Nixon: A Life

Jonathan Aitken. Regnery, 635 pages, $28.00

Chuck Fager

Early in Jonathan Aitken’s work on this extremely sympathetic biography, Richard Nixon wrote to him that “The impact of my Quaker heritage on my personality has been underestimated.”

Nixon was right: his religious background does seem to have been a crucial influence on him, though–as was the case with so much about the man–not exactly in the ways one might think.

Nixon’s religious background was important in several ways: It produced the initial framing metaphors for his public career; it offered a model for his political style; and it provided a seeming validation of both in Nixon’s first and formative major “crisis,” the Alger Hiss spy case. But in the end, in Watergate, it was a major factor in bringing Nixon down. These connections deserve a closer examination.

But they don’t get it in Aitken’s book. After quoting Nixon’s comment, Aitken fails to follow it up except in the most superficial fashion. As he portrays the Quakerism of Nixon’s parents, Frank and Hannah, it was not much more than a humdrum cult of small-town respectability and routine: attendance at four services on Sunday, a regimen of prayers and Bible-reading throughout the week, and strict commandments against such worldly perils as dancing, drinking, gambling and searing. Aitken quotes a waggish summary of their creed as “‘No pomp in any circumstance.'”

This neglect of Nixon’s religious background is the more puzzling because Aitken, a Conservative British Member of Parliament, sees himself, here as elsewhere, as redressing the balance of biographical opinion about Nixon. Yet his four-page, small-type bibliography lists not a single title relating to Quaker history or beliefs. Likewise, among the 135 persons he personally interviewed, there were no Quaker scholars or leaders, local or national.

All Aitken knows of this phenomenon which he agrees shaped the Nixonian character is what the late president told him, supplemented by a review of some fascinating but sketchy oral history interviews with old-time residents of Nixon’s hometown of Whittier, California.

Which is to say, he doesn’t know much. That the Nixons were pietistic and puritanical is true enough, but by itself this doesn’t tell us a lot. Nor can Aitken get much from the sect’s one distinctive feature he can’t avoid mentioning: the tradition of Quaker pacifism. With the coming of World War Two, this conviction ought to have confronted the young Nixon with a major moral choice, between becoming a conscientious objector and joining the military. But the varying reports of Nixon’s response offer a microcosm of the difficulty with truth-telling which was a hallmark of his public statements.

Consider these varying reports: Biographer Henry Spalding, in The Nixon Nobody Knows (1972), confidently asserted that Nixon’s 1942 Navy enlistment came only after “many months of agonized soul-searching”; this version was confirmed by Pat Nixon in Bela Kornitzer’s The Real Nixon (1960), where she says that “Because of Richard’s upbringing, he did much soul-searching before he made his decision.”

On the other hand, Stephen Ambrose in Nixon: The Education of a Politician (1987), speaks of “some soul-searching” but “no crisis of conscience”. And Nixon himself told Life magazine in 1970 that becoming a conscientious objector “never crossed my mind.” Further, in his 1978 Memoirs he declared flatly that “I never considered doing this.”

Perhaps Aitken can’t be blamed if he fails to brings new light to this clutter of conflicting accounts. He notes tentatively that joining the navy was “not a straightforward decision,” since, as a Quaker, Nixon was “entitled to a complete exemption”. He adds that his “parents hoped he would take this route”, but concludes that Nixon “felt strongly that it was his duty to volunteer….”

What is the truth? Who knows? Not me; certainly not Aitken; and for that matter, maybe not Nixon himself.

But if we don’t, can’t, know much about Nixon’s pacifist soul-searching (if any), we can learn much from the larger Quaker context in which the dilemma might have arisen. Nor is it particularly hard to do so. The course and evolution of Quakerism across the continent, and in southern California, has been charted in some detail. Two excellent resources are Quakers In California by David Le Shana, and The Transformation of American Quakerism by Thomas Hamm. Roger Morris, one of Aitken’s major rivals as a Nixon biographer and author of Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of An American Politician (1990), actually did read Le Shana’s book, and it shows: His summary of the cultural and religious context of Nixon’s childhood, while still too sketchy, has much more depth than Aitken’s.

