We have already had a number of attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of one John Enoch Powell from the usual suspects in the right leaning part of the Fourth Estate, most notably from the appallingly pompous and self-righteous Simon Heffer, first in the Telegraph and more recently at the Mail. These have at best achieved very limited success, but the appetite for re-writing history is still there.
And this has been underscored by Jonathan Aitken’s piece for the Tel, presumptuously titled “Richard Nixon’s dark side has obscured his greatness”. Yes, we are now being subjected to the ultimate act of historical revision, to acquiesce in the cleansing of Tricky Dicky, the only US President of recent times to be forced from office in disgrace – with the deed being done by his own party.
Aitken somehow manages to suggest that the Watergate break-in – the act that gave us the nowadays inevitable suffix of “gate” to any political ruckus – actually had nothing to do with Nixon, which is weapons grade bullshit. It was from Tricky Dicky that the whole culture of paranoia that precipitated such actions stemmed. He was the one on whose behalf The Dark Arts spilled over into forthright criminality.
Moreover, there was then the attempted cover-up, the hook upon which Nixon was ultimately impaled. He lost his vice-President – Spiro T Agnew had to go after admitting his own criminal wrongdoing – and the top job was then prised from his grip. But what Aitken fails to address at all are the demonstrable shortcomings of the man which were known well before his White House days.
Nixon had a key role in precipitating the alliance between Cuba and the then Soviet Union, an event that did not need to happen, and whose fallout still lingers today. When Fidel Castro visited the USA in 1959, Dwight Eisenhower was typically “absent and golfing”, as he had been all too often during both his terms as President. Nixon, his vice-President, received Castro, and there the troubles began.
Nixon concluded that Castro was “either incredibly naive about Communism or under Communist discipline”: put directly, the Cuban leader was held to be susceptible to Communism if he were not already a Communist. When the USA had the opportunity to give help and encouragement to Cuba, it demurred or refused. There was talk of punishment politics. The presidency authorised preparation for invasion.
And Nixon’s character was known yet before that, as witness Adlai Stevenson’s “Nixonland” speech in October 1956: “Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. But I tell you, it is not America”.
Stevenson was right. And Jonathan Aitken is plain flat wrong on Tricky Dicky.