Thursday, September 10, 2009

Suspicious George

When Sen. George McGovern visited the Nixon Library last month, director Tim Naftali gave him copies of recently opened records suggesting strongly that Nixon aides Pat Buchanan and Chuck Colson were behind revelations that McGovern's running mate in his 1972 campaign against President Nixon, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, had been treated for depression. Outraged though McGovern may have been, it's hard to imagine that his campaign wouldn't have used intelligence about, for instance, Vice President Agnew's corruption. Saying that he hadn't known before that the White House was involved, McGovern (mild-mannered and gracious though he is said to be) speculated recklessly to "Vanity Fair" that President Nixon might have been behind the attempt to assassinate Gov. George Wallace:

McGovern pointed out that if you look at elections in a certain way, you could say that Ross Perot elected Bill Clinton and Ralph Nader put George W. Bush over the top. “In 1968, George Wallace had garnered 10 million votes and we figured that, running again in 1972, he might pick up as many as 20 million votes,” McGovern said. The segregationist Alabama governor had been campaigning with the slogan “Send Them a Message,” and it was assumed that his votes would almost all come from Nixon’s base, but on May 15, 1972, an assassination attempt left Wallace paralyzed from the waist down and he was forced to withdraw from the race. I was still wondering where McGovern was going with this when he came to a shocking supposition: “You know, Wallace went to his grave thinking Nixon’s people were behind the shooting. I thought at the time, ‘Well, George is a little gaga.’ But now … you have to wonder … ”


MK said...

To be fair, there’s a difference between saying “Nixon’s people” as the article states and “President Nixon.” And McGovern saying “But now, you have to wonder---“ without finishing the thought is different from explicitly saying he agreed with Wallace’s assessment. Still, I would have limited my comments to shaking my head verbally, so to speak, over the rough nature of politics in 1972 and not gotten into speculation.

The documents Tim Naftali showed McGovern appear to be among ones that NARA archivists once had marked as political-personal-returnable (G restriction code) for return to Nixon. Some political materials relating to McGovern and Eagleton were among the June 2009 NARA release (see )

I wish NARA would do a number of things differently with its releases, including stating what on its site explicitly what is being released as a result of the old “G personal-returnable” designation being lifted from now deeded materials. If you look at what it posted on its site for the June 23, 2009 release, much of it covers collections for which the bulk of materials was released in 1987. There’s probably no point in my writing to Tim to suggest such a clarification, he has ignored the last couple of queries I sent him. I told him I was trying to get procedural information to pass on to a researcher who had contacted me. Never heard back from him or anyone else from NARA. Perhaps my timing was bad, I wrote on behalf of the researcher around the time of the flap over the Dean speaking appearnace at Yorba Linda. I felt both NARA and the Foundation could have handled that somewhat differently and made that clear to Tim. Perhaps I should have left that out of my message with the research query!

Thanks again for posting about the VF piece, very interesting!

Fr. John said...

That's a fair comment, MK. It startled me that McGovern would speculate publicly, even in such vague terms, about such a thing.

And yet there was Liddy's bizarre and disgusting suggestion about knocking off Jack Anderson, wasn't there? He was certainly one of RN's people. So perhaps McGovern had some warrant to let his mind wander. Several years ago, NBC News falsely imputed that notion to RN. Via Brian Williams, we were able to get them to broadcast a correction. So your point is apropos indeed.

On the archival question, I have always wished that NARA had made a little more of a fuss about the fact that the Nixon estate and Foundation pledged many years ago to preserve the third party political records and then, at the NARA handover, deeded them to the government. As you know so well, we could have kept or destroyed them. I assume, as you do, that these Eagleton documents were part of that cache.

Thanks for being my reader!