The “transformation” Hamm speaks of was the impact of revivalism upon Indiana Quakers, including Nixon’s Milhous ancestors, beginning about 1867. Hamm depicts antebellum Quakers as living “a spiritual life that differed radically from that of almost all other Christians”: They worshipped in silence in unadorned meetinghouses, with no paid clergy, offered equality for women in preaching, and upheld a set of strict “testimonies” against war, slavery and worldly luxury.

These Quakers even talked strangely, addressing others as “thee” and “thou,” an obsolete usage which was supposed to testify to the equality of all. One of the few features they shared with other churches was their organization into regional associations called Yearly Meetings, which met in annual conference to do their corporate church business.

Revivalism came to them in the form of travelling evangelists, mainly itinerant Methodists, who asked to hold prayer sessions in Meeting houses, and stayed to take over. Their widespread success swept aside virtually all the “peculiarities” of midwestern Friends as if they were so many cobwebs. By the turn of this century, historian Hamm says, a visitor to almost any Indiana Quaker assembly would have found “little…to distinguish the…Friends Church (‘Meeting’ had been dropped as archaic) from any other church in the community.

All but gone were the bonnets and broadbrims, the pacifism, the concern for racial equality and the nascent feminism. Silent “unprogrammed” meetings had been drowned out by the pastors’ preference for booming hymns, a mourner’s bench up front for the loud confessions induced by altar calls, and fervently authoritative preaching. The combination was aimed at moving the unsaved to repentance, and the saved to revival. Conversion and sanctification were all that really mattered.

Just how far this transformation ultimately went was shown in the 1920s: When the Ku Klux Klan rode to power in Indiana, many Quakers, whose sect had once been the backbone of abolitionism, signed up with the Invisible Empire. In fact, the Imperial Empress of the state Klan’s women’s auxiliary was a Quaker minister, Daisy Douglas Barr, who pastored two prominent Friends churches during her Klan tenure.

One reason for the vulnerability of many revivalist Quakers to the Klan was that their new pastors had imbibed of the premillenial dispensationalist teaching of John Nelson Darby. One crucial feature of this Rapture-Tribulation-Armageddon mishmash was an often-repeated warning that in these “last days,” mainstream Christianity would be subverted by the Beast 666, the Anti-Christ. It was predicted that the Beast and his minions would manage to seduce almost everybody–everybody, that is, but the true believers.

Hence, along with conversion and sanctification, much of a revival church’s energy was taken up with identifying and battling against the insidious Enemies, both Without and Within. It proved all too easy to see the marks of the Beast on any outsiders or new ideas which seemed to threaten the small-town white evangelical Protestant self-image–Catholics, Jews, blacks, and theological liberals.

Thus the revivalist outlook was a peculiar mix of comfort and apprehension: in the bosom of church and faithful family, one could feel safe and sound, in an atmosphere of determined hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil sweetness and light. But these citadels were deep in enemy territory, always subject to hostile incursions, and–worst of all–vulnerable to subversion from within. As midwestern Friends, including the Milhouses, trekked west toward California, they carried this ambivalent worldview along with their other family heirlooms.

Southern California was also a major Klan center throughout the twenties when Richard Nixon was a boy, and Klan scholar David Chalmers says “suburban Los Angeles remained one of the busiest Klan areas.” For a time the Klan even controlled the town of Anaheim, barely ten miles from Whittier. In the Golden State, its enemies list also included Hispanics and Japanese.

There’s no evidence the Nixons were sympathetic to the Klan, and in fact Nixon’s mother and grandmother were known for inclusive racial attitudes. Yet the Klan’s strength in the region was an important indicator of the kind of milieu in which Hannah Nixon’s son was growing up. For that matter, while non-whites were admitted to Whittier College, housing in the Quaker-founded town was tightly and intentionally segregated.

