Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Guest Post: Ivy League Nixon treats JFK as Alger Hiss

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, answering the question posed by Bill Whalen in his LA Times article, "The many what-ifs of Richard Nixon."

Richard M. Nixon, ace student of Whittier High, was tested with a prodigious I.Q. score of 143 and recognized as one of the most promising and accomplished high school seniors in California. He graduated third in his class of 207 and was deservedly offered a tuition grant to attend Harvard University.
Proving to be an outstanding student with an encyclopedic mastery of the law, he repeated this academic success again graduating third in his class. However, like many of his student colleagues, his budding legal career was suddenly interrupted by the outbreak of World War Two. Some astutely legal-minded fellows strongly encouraged him to exploit his status as a birthright Quaker and seek a military deferment.

Instead, Nixon applied for and received a Navy commission and was assigned to duty in the Pacific. In that theatre, he first met John F. Kennedy in the wake of the disastrous sinking of patrol torpedo boat (PT) #109. As a self-made man from a poor family, Nixon was left unimpressed by the embarrassing command failure of this scion of the American mandarin class. Kennedy escaped censure apart from a scolding letter from his elder brother. Disgusted, Nixon made a derisory off-hand comment to a naval colleague, "I call them spoiled rotten. And I tell you what would cure them. A good, old-fashioned trip to my Ohio father's woodshed."

Twenty years later, their paths crossed again, and this time Nixon would prove to be Kennedy's nemesis. Nixon gained national attention as a leading member of the brilliant legal team behind the impeachment of President Kennedy that followed the Vietnam fiasco and multiple personal indiscretions. During this lengthy period of the so-called "Camelot twilight" era, Nixon stayed at the Watergate Hotel. Wire-tapping and later a break-in to his room was widely blamed on Attorney General Robert Kennedy but never proven. Appalled by this extra-judicial action, Nixon had the opportunity to reflect upon his own destiny. It was following the political earthquake of Kennedy's resignation that Nixon retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve and began to consider his own political future.

Author's Note:

In reality, Nixon remained in his hometown and enrolled at his local Quaker college of Whittier because he was needed at the store because of his father's continued illness requiring his mother's care. Nixon famously once said "None of those Harvard b*st*rds!" despite choosing Harvard professors Henry Kissinger and Daniel Patrick Moynihan as his principal foreign and domestic advisers. Kennedy and Nixon were actually good friends; indeed, JFK even made a contribution to Nixon when he was running against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate.

Provine's Addendum:

The downfall of the Kennedy family set the stage for a narrow Republican win in the 1964 elections. Lyndon Johnson distanced himself from as much of the political damage as possible, though even his long stint in Congress proved forgotten by many in the wake of Nixon's attacks. The Democratic Party was further divided by the loud voice of George Wallace, who cried for states rights in the face of the Civil Rights Act passed in the wake of Kennedy's impeachment, though not removal. Many saw the act as a great unifier for the country to heal old wounds, but others found it divisive. Thanks to the strife as well as Nixon's vehement campaigning in California, narrowly turning the state as Nixon made a public mockery of the "Daisy" television campaign ad, Barry Goldwater came to the White House with Nixon as his vice president. Historians would later comment on it being one of the dirtiest elections in American history, rivaling even the outlandish 1800 election, after which the Jeffersonian hatchetman James Calendar went to prison for slander against Adams, whose own campaign spread the rumor Jefferson would work to legalize and promote prostitution.

Nixon set about to continue his perceived role as the nation's watchdog. With Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover as his right-hand man, Nixon fanned the flames of a new Red Scare on top of uncovering corruption scandals at seemingly every level of government. Goldwater, who promise to "clean up the mess" in Vietnam, focused most of his attention on containment using US air and artillery support without boots on the ground and restructuring the social welfare system in the country to more align with his policies of state-based action. At the 1968 Republican national convention, Goldwater felt pressure to step aside for a Nixon presidency, leading to Nixon's alliance with the growing conservative elements such as California governor Ronald Reagan and the surprising upset that put Nixon at the top of the ballot. Goldwater, betrayed, returned to the senate and later called Nixon "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life."

Nixon won handily in 1968 as the Democratic Party still struggled to realign itself in recovery from the Kennedy implosion. In 1972, he won again by an even wider margin, though there were growing factions upset by his methods of publicly destroying targets such as corporate polluters to great aplomb while secretly destroying opposition from within. As the nation's bicentennial approached, rumors spread of Nixon looking to overturn the Twenty-second Amendment that disallowed a third term of presidency. When several leaders in Congress and even the Executive branch came forward to reveal it was true, it was a moment those who wanted to derail Nixon had waited for. Nixon denied everything, but his cracked public image soon shattered, and he gave an embittered speech at the 1976 Republican national convention commenting on his victimhood, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Ronald Reagan won the candidacy, but he would lose out to Democratic dark horse James Carter of Georgia, whose two terms built a transparent federal system of social welfare and began the model of taxation on the wealthy like Roosevelt's Revenue Acts that would be followed for decades.

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