Leonard Garment: For Nixon, All That Jazz

Roundup: Talking About History

[Leonard Garment was a White House counsel during the Nixon Administration.]

In April 1969, three months after his inauguration, President Richard Nixon hosted a party at the White House to celebrate Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday and award the Duke the Medal of Honor. Great American jazz figures were there. Musicians played Ellington songs arranged by Gerry Mulligan. Joe Williams and Mary Mayo sang. Ellington danced with Rose Mary Woods. After dinner, the president had a nightcap with the pianist Earl Hines....

...A strike by Harvard students had erupted in the spring; the Vietnam Moratorium march had descended on Washington in October. The war had already begun to engulf Nixon’s presidency just as it had destroyed Johnson’s. What began in 1969 continued inexorably until Nixon was forced to resign in 1974. Years later, Nixon reflected that “if I underestimated the willingness of the North Vietnamese to hang on and resist a negotiated settlement ... they also underestimated my willingness to hold on despite the domestic and international pressures that would be ranged against me.”

It may be that a president with fewer personal demons, without such a large capacity for resentment, could have survived the storm. As I look back over an increasing span of years, I am not sure I think so.

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