Such attitudes, and revivalism generally, did have their Quaker critics, however. Many of these progressive Quaker critics were scholars, or found refuge on college campuses.

While staunchly Christian, the progressives nonetheless found inspiration among the liberal Protestant theologians who were spreading such unsettling new ideas as evolution, critical study of the Bible, and what came to be called the Social Gospel. They derided revivalism as shallow, ignorant emotionalism, a shoddy bumpkin substitute for the life of the mind and the quieter, more interior Quaker spirituality of pre-revival days. Their condescending attitudes added a distinct element of class conflict to the ensuing struggles.

The revivalists were equally status-sensitive of course, and resented being patronized. As one lady Friend complained after an erudite lecture by Rufus Jones, the leading academic liberal, “Jesus said ‘Feed my sheep,’ not ‘Feed my giraffes.'”

Fierce infighting between these “modernists” and the fundamentalists raged among Quakers for fifty years(as it did in many other Protestant denominations), and spread to southern California Quakerism almost as soon as it began. Quaker colleges were particular centers of these struggles; and Whittier College, organized in 1887 by founders of California Yearly Meeting of Friends as the denomination’s school, was no exception.

While Aitken, like other biographers, is silent on this point, there can be no question that the Nixons were aware of these conflicts. When Hannah Milhous enrolled at the college in 1905-7, pressure was building in the Yearly Meeting against what a fundamentalist editor branded its “Modern Scientific Infidelity.” The same was true when her second son entered the school in 1930.

The Yearly Meeting’s strong fundamentalist party wanted the new school to become a Bible College, training missionaries and evangelists and rigorously avoiding evolution and other features of “modernism.” But the fundamentalists were continually outmaneuvered by the modernists at Whittier. Hence by 1910 they were supporting a nondenominational rival, the Training School for Christian Workers, along Bible College lines. But by the mid-1930s, while still vaguely connected to California Yearly Meeting, the college was effectively secularized.

Attacks on infidelity at Whittier, however, continued periodically for years. One of the last and noisiest of these assaults involved Professor J. Herschel Coffin, who proved to be Richard Nixon’s spiritual mentor. Coffin had a long Quaker pedigree, but among his many “modernist” sins was a course called “The Philosophy of Christian Reconstruction,” a mix of philosophy, theology, and–horror of horrors–evolution.

In 1930 he was loudly accused by a travelling evangelist of purveying teachings that were “unorthodox and contrary to the Bible.” The evangelist’s tirades resounded through the small California Quaker world. A formal inquiry was launched by a local Quaker committee, which ended with Coffin humiliated but exonerated.

However, the committee had probably been stacked with College supporters, because Coffin’s teaching was in fact corrosive of the fundamentalist outlook. This was proven in the experience of his most famous pupil, who enrolled at the College that same year, and took Coffin’s “Christian Reconstruction” course in 1933.

Aitken’s narrative is entirely innocent of this background to Nixon’s experience in the course, but he does quote extensively from the papers Richard Nixon prepared for Coffin. Before he had arrived on the campus, Nixon wrote, his parents, who were “`fundamental Quakers'” had “ground into me…all the fundamental ideas in their strictest interpretation. The infallibility of the Bible, the miracles, even the whale story, all these I accepted as facts when I entered college four years ago.” Nor could he “forget the admonition not to be misled by college professors who might be a little too liberal in their views!”

Nixon was not exaggerating. Besides the years of indoctrination at home and in church, in the 1920s Nixon’s father had taken him to many interdenominational crusades by such bigtime preachers as Aimee Semple McPherson and the Reverend Robert Schuler.

