” Nixon wrote. A failure to do so will jeopardize the nation’s diversity, individuality and freedom, he said.
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