Kirk-Giannoulias Shadow Nixon-Kennedy, With Alexi as Dick Nixon
The Debate: Part II.
Comparing the Kirk-Giannoulias debate to Kennedy-Nixon fifty years ago, you have two flawed candidates….what appears to be a serial resume-puffer and a banker who continually loaned to the Outfit. Lynn Sweet of The Sun-Times who is the dutiful stenographer for The Squid judged the encounter a “tie.” But in a filmed introduction to the NBC debate she was evidently struck with a Divine Intervention of the Holy Spirit because she termed the match correctly as a contest between a serial liar and a mob banker. But later in her paper when she came to her liberal senses, she called the debate a tie. That’s being overwhelmingly generous to Giannoulias.
Coming to the debate, Giannoulias….like Nixon a half century earlier…faced an extraordinarily difficult task. Earlier Nixon lost his trump card. He had always counted on his being adjudged as Eisenhower’s right hand man, a co-partner in all the defense and foreign policy strategies. It was that confidence that prompted him to take a Rose Garden strategy against Kennedy, a 1-1/2 term back-bench senator. But then Ike tossed Nixon a live grenade. At a news conference, the president was asked to detail the role Nixon played in foreign policy-national security discussions and policy decisions. Eisenhower’s answer: “If you give me a week I might think of one”! The answer almost flattened Nixon.
For days Nixon mulled it over, rubbing his scabs. Was Ike just reflecting his 70-year-old age after having suffered a heart attack, stroke and serious intestinal bypass due to recurrent bouts of ileitis?
Or was the old man cunningly trying to backstab Nixon, hoping to derail him? Nixon groused that in all his time as vice president, Eisenhower never, ever invited him to the upstairs residence in the White House….and at first Eisenhower seemed to side with TomDewey after the so-called slush fund scandal to drop Nixon off the pier (Dewey having been the Eastern Seaboard prime minister of the GOP establishment who pushed Nixon for the veep nod). Once again Nixon was left to his own devices that time to defend himself and he did by adopting the lachrymose “Checkers” tack which was ridiculed by the Left but which the country bought.
So, Nixon told himself, in 1952 he had been abandoned by his president and had to fight all by himself to justify his place on the ticket. Now in 1960 he was deprived of his ace argument for election when his very own president prompted liberal laughter and catcalls about giving him a week to figure out what contribution Nixon had made during the past eight years. So, Nixon said to his friends, goddamit since I’ve been once again abandoned, I’ll have to rely on my wits to prove my expertise by debating Kennedy who, after all, is a back-bencher who was never taken into the high counsels of the Senate by the Democratic leadership including by Lyndon Johnson!
Many will question Nixon’s decision to take advantage of the new cross-country hookup of television to go on live with Kennedy in Chicago on September 26 before 26 million…but not me. If he had avoided Kennedy he would have been jibed as being a coward, especially after Ike’s gaffe or intentional slur. The biggest mistake Nixon had made, however, was earlier when he recklessly pledged to campaign in each of the fifty states—which tied him up visiting some hopeless areas where he could never expect to get a vote. That was a decision made out of bravado to offset Nixon’s inner feelings of insufficiency aka I’ll show the bastards! That decision contributed in no small measure to his rotten showing on the first debate.
In a freak accident in late summer, he banged his knee getting out of a limo in Greensboro, N. C. which however weird developed an infection, landing him at Walter Reed from August 29 to September 9 (medicine then not being what it is now). Then he had to double the intensity of his campaigning in order to keep his stupid 50-state pledge, whipping his staff to get him around the country in double-time. The result: He showed up at Chicago’s CBS tired, thinner than usual, haggard which made him look menacing, wearing a grey suit which melted into the grey backdrop, the black-and-white cameras showing him with what was then called “ five o’clock shadow” from his extraordinarily tough beard (even though he had shaved and put on top of that Lazy Shave which gave a strange wan-look to his face).
Concerned that he would sweat noticeably he had his staff order double-intensity air conditioning to the studio which equated its temperature to a butcher shop freezer that stored fresh meat.
In contrast, Kennedy flew in from a semi-vacation at his folks’ place in Palm Beach, sporting a tan (which believe it or not reflected well by the cameras, fresh as a daisy with a slender jaw resembling the then popular Arrow Shirt magazine ads. Common myth has it that Nixon won the debate on the radio but playing it again on my car radio as I drove back to southern Minnesota having watched it in Minneapolis, I judged it a draw. A draw meant it was a triumph for Kennedy but immediately the national media types taking their cue from CBS’s Eric Severeid a former radical at the U of Minn. In the `20s (but you must know that `20s campus radicals were nothing like they were in the `60s) who screamed it was a decisive JFK victory. I said then and say now yes, a victory because the debate was a draw..
Alexi Filled the Nixon Role Sunday.
Earlier I referred to Lynn Sweet’s suffering a rare paroxysm of honesty in a taped preface to the debate by calling it a choice between a mob banker and a serial resume liar. We often have such imperfect choices in politics. In 1972 after his weird clowns conducted the attempted Watergate burglary, Nixon had to face George McGovern the forerunner of wacky liberals to come (including Obama). McGovern had proposed a demigrant of $1000 (then big money) for each poor person in the U S. and an isolationist foreign policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union where we will go first as a sheep and lie down with the Russian bear.
Then the choice was called one between a burglar (Nixon) and a bungler (McGovern). The verdict came in for the burglar overwhelmingly so in popular votes—61% for the burglar and 38% for the bungler….the electoral votes showing 520 for the burglar and 17% for the bungler with the Libertarian candidate getting 1% from Virginia. Probably repenting her catchy pre-debate phrase, after the show she wrote for her paper that it was a draw. Garbage.
The disaster came when the moderator, David Gregory, asked Giannoulias about his family’s bank loans to organized crime figures during the time Alexi was a loan officer. True the bank handed out millions of dollars in loans to Michael (Jaws) Giorango and his partner Demitri Stavropoulos before Alexi was hired but the cash flow never stopped and kept up to the day they were set to go to jail for felony convictions.
The squirming and ill-at-ease Giannoulias managed to say “If I knew then what I know now these are just not the kind of people that we do business with.” Then Gregory asked Did you know that they were crime figures that you were loaning to? Giannoulis replied “I didn’t know the extent of their activity.” Incredible: they were well known mobsters and any banker worth his salt should have known that, or by just a cursory investigation could have found it out.
A heckuva choice but just like Nixon the burglar vs.McGovern the bungler, the choice from national well-being should be duck soup easy. On Wikipedia Barack Obama calls himself a professor of constitutional law when he was only a lecturer. Being a mob banker is far worse than being a serial resume puffer. The outrageous thing is that had this been a Republican mob banker, the media would blow him out of the park on grounds his candidacy is an outrage….rather like they’re doing to Christine O’Donnell—a “general consensus” story.
Not so with Giannoulias: not with Lynn Sweet in her reportage or any of the other so-called major leaguers covering politics here. A major TV station’s news director even pressured the Kirk forces to stop referring to the bank incident on the grounds that Alexi “has been pilloried enough.” Can you top that? I can’t in more than 50 years in this business.
And Ms. Sweet’s pre-debate filmed statement aside, it’s a sad indictment that the Sun-Times is so far in the tank as a Democratic partisan that she called the debate a draw and that her paper endorsed Giannoulias It marks the paper as totally irresponsible and inconsolably liberal even when a mob banker is running. Makes you wonder what the Dems have on the paper anyhow.
Tom Roeser is chairman of the Editorial Board of the Chicago Daily Observer