Schuler, for one, was not just a razzmatazz preacher: he was also a political power, leading campaigns against crooked public officials, demanding that the King James Bible be made compulsory reading matter in area public schools (this was, incidentally, one of the California Klan’s big demands), and denouncing the teaching of evolution at the California Institute of Technology. Schuler later came close to winning a U.S. Senate seat.

The style and mass appeal of these crusaders could not have been lost on the attentive boy from Yorba Linda. Nixon later wrote in Billy Graham’s magazine that he had stood up and made a decision for Christ in one such mass rally.

But as a result of Coffin’s tutelage, the college senior wrote, “My beliefs are shattered….My religious thinking has been revolutionized….” Vanished, he noted, was biblical literalism, even faith in the physical resurrection of Jesus. In their place was–what? Nixon’s essays point toward a mid-thirties Protestant liberalism, focussed on “God as creator of all things,” and the vaguely described “religion of Jesus” as a model for personal and social uplift, a model which included a commitment to a strengthened League of Nations.

However reasonable Nixon’s development in Coffin’s class may sound to some, it marked exactly the outcome Whittier’s revivalist critics had long been warning against. Small wonder that at the rival Training School for Christian Workers, such encroachments were fended off by requiring each faculty member to sign a strongly evangelical creed.

The Training School is now known as Azusa Pacific University, and it still maintains this practice of personally attested doctrinal accountability. Indeed, all Azusa professors are expected to reaffirm their adherence to the creed, in writing, every year. Clearly, Professor Coffin and his ilk would not have lasted long there.

As for evolution, Azusa’s Dean of Arts and Sciences told me it is approached there strictly as an unproven theory, and not permitted to undermine their evangelical faith. Creationism, while not endorsed, is treated with equal respect. Not coincidentally, California Yearly Meeting of the Friends Church cut all ties with Whittier by the early fifties, and is now formally affiliated with Azusa.

Aitken interprets Nixon’s papers from Coffin’s course solely in private terms, as “an extraordinary display of self-analysis” for a mere twenty year-old. He also notes that thereafter Nixon “changed course and kept his spiritual beliefs private.” But in these papers we can also observe Nixon as he is constructing a personal character which would become a keystone of his public career: the habit of concealing his actual convictions and style both from his own constituency as well as from potential foes.

Thus the changes tracked in these undergraduate essays were of more than private spiritual significance. In a real sense College and Azusa Pacific University repreent the poles between which much of Nixon’s later career took shape. Although his private convictions had clearly moved far from fundamentalism, he remained connected to the fundamentalist constituency by ties of family and denomination, as well as innumerable exposures to the star evangelist crusaders and their often extemely reactionary supporters.

This mixed background proved very valuable later. When Nixon moved into politics, he proved highly skilled at mobilizing fundamentalist sentiment in support of programs which in many respects were closer to the ideas of Professor Coffin. He knew all the buttons, and how to push them. One very successful instrument of this career of dissimulation was the Rev. Billy Graham, whom Nixon met in 1950. It is important to note here that Graham had earlier met Nixon’s mother, and she had attended and strongly supported Graham’s evangelistic crusades.

Nixon managed to knit the Azusa-Whittier tendencies together behind him initially by packaging himself and his first campaign, against the feckless New Deal Democrat Jerry Voorhis, in the familiar imagery and language of the crusade against the Enemy Within, defined this time as the Red Menace. Against “Godless Communism,” the rhetoric did not even have to be much secularized. But this rhetoric had very specific secular targets, especially labor unions.

Here again, one can’t help but note that labor activism and communism had become the principal targets of the Ku Klux Klan after their heyday in the twenties, although in 1946 it was Nixon’s supporters who spread rumors that Jerry Voorhis’s father had been a Klansman. Thus Nixon skillfully wooed this end of the spectrum while publicly sustaining the more respectable Whittier image.

