Richard Nixon, Thomas M. Davis, and Lea D. Jablonsky on 4 August 1972


Transcript

Edited by Nicole Hemmer, with Ken Hughes, Kieran K. Matthews, and Marc J. Selverstone

Meeting with the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP)’s youth group, President Nixon speaks with two of its members, Northeast Regional Coordinator Lea D. Jablonsky and Border States Regional Coordinator Thomas M. Davis, about the standing of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Jablonsky was also personal secretary to former attorney general and current CREEP chief John N. Mitchell.

Lea D. Jablonsky

I would just want to ask one question to you [unclear].[note 1] Jablonsky appears to say either "as the president" or "Mr. President." I've found that a lot of [unclear] people really respect and like Spiro [T.] Agnew.[note 2] Jablonsky appears to say "government." And I—

President Nixon

Do they?

Jablonsky

—I personally do. But I've found—and the big question I get from them is not, you know, how do you feel about him, but how does the President feel about him—

President Nixon

Oh, yeah.

Jablonsky

—and just keeping him on because, [President Nixon acknowledges] because he should, because he's the vice president? Can you give—

President Nixon

Yeah. Well, I think the thing to do is that—this is something which you could do, which I can't, 'cause it'd look like I'm attacking the other fellow and also attacking . . . I handle it in a rather subtle way. The press [unclear] I had a press conference here in the office the other day, I said that . . . they said, "Why do you keep Agnew?" I said, "Well," I said, "first, I had reasons to select him, and," I said, "those reasons have not changed." Then I said, "After watching him for four years, I have seen him when we've had to make some very tough decisions, and the real test of a man is how does he react to tough decisions. For example, how did he react when we had to make the Cambodia decision? How did he react [unclear]? How did he react to the arms control thing where there was great division, you know, there about [unclear] about arms control. And Agnew, what was very impressive about him is that he is a man who has—Now, you see, every man's strength is his weakness. He's a man that is considered to be by many a—he's cold, distant, and all that sort of thing. But Agnew's strength is that he's a man—that he's a very strong man. That he's quiet, strong, poised, unflappable. Totally unflappable. I mean, basically, if the problem of emotional stability is involved, and they pick [Edmund S.] Muskie [D–Maine], he's got a lot[note 3] Edmund S. Muskie was a Democratic senator from Maine, January 1959 to May 1980.

Thomas M. Davis

A little more. [Jablonsky chuckles.]

President Nixon

All right. Agnew has demonstrated—He took terrible heat during this campaign in 1968. He's taken a great deal of heat, and he's given out a lot of heat, too, [Jablonsky acknowledges] since he's been vice president. But I, as the man who has to watch him, has seen him for four years in the high councils of this government, and the way he's handled himself in crises indicates to me that he's a man you can trust in that job in case this fellow [Arthur] Bremer shot me next week.[note 4] Arthur Bremer attempted the assassination of U.S. presidential candidate George C. Wallace during a campaign stop in Laurel, Maryland, in 1972.

Jablonsky

So we can say then that . . .

President Nixon

You can—

Jablonsky

—he is involved in all—

President Nixon

Absolutely.

Jablonsky

—in airing key decisions, and not having to be told [unclear]

President Nixon

[speaking over Jablonsky] Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jablonsky

Good.

President Nixon

All [unclear] sits in the Cabinet, National Security Council. The thing to mention most, though, is the foreign policy. That's what people want to know about our President. They think anybody—they think the economy is strong—take a genius to destroy it, too. They're right that it would, but I think McGovern might. [Davis and Jablonsky laugh.]

Davis

[Unclear.]

Jablonsky

[Unclear.]

President Nixon

[Unclear.] But in Agnew's case, you can say, "The President"—I just refer back—"The President has a chance to [unclear], and it is—Frankly, [Dwight D.] Eisenhower would choose [unclear].[note 5] Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States, 1953–1961. Although we didn't have that kind of crisis in the Eisenhower—sure, we had Lebanon. When we look back on the matter [unclear]. It was a hard day for it, but, my God, it was nothing. The United States had—Well, I don't mean that it wasn't a tough decision [with Jablosky acknowledging] or anything, but we had a 15–1 or 20–1 advantage over the Soviet Union at that time in missiles. I mean, there's no way. The Cuban decision that [John F.] Kennedy made was a tough one.[note 6] John F. Kennedy was president of the United States, 1961–1963. I mean, eyeball to eyeball and all that. Why, we were looking right down the Russians' throat. They wouldn't have dared done anything, because we could have creamed them. But now, they've made a decision. It was tough. That was tough because we were looking right across at the Russians. Even. They didn't do anything because they wanted to stop it and so did we. [Jablonsky attempts to interject.]

