In our new profile of Illinois senator Roland W. Burris we include a link to photos of a his mausoleum — no, he’s not dead — in Chicago’s Oak Woods Ceremony. The sizable monument to Burris lists the senator’s many accomplishments under the heading “Trail Blazer.”
It shouldn’t be surprising — blowing your own horn is what you do in politics. It reminded us of the epitaph on Richard Nixon‘s grave. The former president’s tombstone says “The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.” The line comes from his first inaugural speech in 1969, and at the time he was casting it as pitch for America to answer the call to “lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil.” Oops!
North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos — and American hippies — probably didn’t think of Nixon as a peacemaker. Then again, the word comes already loaded with irony, at least in the U.S., where it can also be used to describe things that do the opposite of peaceful: a gun (a Colt revolver from the 19th century), a Cold War missile (a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile from the 1980s) and a long-range bomber (the Convair B-36 from the 1950s). So maybe Nixon meant that kind of peacemaker — the biggest boom in the room that keeps the troublemakers in their seats.
Thinking about Nixon persuaded us to haul out the May 1974 publication of The White House Transcripts, the text of what the Nixon White House turned over to the House of Representatives committee that was investigating the Watergate break-in. The book begins with an introduction by R. W. Apple, Jr. of The New York Times:
“On February 25, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee formally asked the White House to produce recordings of forty-two conversations between President Richard Milhouse Nixon and members of his administration.“
Lo, and behold! It was 35 years ago today that Nixon turned over the tapes. As it turns out they were incomplete and heavily edited — the White House tried to soften the blow of dirty words by replacing them with the now-famous phrase “expletive deleted.” But it gave the public a chance to see what Nixon was like behind closed doors, and it wasn’t very pretty. He comes across as a petty and vindictive loner.
We then took a glance at The Haldeman Diaries by Nixon Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman to see if there was any special entry on this day. Nope. It was a Sunday. There is, however, an entry for 28 February 1973, in which Haldeman mentions that Nixon had just finished reading a book called Kennedy’s 13 Mistakes. Haldeman comments that Nixon: “… made the point that [John F.] Kennedy blew practically everything and still got credit for it.” Later in the same entry, after relating Nixon’s comments on Democrats and “the poison in the upper classes,” Haldeman concludes the day’s entry with:
“I think he felt better as a result of the meeting, he did drag it on for quite a while — this whole area of discussion and his soliloquies are his favorite subjects — before he took off for the barbershop and the governors’ dinner tonight.“