To liberal-minded readers, the notion that Nixon’s far-right anticommunist crusader’s identity was artifice rather than of his essence may seem dubious. Yet more dedicated conservatives were long of this opinion. Columnist Robert Novak is one such. In a post-mortem column published in The Washington Post on April 28, 1994 he declared flatly that, “Nixon was no conservative in either domestic or foreign policy.”

But besides his campaign skills, Nixon also had history on his side. What kept Novak’s variety of hard rightists loyal to Nixon, the columnist said, was one event above all: his performance as a first term Congressman in the Alger Hiss spy case. As Novak put it, “The Case froze Nixon forever as the enemy of the left and the champion of the right, no matter how much he later deviated from those stereotypes.”

This is true enough. But as the formative episode of his political career, “The Case” is even more interesting when seen from the angle of Nixon’s Quaker background.

Alger Hiss was a high-level State Department official during and after World War Two. In August 1948 Hiss was fingered as a communist spy by Whittaker Chambers. Chambers, an admitted former underground communist agent, made the accusation before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Nixon was HUAC’s junior Republican member (as, on the Democratic side, was fellow-freshman John Kennedy).

Hiss was the very embodiment of Eastern Liberal Establishment gentility. When he contemptuously denied Chambers’s accusation, the press loudly backed him, and much of the committee wanted to give up on the probe. But Nixon persisted, and ultimately broke the case. Hiss was later convicted of perjury and jailed for lying to the Committee, although he has always maintained his innocence. The Hiss case set the table for McCarthyism, and made Nixon a national figure.

What is intriguing for us about “The Case”, though, is how many Quakers were involved. Indeed, it could almost be seen as one more sectarian Quaker squabble, but this time writ large across the national consciousness, with equally major consequences.

The accuser, Whittaker Chambers, had become a devout Friend after abandoning Communism. He was no fulminating fundamentalist, but he certainly saw the confrontation with Hiss in the most apocalyptic terms, East against West, aggressive atheism against beleaguered faith, with the outcome of the struggle dubious at best.

For his part, Hiss was connected to Friends through his wife Priscilla, who had picked up a form of Quakerism in college at Bryn Mawr. When Nixon called Priscilla Hiss to testify, she asked to affirm rather than swear, invoking one of the oldest Quaker “testimonies.” During a visit to Chambers’s Maryland farm, the witness told Nixon the Hisses talked to each other in the old Quaker manner as “thee” and “thou”. (Hiss later used the same distinctive forms of address in letters to his wife from prison.) In his Memoirs, Nixon says it was this item, reminding him of his mother’s way of speaking to her sisters, that “convinced me that [Chambers] was telling the truth.”

Still another friend of the Hisses, Noel Field, was likewise a former State Department official, an acknowledged communist spy–and a Quaker. Field escaped Nixon’s clutches by fleeing to Eastern Europe, only to fall victim there to the more paranoid and much bloodier Stalinist purges: accused of being a double agent, Field and his wife spent six years in an underground Hungarian prison.

Add to this the strain of class anger which had long been a subtext of the fundamentalist-modernist clash, and which Nixon carried like a birthmark. During the hearings, after a clash over a point of law, Hiss snapped at Nixon, “I am familiar with the law. I attended Harvard Law School. I believe yours was Whittier.”

At this, according to HUAC staffer Robert Stripling, “Nixon turned red and blue and red again. You could see the hackles on his back practically pushing his coat up.”

One can also imagine the hairs standing up on the back of Nixon’s neck as he added up these associations. In Hiss, as the case unfolded, all the overblown rhetoric of the revivalist preachers about the Enemy Within suddenly took flesh. As Chambers put it in his testimony, “Mr. Hiss represents the concealed enemy against which we are all fighting, and I am fighting.”

Certainly Nixon’s reaction to Hiss were more than simply ideological, they were visceral. In his book on the case, Witness, Chambers later recalled Nixon, “in the blackest hour” of the case, “standing by [my] barn and saying in his quietly savage way (he is the kindest of men): `If the American people understood the real character of Alger Hiss, they would boil him in oil.'” A heretic’s fate for the arch-heretic.

