View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Monday, September 06, 2004

John O'Neill on Nixon 

Powerline discusses an MSNBC attempt to discredit John O'Neill as a tool of President Nixon. Deacon defends any help Nixon may have given O'Neill as being in the service of an honorable cause, defending the good name of American servicemen and America. Here's what O'Neill has to say in Unfit for Command:

The media has recently attempted to portray our efforts to debate Kerry as a Nixon plot. The media relies on self-serving comments by Nixon aides taking credit for our group's appearance. But the truth is that while we were supportive of Nixon's "peace with honor" withdrawal from Vietnam (as opposed to a pullout that would leave our POWs behind), we were largely Democrats or apolitical, and our principal assets, other than a few contributions, consisted of the money I had set aside for law school and Bruce's (Bruce Kesler -ed.) mother's telephone.

While I delivered companion speeches alongside Kerry at the National Conference of Mayors, he turned down numerous debate offers from CBS's 60 Minutes and many other forums. Finally, Dick Cavett offered his show, which Kerry accepted because Cavett was a friend and shared his antiwar position. (Tour of Duty, p. 403 -ed.)

Tour of Duty and Kerry's spin machine have attempted to deflect attention from his disastrous performance in the Dick Cavett Show debate by claiming there was a plot by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Charles Colson, or Richard Nixon. This is ridiculous. Kerry performed disastrously because he was lying about his war-crimes claim, and it was obvious to anyone, including the audience, which, as Dick Cavett observed, was solidly on his side at the beginning but booing him at the end.

I did meet with Richard Nixon, and also with many Democratic representatives and member of Congress, such as Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson and Congressman Olin Earl "Tiger" Teague, who encouraged me not to give up and to do my best. Unknown to me at the time, an actual tape and transcript of my meeting with Nixon are available today. The meeting begins with me telling President Nixon that although my family and I were Democrats who voted for Hubert Humphrey, we supported Nixon on the issue of a phased withdrawal from Vietnam. And I remember even now the gasps at the meeting following my comment and my vague feeling that I mush have done something inappropriate.

Since the debate was proposed by Dick Cavett, who was on Nixon's "enemies" list and whose show was accepted by Kerry as a friendly forum, it is more than a little disingenuous to present Kerry's debacle as a Nixon or VFW plot. I obviously did not need any encouragement from Nixon, Colson, Senator Jackson, or anyone else.

A couple of points are worth noting. O'Neill specifically denies that Kerry's poor performance on the Cavett Show was in some way a result of machinations by President Nixon. He doesn't deny getting encouragement, possibly advice, from Nixon, but he notes similar advice and encouragement from hawkish Democrats. I know of no one who would describe Scoop Jackson as a tool of Richard Nixon. MSNBC apparently didn't comment on those meetings.

MSNBC plays up White House discussions of O'Neill's performances, but O'Neill himself, several paragraphs later, admits that he knew the White House was pleased with the outcome of the debate. That much had been reported by Michael Kranish and other Boston Globe reporters in their book of essays on Kerry. For MSNBC to report this as though it were news suggests that O'Neill has been trying to hide his relationship with Nixon.

Finally, so what? If O'Neill and the 1971 incarnation of the Swift Vets were indeed a Nixon golem, they would have no reason to show up now, 33 years after the fact. Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman are long dead, Chuck Colson is onto other tasks, and so far not even the New York Times has concocted any graphics showing that Kissinger is funding the Vets to protect his legacy. If Nixon is still getting airtime for the SwiftVets after 10 years in the grave, we need to dig up John Sirica and Sam Ervin, too.

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