We tried to beat Nixon fair and square, and he cheated to win.
It was a hard lesson, but one that has served me well for decades, even giving rise to Jones’ First Law: Bullies always win.
Clearly there was no honest and civil way to stop the bleeding. It looked as if we would be stuck with President Richard M. Nixon for — say it with me — FOUR MORE YEARS!! In the primitive opinion polls of the day, his popularity was plummeting due to his involvement in the Watergate affair, and yet there he was every day on television, pretending he was a cool guy, serving the people, doing his presidential duty, shepherding the nation through trying times, making sanctimonious speeches and looking so patriotic and American. History would later reveal that he was drinking heavily during this period, and directing various government employees in the coverup of his wrongdoing, paying little if any attention to matters of state. No one knew for sure of this at the time, but to some of us it was obvious. and maddening. It looked like he’d gotten away with it. He had cheated in the most important contest in the world, and he was the leader of the free world (as we used to say in the days before The Patriot Act), and was going to get away with it.
“Fuck him,” Scott said one night as we were watching Cronkite on The CBS Evening News. There was footage of Nixon and Pat boarding Air Force One for California, where he had a home in San Clemente. “We can’t let this happen. There has to be a way to neutralize him.”
I nodded, passing the roach to him. I was holding a charge, so couldn’t agree verbally, but in truth I couldn’t have agreed more. The asshole had to be stopped.
We thought of ourselves as pretty radical guys. We smoked pot, which we called “grass,” dropped acid and marched in the streets. We and a couple million of our friends had brought down the Johnson Administration, but the victory was pathetically short-lived. Now we were saddled with the devil in a blue suit. We should have stuck with LBJ.
But there are radicals and then there are radicals. Some radicals, like the Weathermen or Patty Hearst, will actually take up arms. Some will plant bombs. Some will shoot to kill. We were not that kind of radical.
We had radical ideas. We believed in ideas. We thought that there was such a thing as Right and Wrong, and that reasonable people who might disagree could discuss these concepts and through the art and science of rhetoric and persuasion, resolve our differences. It was just a matter of communication. If a discussion ended in a shouting match, it was because we hadn’t found a way to communicate. If it ended in a shooting match, well, that’s not the kind of debate we wanted anything to do with. I hadn’t spent three years since graduation dodging the draft only to go out and kill someone, even the loathsome Dick Nixon.
So we agreed that we couldn’t kill him. To use his own words, “That would be wrong.” Not to mention that nothing gets the cops on your ass faster than assassinating a president. They take it personally, and just won’t let it go. We were young, and a life sentence would have really ruined things for us. We’d learned from our miserable failure in the McGovern campaign that just because you’re in the right doesn’t mean you’re going to prevail. Neither of us felt we’d gotten laid enough by that point in our young lives, and spending a lot of time in Leavenworth would have really cramped things.
I won’t take credit for the idea of kidnapping Nixon. In fact, it may have been me who said it first, but it also may have been Scott. The actual moment is lost. The reason for this is that my roommate was perhaps the best joint roller I have ever known. He could crank out perfect Brown and Williamson quality cigarette-like doobies in just a few seconds. It was easy to go overboard when there was a handful of perfect joints laying there in the fold of that Blind Faith double album, and when you knew that a return to reality meant facing more of the Nixon Era. We were probably on our fourth or fifth number that night when we hatched our plan.
We couldn’t kill the old bastard, but we had to take him out of circulation so he wouldn’t be able to do any more damage. Most of you probably don’t realize what it’s like to have a president who commits crimes in office, lies and cheats, divides the nation on fake “values” issues and keeps us perpetually at war with a country that has done us no harm and is no real threat to us.
Oh wait. I take that back. You do know.
In any case, our plan was pretty half-baked. Somehow we would take Nixon prisoner and keep him hidden away until the country could heal from the damage he was doing. We didn’t think it through much beyond that. To us, it seemed perfectly logical.
We had a friend with a mysterious past. He claimed he’d been a fighter pilot, but we weren’t sure which country he’d served. It might have been the Israeli Air Force. He had no visible means of support, but somehow managed to own a silver Jaguar XKE. We wouldn’t see him for weeks and then he’d show up for volleyball on a Sunday afternoon. Years later we discovered that he’d been financing the development of an automatic pistol to rival the Uzi, the gold standard of personal weaponry for 30 years and the Holy Grail of terrorists everywhere: lightweight, easily concealable, practically jam-proof and capable of firing its 40-round clip in four seconds. Apparently he was advertising a gun that could top the Uzi, and he had customers waiting, both in the Middle East and at the Pentagon. He’d already received millions in good faith prepayments, but the gun was never produced. He ended up in San Quentin,which was probably a better fate than the one his Arab customers had in mind for him. He was sentenced to seven years. The money was never recovered.
But in 1972, he was just that guy. You know the one. The one you think of when somebody says “You need a favor, I know a guy.”
Out of our minds (with concern for the Nation and the Constitution), we called him that night and told him what we wanted. Nixon was already aboard Air Force One and bound for California. He’d be at the San Clemente mansion by morning. We wanted him to take a detour. Half joking, half in earnest and half in terror over what we were getting ourselves into, we appealed to our friend’s sense of patriotic duty.
“Fuck that,” he said. “Where do you want him delivered?”
Next time: Snatch!