Do I miss President Nixon?
For those who had the privilege of knowing President Nixon, missing him has become a frequent part of the day. This can be for a series of reasons: his character, his compassion, his unequaled knowledge of foreign policy, his personal stories about world leaders, his experience in political life, his kindness, and added to all that, his willingness to answer the call for advice.
In 1977 when I was offered the opportunity to debate former U.S. Senator John Tunney regarding current events on a nightly basis on KABC television, naturally, the first thing I did was ask former President Nixon if I could come down to San Clemente to seek his advice. I was not a debater. He was the best. Although I can not remember a word-for-word description of all he told me that afternoon, I cannot forget some of the conversation:
President Nixon said, “You’re going to have a very able opponent. I know him. He’s a very smart man. And he’s a good man. A leading democrat, you know. When you’re on television debating with him, what are you going to call him?”
“Senator. He was a Senator.”
“Don’t call him ‘Senator’. Put yourself on an equal ground. Call him ‘John’. That’s because he has no choice but to call you ‘Bruce’ and you don’t want to continually remind the viewers that he was elected Senator by the people of California. Don’t give him that advantage. Call him ‘John’. Now, is KABC going to provide you with someone on staff to provide research for you?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”
“If they offer a researcher, turn the offer down. You don’t want a researcher.”
“Because it’s too easy. When you’re handed research, you might remember what you read for a short while, but not for long. Don’t get the information too easy. If you go through the trouble of doing your own research, you’ll remember it – not just for a short while. You might even remember it throughout the rest of your life. The more difficult and time-consuming it is to find out information, the more solid it will become in your mind. Don’t accept a researcher. Go to the library. Look it all up. Are you going to be allowed to have notes with you?”
“Oh, sure. It’s very informal. We’ll just be sitting side-by-side and I know that we will be permitted to have notes. That should be no problem.”
“Good. Don’t have any.”
“I shouldn’t have any notes?”
“Don’t have any. He will. He’ll have notes. He’s a lawyer. He’ll have a piece of yellow legal-size paper in front of him with his notes. That’s habit. That’s part of being a lawyer.”
“Doesn’t that give him an advantage if he has notes and I don’t?”
“It gives you the advantage. Notes end. They have to end. There can only be so much information on a piece of paper. If you don’t have any notes he’ll have no way of knowing how much information you have in your head, and that can be frightening to someone debating who has limited himself to looking down at a paper. It can throw him off balance. Also, think of the audience. They’ll see that he has notes and you don’t. Memorize everything. Definitely, that gives you the advantage. And think of every possible question you can be asked about the subject. Get the answers in your head.”
“Mister President, he’s a very smart guy. He was a Senator involved in so many pieces of legislation on so many issues. What if we’re debating some subject and he comes out with some piece of information that just demolishes my argument – something I just didn’t know about? I don’t want to surrender the argument. What do I do in a case like that?”
He didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, that’s easy. Just say, ‘That’s not the issue, John.’”
“‘That’s not the issue?’”
“‘That’s not the issue.”
“But what if it is the issue?”
“It won’t be as soon as you say it isn’t – as you long as you follow it up by saying what you want the issue to be. At best, he’ll bite. At worst, you’ll get into an argument of what the issue really is. You can’t lose.”
Do I miss President Nixon? My God, yes. I miss him a lot.