The Hiss case was a personal and political triumph for Richard Nixon. But it was more than that: It became a lens through which he viewed almost all of his later political life. In this mythic scenario, Nixon is the lonely, persecuted bearer of light, surrounded by ruthless enemies, and if he is obliged to be ruthless against them, it is in a good cause. To judge from the record, Noxon never felt the force of this vision more than in the ultimate crisis of Watergate.

Writing in The New York Times shortly after the resignation, Garry Wills–perhaps the most incisive of longtime Nixon watchers–documented this obsession as recorded on the famous White House tapes. Nixon recorded himself not only constantly referring to “The Case,” but also badgering his aides to read and re-read his account of it in his book, Six Crises. Wills says ultimate loyalist Chuck Colson had read the book fourteen times. “Richard Nixon,” Wills quips grimly, “Hiss is your life.”

The persistence of this fixation was confirmed by Michael Korda in The New Yorker in its May 9 1998 issue. Korda, then Nixon’s publisher, visited the former president’s Saddle River retreat in 1989, along with two diplomats from mainlaind China. Korda was amazed, during a house tour, when Nixon pulled clothbound copies of Chambers’s Witness from his desk, autographed them, and pressed them on his Chinese guests as “`one of the most important books of the twentieth century…'” Nixon proceeded to give his impassively bemused guests from the communist Peoples Republic a precis of his triumphant unmasking of a communist spy four decades earlier. During the narrative, Korda leaned over and saw that the entire drawer of Nixon’s desk was filled with Chambers’s testament.

Wills wonders aloud why Nixon was so consumed with his memories of “The Case,” and reflects, “I think he was a fundamentally decent man until…he learned politics as a craft–and a duty–of destruction; and did violence to his better nature in the process….He could never forget that the foe was ready to do to him what he had done to Voorhis and Hiss….He honestly thought all other politicians lived by this killer’s code….A new, evil Nixon was born in the Hiss case, and he felt a duty to nurture that Nixon even as it was consuming him.”

As usual, Wills is trenchant and revealing. But I think there was more to this connection than he sees here. For Nixon, Hiss brought together his personal demons–particularly class anger and inferiority–and the political incarnation of the infernal “concealed enemy” his evangelical Quaker culture had urged him since childhood to search out and destroy.

Yet this same fundamentalism also taught him that, until the final defeat of the enemy by Christ at Armageddon, no penultimate conquest was more than temporary. In which case, the spirit behind Hiss was sure to be back. In Watergate, the enemy, whose name by now was Legion, took its vengeance. As Aitken underlines, Nixon was not paranoid: lots of people were out to get him.

But this time, at least in the public melodrama, the terms became reversed, and it was Nixon who was cast in the role of the enemy within, threatening the Constitution, free elections, and perhaps most fatally of all, Nixon’s carefully-nurtured image with his core supporters. In such a paradoxical setting, the political combativeness that had served Nixon so well against Hiss and others did not work this last time.

Just how counterproductive it had become was shown superlatively in the furor over the frequency of the phrase “expletive deleted” in the transcripts of the White House tapes. By the time the transcripts were made public, Nixon was expecting as much. He was not troubled when Newsweek reported in January 1974 that more than 200 Quaker Meetings had called on the East Whittier Friends Church to disown him because of his conduct of the Vietnam War and the Watergate revelations; he knew they were the liberal Quakers, the “Hiss types”. They were against him anyway.

But his Whittier Quakers, and the millions like them, weren’t Hiss types; they were conservative, but not fanatics. Nixon was, above all, one of them, one of the sanctified, a man who knew how to act, and how to talk. Their concern, the logical evangelical concern, was not with policy but with his personal virtue; they would let him define pacifism any way he wished.

