Dwight David Eisenhower, President of the United States, glanced across the White House lawn at the retreating back of his Vice-President, Richard Nixon, squinted at his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and growled, ‘Foster, the trouble with Dick Nixon is he never screwed enough women!’
When I heard this news, I decided on the spot to retire my favorite presidential campaign button—IKE & DICK—SURE TO CLICK.
As for Dulles, he just snorted surprise, and his face became one large twitch. The ‘Secretary for Earth and Air,’ as one commentator had described him, appeared, for a moment, to be sliding his chin right down below his collar line. When this effort failed, he snorted again and responded, ‘Well, Mr. President, that is certainly an… unusual… view.’
In the intervening years, I have heard hundreds of theories on ‘the trouble with Dick Nixon’—most of them fallacious—but none so succinct as Eisenhower’s. The general-turned-President really seemed to relish the thought, and his voice had resonance as he bored in on Dulles with, ‘You agree, huh?’
Dulles had his face in place again, but it was difficult to determine if he was covering a laugh with a shudder, or a shudder with a laugh, as he gasped a reply to his chief. ‘Well,’ he gurgled through the down side of his mouth, ‘Mr. President, there is his wife, Pat.’
‘Where?’ Eisenhower barked, whirling his head about while, at the same time, putting on his professor-trying-to-look-like-a-general look, knowing full well that the ‘look’ came out the other way around. It confused people, and he knew it. A valuable tactic.
‘Well, now,’ Dulles replied, sounding confused, ‘Pat’s always stood with Dick…’
‘Near him,’ Eisenhower corrected.
‘Near him?’ Dulles questioned.
‘Yes, Foster. Near him,’ Eisenhower said coldly. ‘There’s a difference.’
‘Near him as opposed to with…?’ Dulles asked, puzzled, his lawyer’s passion for distinctions aroused.
‘Yes,’ Eisenhower hissed.
‘You mean…?’ Dulles murmured.
‘Yes,’ Eisenhower hissed again.
‘Well,’ the Secretary crunched, ‘Dick does have some, uh, capabilities in foreign affairs.’
‘Foreign policy, Foster, policy,’ Eisenhower said, dryly.
‘I see,’ Dulles said, clearing his throat vigorously, and adding, as an afterthought, ‘The Vice-President did come to see me in the basement the other day.’
‘In the basement!’ Eisenhower exploded. ‘The State Department basement?’
‘He didn’t want to be seen,’ Dulles said softly. ‘I told him that it would be easier if he just came in the front door, but he said that he wasn’t looking for the ‘easy way’.’
‘I’ll bet,’ Eisenhower muttered, adding, ‘One thing about Dick—he does not view life as the pursuit of comfort.’
‘The Vice-President has been loyal to you,’ Dulles said. ‘He has his good points.’
‘Of course he does!’ Eisenhower said. ‘It’s just that he can’t seem to get some of his damned insecurities off his sleeve. I mean, to think of it—the State Department basement!’
Actually, the then Vice-President Nixon had summoned Dulles to the State Department’s basement for ‘briefings’ on more than one occasion. His need for secrecy in this regard was never adequately explained, although I knew that he suffered from what I call ‘wagon-train morality,’ i.e., do what’s right, but, above all, protect yourself. He was probably influenced by his belief that the State Department bureaucracy hated him—a not altogether inaccurate judgment. But, it was more than that. He was always cautious, careful. It was as if he had spent most of his life in solitary confinement. His personality, even back then, seemed automatically to dictate secrecy. In this instance, the secret itself was a secret. We kept secret from people normally in the basement, such as drivers, messengers, and guards, the fact that they were witnessing a secret when they saw Nixon, because if they had known that it was a secret, we believed that they might have talked about it. By treating Nixon’s visits as routine, hardly anyone even noticed. Eventually Nixon asked me about what he termed the ‘tightness’ of the security around ‘my meetings with the Secretary.’ He tried to force his eyes right into mine as he added, ‘No one must know. No one. It will be misunderstood.’
As best I could, I explained our not-secret-because-it-is-secret-in-order-to-keep-it-secret approach. Nixon listened, nodded sagely, and gave me what I used to call his ‘circular stare,’ because it came right at you even though it was going round and round. It made me nervous. I asked, ‘What do you think, Mr. Vice-President?’
He just kept nodding sagely. His eyes were watering when he finally said, ‘The only thing is, uh, if we tell them—those people who work down there—that it’s a secret, and, uh, then they know they are seeing a secret, and, well, I mean, let’s just say, that is, that if they do know it’s secret, and, then, they tell somebody because it is a secret, and then, you see, if we catch them, then, uh, ahhh then, we, uh, have them, and, well, when we’ve actually caught them at it, well, then, you see… ahhhhh.’
I thought he was having an orgasm, but I just smiled my admiration of his ‘wisdom’ as I wondered at its strangeness.
Nixon often gave me the feeling that he was one of those people who never stop searching for the room where the secret of life is kept in a box, even while knowing that it does not exist. His eyes were always scanning, seeking, asking, but never answering. Although it is not fashionable to say so, I kind of liked him. He reminded me of a piece of precious china, with a crack in it.
On one elevator ride back up from a meeting with the Vice-President, Dulles burst out, ‘I told Dick Nixon that we saw Jack Kennedy coming out of the bushes in Georgetown with his fly open.’
I showed my surprise. My mouth dropped down toward my belt buckle. A few nights earlier we had seen Senator John F. Kennedy dart out from behind bushes by a house that was not his and run down a quiet Georgetown street. He was in shirtsleeves, and appeared to be struggling to hold up his pants. Pulling my mouth back up from my belt buckle, I burped out some words. ‘You told Nixon!’
Dulles, unconcerned, said, ‘Yes. Did you find out who lives there?’
‘Behind the bushes?’
‘Of course,’ he grunted impatiently.
‘Yes, sir. I did. Three young women.’
‘Terrible. Terrible. What about his wife—what’s her name?’
‘Oh, yes. I think I met her. Attractive woman. Do you think she knows?’
‘Well, Wiley Buchanan [Chief of Protocol] says if she’s not used to it now, she’d better get used to it.’
Dulles got a little leer into his eyes as he said, ‘Wiley would know, but Lyndon Johnson told me that Joe Kennedy was worse than any of his boys.’
‘Worse?’ I asked.
‘Worse.’ Dulles clucked.
‘Worse?’ I repeated.
‘Women.’ Dulles grunted.
‘Oh,’ I said, having seen the light a little slowly. ‘Well, Senator Johnson has himself been known to… er, uh…’
‘Lyndon? Women?’ Dulles asked, interest lighting up his face.
‘Well, for one—in the office.’
‘His office?’ Dulles croaked.
‘Good Lord!’ he said, with genuine distress in his voice.
‘Why, I was in his office just the other day, and, in fact… he kept me waiting.’
I didn’t know what to say.
Dulles said, ‘Do you think, uh…’
‘It is highly possible,’ I replied. ‘I was with you, and, yes, that is probably what he was doing.’
‘Yes, well, you know, the receptionist…’
‘She wasn’t—Good Lord—there.’
Dulles’ eyes bugged right out through his thick glasses. ‘You really think… the receptionist?’
‘That’s the rumor,’ I said, feeling myself on tricky ground. ‘It’s also said that there’s a… rotation.’
‘I can’t believe it.’
‘That’s what I hear.’
‘Good Lord. Yes. Well. As for the Kennedys, well, Lyndon just doesn’t like them… any of them.’
‘I know,’ I agreed. ‘His stories about them are generally scatological.’
Dulles whooped. ‘Scatological?’
~Louis Jefferson [buy]