But the main point about Agnew that I would make is that in big decisions, which he has participated in—put it that way, because the Vice President does not make decisions, he participates in them; the President consults him along the way in national security. The President has observed that he's a man who's at his best when the going is toughest, that he takes heat well, that he's a well-organized, competent man in handling big things. And I would stay off of the—because there are negatives that are involved—I would stay off of his running battle with the press. Let that sort of skip in the background. I mean, we know what the press is, that they're mainly against us. But I'd just stay off of that because that, to many, is a negative. That I would also point out that this idea that Agnew is against young people is malarkey. He isn't. The difficulty is you really want to do more about the young [unclear]. But I would say that the thing that will impress young people about him is that, "Now, let's be fair," I'd say. "Let's look at Agnew, and let's see how he has stood out. He's had—he's been criticized. He's been ridiculed. He's been lied about, and he's always kept his dignity and his poise, and great decisions have been made. He's been courageous, and strong, and supportive of the President [unclear]." That goes a long way.

Jablonsky

Most young people that I talk to feel like he's not there for the decisions, so he's not showing any courage. He's just there to cut the press down and [President Nixon interrupts] [unclear]. Which I don't find [unclear]

President Nixon

The difficulty with that is sort of, excuse me. We can't [unclear] we say, who's there. But he is. Because he's—you could say he's a member of the National Security Council, and that is where all the great decisions are discussed. Because we don't vote on [unclear]; the President has to make them. [Davis acknowledges throughout.] The President [Jablonsky interrupts]—the President asks everybody, and you find out which are the strong men and which are the weak men. The weak man will say, "Gee, do it if it'll work." [All laugh.] The strong man will say—that's really true—the stronger man thinks then—[Davis acknowledges throughout]—the stronger man will say, "Well, I've thought this thing through. It's a tough decision, but I think we ought to do it." That's what it—it takes a lot of guts, because you see, he's putting his whole reputation on the line. Most men, and I suppose this is [unclear] true, never like to express an opinion, particularly in [unclear], which may be proven wrong. Most men like to play it safe and like to say, "Well, gee, I mean, you know best. I don't know [unclear]." [Jablonsky and Davis laugh.] So why do you call them in? But Agnew, I think, I know, usually in the Cabinet you can find 14 out of the 15 who will give you . . . who will say, "Well, let me examine [unclear]." [Jablonsky laughs.] Of course, if I hadn't thought of it all, I wouldn't be asking them. But nevertheless, now and then you'll find one that'll stand up and say, "I think you ought to do it." And Agnew's that kind of a man. That's the point you should make.

Jablonsky

Thank you.

President Nixon

OK. I'd just use the word guts. People like that. [Unclear exchange.] Particularly your younger youth, say, "He's got guts. He's got"—but also poise and judgment. In other words, I mean, just say, "Have you ever seen him—unflappable. Have you ever seen him break down? Right? He's had plenty of reasons to, and when they think of somebody in that chair having to make a tough decision, they want somebody who's—they—we can talk all we want about emotion and so forth. When [Winston] Churchill used to cry—he did.[note 7] Winston Churchill was prime minister of the United Kingdom, 1940–1945 and 1951–1955. [Dwight D.] Eisenhower told me that he used to.[note 8] Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States, 1953–1961. But Churchill didn't cry when he had to make the tough ones. [Jablonsky acknowledges.] You want a pretty cool guy in that chair. Well, anyway—

Davis

We appreciate it, Mr. President. Thank you.

President Nixon

Well . . . There's a great quote which you could, if you want to use. Let me see if I can find it over here. Did you read about—Do you remember "Mr. Dooley"? [Davis indicates that he does not.] Any of you when you studied political science? Finley Peter Dunne's "Mr. Dooley." He'll remember. You do, I'm sure. He's the great—he was the great humorist of the late—the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, and I don't know if I could get this fully the way—I remembered that Alben [W.] Barkley once told me about this, because he used to kid about it, the office of the vice presidency, and he told me about this quote, and I looked it up recently in a book of quotes, and I thought about it in relation to the vice presidency.[note 9] Alben W. Barkley was vice president of the United States, 1949–1953. And here's Mr. Dooley—see, this is his edition of Mr. Dooley in 1906. That's while T. R. [Theodore Roosevelt] was president.[note 10] Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States, 1901–1909. T. R. had a big conflict with him, as you know, and then running for reelection and being reelected in 1904. And he talks about the presidency. He says, "The presidency is the highest office given to the people. The vice presidency is the highest and the lowest." He said, "It isn't a crime, exactly. You can't be sent to jail for it, but it's a kind of a disgrace." [Group laughs.] That might be the problem McGovern's having. [Hearty laughter.]

Cite as

“Richard Nixon, Thomas M. Davis, and Lea D. Jablonsky on 4 August 1972,” Conversation 761-007 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [“Vice President Agnew,” ed. Nicole Hemmer] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4003053