Thus his credibility with them was largely built on a persona of uptight, positive-thinking prissiness. There was, of course, some authenticity to this image, but it had also been carefully customized to reflect their small-town evangelical mindset. When these supporters saw Their Nixon revealed on the tapes as talking with such crass cynicism, and spewing four-letter words right and left, the response was, in Aitken’s elegant phrasing, “a moralistic cyclone of opprobrium.”

Why, Aitken agonizes, did Nixon delete the expletives, and thus highlight their presence even more? “The explanation,” he says, “is that the tapes were censored with Hannah Nixon in mind.” He quotes the president telling a staffer that “If my mother ever heard me use words like that she would turn over in her grave.”

Aitken professes to be astounded by both the explanation and the corresponding public response, considering them examples of invincible American provincialism. He protests fervently that, after all, the worst words showing up on the tape were “shit” and “asshole,” and that Nixon never vocalized “the familiar locker-room expressions for sexual intercourse…”

Aitken’s earnest distinction is almost funny; it would certainly not have cut any ice with Hannah Milhous Nixon. But if the sentiment was maudlin, her son’s political instincts were sound. His mother may have been dead since 1967, but there were millions like her still around. She and they had a living symbol and surrogate in the Rev. Billy Graham, one who had been very close to Nixon (or so he thought) for more than twenty years.

Graham was an icon to Hannah, and those like her. Graham had even conducted Hannah’s funeral at the little East Whittier Friends Church. It was one of the rare occasions when her second son broke down and showed deep, unguarded emotion in public.

When Graham heard of the tapes’ release, his first reaction was characteristic of the breed: he put off reading the transcripts. But when he finally sat down with the The New York Times text, he told biographer Marshall Frady that his shock at what he read first made him weep, then made him vomit, and left him nauseous for hours. The nausea was evoked not only by the text itself, but by what the text revealed to Graham about himself, and the massive self-deceit and denial which had marked his relationship to Nixon. Graham’s public statements on the tapes sounded dazed, full of such phrases as “I never dreamed…I just could never conceive…it was all something totally foreign…I never saw that side…” and so forth.

But Graham had also played many variations on premillenial dispensationalist themes, so he soon came to suspect that more than individual failings were involved. To his authorized biographer, John Pollock, he suggested that what the tapes recorded were the results of a “demonic assault.” Pollock adds that Graham also believes “Satan was somehow involved in the downfall of Nixon.” Many others must have reached similar conclusions. But before that rationalization took form, they grasped at another one, the one they had always been taught, by Graham and others, which was that whatever specific words actually underlay the dark phrase “expletive deleted,” such expressions were in the dialect of the reprobate, the Other, the bad person, yes, the Beast. A man who talked like that could not be one of them. Or at least, he could not remain as their representative.

Aitken skipped Graham’s biographies, as he did the Quaker histories, and he elides the preacher’s exemplary responses to the tapes. In any event, we all know how the story turned out. But in Aitken’s estimation, Nixon’s forced resignation was a terrible mistake, depriving the United States, and the world, of one whose “achievements as a peacemaker and international statesman give him a strong claim to be regarded as America’s finest foreign policy President of the twentieth century….My conclusion is that Richard Nixon…has been excessively maligned for his faults and inadequately recognised for his virtues.”

Well, that’s his opinion, and he is modest enough to acknowledge that, “No foreigner has ever understood Watergate.” But if he had looked closer at the larger context of Nixon’s comment about the importance of his religious heritage, perhaps he would have been the first foreigner to understand. In the end, the same dynamics of the spiritual environment which produced Richard Nixon, and which he manipulated so well for so long, ultimately made his continued tenure intolerable. What for the Hiss types was unattainable, Hannah and her sisters made inevitable.

J. Herschel Coffin and the deans at Azusa Pacific University could have told Aitken that.

But Richard Nixon didn’t have to be told. He was his revivalist Quaker mother’s son. He knew when The End Was Near.

Copyright © by Chuck Fager. All rights reserved.