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George Herbert Walker Bush And President Richard Nixon

November 7, 2015

One of the interesting reads from the news pile today.


ROADS NOT TAKEN: Jon Meacham’s “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” out Tuesday from Random House, reveals something that even many Bush family members didn’t know: President Nixon had chosen then-Congressman Bush as an assistant to later-imprisoned chief of staff Bob Haldeman. Bush went along with the appointment, even though he wanted to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nixon quickly changed his mind, and Bush went to the U.N. It seems pretty certain that if he had kept his small office in the West Wing, neither Bush — nor his son – would have won the Oval.

MEACHAM EXCERPT: In December, 1970, after Bush had lost his race of U.S. Senate in Texas, White House adviser Peter “Flanigan brought the White House’s offer to Bush [who wanted to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N.]: Would he be interested in serving as an assistant to the president, working with Haldeman? Bush said yes, prompting Flanigan to make an indiscreet remark. ‘Well, you know, George, you’d have to work hard if you took this job.’ (‘How George kept his temper, I’ll never know,’ wrote Barbara.) It was one of the first of many subsequent indignities Bush would have to suffer as part of an appointive career …

“On … December 9, 1970 , Bush reported to Haldeman’s West Wing office. … The president, Bush recalled, said that he ‘felt I could do a good job for him in the White House presenting the positive side of the issues.’ … Before leaving the Oval, … Bush made his case for the United Nations, arguing that Nixon needed an enthusiastic spokesman in Manhattan’s diplomatic, financial, and media circles. Bush [said] he could ‘spell out’ Nixon’s ‘programs with some style and we could preempt that mass news media area- that he was operating almost in a vacuum. . . . I felt I could really put forward an image there that would be very helpful to the administration.’

“Nixon had not considered the matter in quite this light before. ‘Wait a minute, Bob, this makes some sense,’ the president said to Haldeman. Nixon paused, his mind turning over the possibilities and their ramifications. ‘Let’s announce tomorrow that Bush will be Assistant to the President with general duties, and that he will start right after the Congress reconvenes,’ Nixon said. … ‘[P]ut a “hold” on the U.N. job [so] we can still have the option open, … but go ahead with the staff position.’ Nixon told Haldeman to get Bush a White House office …

“Nixon … thought things over again. Bush’s argument- one that spoke to Nixon’s sense of insecurity about the East- had been that nobody in the nation’s largest city seemed to be on the president’s side. … Why not send the affable Ivy Leaguer up to Manhattan to defend the president in the salons of the East Side? Think of it: The polished son of a senator from Greenwich working to promote the cause of a grocer’s son from Whittier. … And as Haldeman had once said, Bush ‘takes our line beautifully.’ On reflection, Nixon thought Bush should indeed go to the United Nations. ‘You’ve sold the President, and he wants to move with it now,’ Haldeman told Bush, whose career as a White House aide had lasted far less than a day.”

THE SCOOP: “There was another factor in Nixon’s thinking: the 1972 campaign. The president suggested that the Bushes forgo living full-time in the customary forty-second-floor ambassadorial apartment at the Waldorf Towers. Instead, Nixon said the family should set up residence in Greenwich or another suburb, and have Bush commute from Connecticut to the United Nations-all to set the stage for a 1972 Bush challenge in Connecticut to U.S. senator Abraham Ribicoff, Prescott’s old political foe. Bush resisted the idea of a Senate campaign from Connecticut-he believed himself a Texan-but there was no need to argue about all of that now. The future would take care of itself. What mattered was that Bush had prevailed. He had the job he wanted.”

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