What the Nixon Tapes Contain

Senior Washington correspondent John Cochran blogs:

The gift that just keeps giving. That's what journalists have always said about Richard Nixon, and a sampling of new tapes just released by the Nixon Library confirms that.

Some of Nixon's secretly recorded White House tapes cover the hours just before and after the 1972 presidential election.

Talking to aides, he makes clear his contempt for the loser, Democratic Senator George McGovern, at one point telling Henry Kissinger that McGovern is a "prick." Nixon even slams McGovern during a conversation with Democrat Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Nixon in the '68 race. (At left, Nixon with Kissinger in 1973.)

The Vietnam War, never mentioned by name, is in the background all the time. Nixon tells Humphrey that McGovern would say "any goddamn thing that came into his head." Nixon says that in '68 he and Humphrey were always "statesmen."

The warm tone of the conversation indicates that Humphrey and Nixon got along much better than most people suspected.

McGovern is still very much alive, and recently warned Democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential race not to go too far in their opposition to the war in Iraq. McGovern, who lost every state but Massachusetts, certainly can speak from experience.

Nixon, talking to aide Chuck Colson, berates McGovern for losing his temper in the final days of the race, when he snapped at a heckler: "Kiss my ass." Nixon brags that his Vice-President Spiro Agnew kept his cool when heckled. ("Agnew has dignity.") Less than a year later, Agnew would resign in disgrace, pleading "no contest" to a federal charge of tax evasion.

The Nixon we hear on the new tapes is very familiar. Even in his hour of overwhelming victory, Nixon was able to look on the dark side. Despite what was clearly going to be a landslide, he complained that Republicans might not win the House or Senate. (He was right.) Nixon said his critics would harp on his failure to provide big enough coattails for other Republicans. And in his bitter, biting way, Nixon said, "that's the way they will piss on us."

As we continue to listen to the tapes, we are finding more Nixon nuggets. Stay tuned.

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