Debunking the right’s enduring myth: The truth about Richard Nixon and the fight to overturn the 1960 election
...Richard Nixon, the high-minded gracious loser? Even Nixon’s mother wouldn’t believe that one.Yet, somehow it’s become part of the nation’s political lore — Richard Nixon’s most successful, most enduring lie.
The example of Nixon’s high-mindedness was prominently floated during the 2000 Florida election contest, as a way of slamming Al Gore, but it was all a myth, according to David Greenberg, an historian finishing his dissertation, which later became the book, “Nixon’s Shadow: The History Of An Image.” On Nov. 10, 2000, he wrote an op-ed for the LA Times, “It’s a Myth That Nixon Acquiesced in 1960,” in which he wrote:
It’s certainly true that Nixon claimed he spurned advice from President Eisenhower to dispute the election results in order to spare the country a constitutional crisis. (He was saving that for 1973.) And, indeed, Nixon’s version of events now borders on accepted fact. But it’s a myth and a false precedent….
[W]hile Nixon publicly pooh-poohed a challenge, his allies aggressively pursued one. Much of this history has, incredibly, been forgotten as biographers such as Stephen E. Ambrose have propounded Nixon’s line. But a glance at the 1960 newspapers shows that GOP leaders tried to undo the results. They knew it was a longshot, but the effort continued right up until the electoral college certified Kennedy’s win on Dec. 19.
Nixon himself struck a hands-off pose, but one word from him, and it’s hard to see how any challenges would have continued. It was typical Tricky Dick all the way: cover-up and conspiracy seamlessly combined.
I was blogging about the Florida election battle at the Los Angeles Indymedia site, and interviewed Greenberg one week later. He discussed the reasons why such myths persist, who was involved in pushing the recounts, and how they came up short, among other topics. At one point, I asked about Nixon’s role in casting himself as hero:
Question: You write that Eisenhower quickly soured on the idea [of contesting the election], but that Nixon claimed that he was the one advocating restraint. Tell us more about this.
Greenberg: There have been a number of people who’ve written about this, but the one I’ve relied on for the Eisenhower role is Ralph de Toledano, a conservative journalist who wrote for Newsweek and then for National Review.
He wrote a biography of Nixon, “One Man Alone,” which he updated in 1969. In the updated version he said that Eisenhower’s about-face wasn’t widely known until after his death. Apparently Attorney General Bill Rogers also didn’t want the challenge to go forward. So with Eisenhower and Rogers against it was difficult for Nixon to go ahead in public. Toledano later said that it was “The first time I ever caught Nixon in a lie.” ...