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Could Dole (and Nixon) Finally Bring An End To The Trump Nightmare?

Posted on | November 4, 2019 | No Comments

Mike Magee

Excerpted from Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex early drafts.

As the country moves now at a full gallop toward an Impeachment trial of Donald Trump, inevitable comparisons arise to Richard Nixon and the Watergate era. But, beyond law breaking and enemy lists, the two men share little in common. No one understands this better than the man who delivered Nixon’s eulogy, Bob Dole.

Nixon, though deeply flawed, was a brilliant and innovative politician. His foreign policy expertise, as epitomized by the opening of relationships with China, are perhaps more widely recognized than his substantial domestic achievements, and especially his personal motivations in advancing groundbreaking environmental legislation, and proposing a fundamentally new approach to the delivery of health care in the United States.

Nixon grew up in an era of national financial collapse, dust bowls, disease, pestilence and war. He was born on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Two years before he was born, the second of five boys to Quaker parents, the town had only 35 citizens, mostly farmers focused on orange and lemon groves. But in 1912, the Pacific Electric Railway connected to the town, effectively establishing efficient distribution to markets in Los Angeles. That same year, the Southern California Edison Company brought in electricity, and the Nixon’s Church – the Yorba Linda Friends Church – was built. But it would be another four years before the town had its first paved road.

An early photo in 1916 shows a well dressed, if austere, Nixon family – mother seated in long white dress with skirted baby, Donald, on her lap, and father Frank, older brother Harold, and a near 4 year old Richard, all standing at attention, with clean shirts and ties, staring directly at the camera.

Father Frank was a Methodist, but the shelter he rented soon after arriving in Whittier was a Quaker boarding house. It was only a short walk from there to the Whittier Friend’s Meeting House and an introduction to member, Hannah Milhous. Her family were prominent members of the Quaker community and relatively well-to-do. In time he would become a Quaker himself, be let go by Pacific Electric, but land on his feet as a foreman for one of the many citrus farms in the area.

Frank and Hannah were married on June 2, 1908, and one year later had their first boy, Harold. With help from his father-in-law, he bought a ten acre citrus farm 15 miles away in Yorba Linda. Along his travels, Frank had become a skilled carpenter, and wise with a buck. After a bit of research, he bought a house kit and had it shipped to Yorba Linda on the new Pacific Electric Line that ran through the little junction of a town, and then created the family home with his own two hands.

It was in this lovely and charming little house that Richard, the second son, was born on January 9, 1913. Three quarters of a century later, the house would be refurbished by The Richard Nixon Foundation in anticipation of the arrival of the Nixon Presidential Library. The National Park Service describes the carefully refurbished house with its original furnishings as: “The one and one-half story, white clapboard siding house has a low-pitched gable roof.  A long dormer on the north side lights a small second-floor bedroom.  The front elevation features a projecting gable-roofed entry.  There is a small flat-roofed addition on the back.”

Richard Nixon himself, in his opening to his memoirs years later stated with some drama and exaggeration, in a manner that evoked Abe Lincoln’s log cabin,  “I was born in the house my father built.” This narrative was further reinforced by Nixon’s comments about his early life including, “We were poor, but the glory of it was we didn’t know it.” and “The only reason we were able to make a go of it is because my mother and dad had five boys and we all worked in the store.”

In short, the family got by, and in those early years had their third and fourth children, Donald in 1914, and Arthur in 1918. By 1919, they lost the farm, moved to Whittier, and with the help of a $5,000 dollar loan from Hannah’s parents, opened a gas station. Soon the mechanically gifted Frank was selling auto accessories and repairing automobiles as well, and the gas station gained a grocery. Frank added meat and butcher services, and the now “general store” gained  “meeting place” status in Whittier. Profits were enough to allow Frank to build a new home for his family next door.

From then on, the family was financially stable and geographically fixed. Frank and Hannah had a reputation for integrity, a willingness to extend credit, and a strong spirit of non-discrimination. Frank continued to love a good debate and had strong feelings about politics (conservative, anti-socialist) and loved discussing the Bible. He taught Sunday school with a fervor. They fit in to the community and their children were thriving, especially their second son. He had an uncanny ability to absorb knowledge and memorize passages, and was extremely musical. For a brief period, Hannah had him live 200 miles away with her sister, Jane Beeson, a graduate of the Indiana Conservatory of Music. When Richard returned at age 12, he was able to play a wide range of classical music by memory on both the piano and violin. Life was good.

All that changed in July of 1925 when Richard’s little brother, Arthur, took sick with headaches, stiffness, confusion and eventually loss of consciousness. Within one month, on August 10, 1925, Arthur, age 7, was dead of tubercular meningitis. Members of the family dealt with this tragedy differently. Mother and father leaned on religion with the family now spending most of Sunday at Church, attending occasional weekday meetings, and exploring the healing services of several well-known evangelists in the area. Richard, age 12, took his brother’s death hardest. As he later recalled, “For weeks after Arthur’s funeral there was not a day that I did not think about him and cry. For the first time I learned what death was like and what it meant.” His mother remembered the transition of her serious second son, later saying, “Now his need to succeed became even stronger.”

Not so for his older brother, Harold. He seemed to have limited interest in church, and as a 17 year old, focused on girls, his social life, and tinkering with a Model-T car. His parents became alarmed that he was heading down the wrong trail. Their solution, now middle class or more, was to send the boy to a boarding school on the other side of the country, ten miles south of the Massachusetts – Vermont border. The school was called Mount Hermon School for Boys, and the headmaster was the fire-breathing evangelist, Dwight L. Moody. But unlike other schools of this type, it specifically reached out to include children who were not privileged including blacks and Native Americans.

If the intent was to give their eldest son “a dose of religion”, however, the effort was cut short, when their son was shipped back west just 6 months after enrolling. It was April, 1927, and Harold had developed a nasty chest cold which officials at the school thought might be tuberculosis.They were correct.

There was debate inside the family of what to do next. Frank rejected public facilities, uninterested in being dependent on the government. Harold pretty much ignored the diagnosis and pursued a number of jobs and interests. But Hannah, one year later, seeing her eldest son slipping away, convinced him to move with her to Prescott, Arizona, a fresh air community that had a reputation for being able to heal people with respiratory ailments. To support the effort and maintain her own sanity, she took in a number of respiratory patients as boarders and cared for them as well. Once a month, Frank, with Richard and Donald in tow, made the 400-mile journey for a weekend visit. And life marched on.

In 1928 and 1929, Richard was able to spend the summers with his older brother in Prescott. And in May, 1930, his youngest brother, Edward, was born. Their lives at this point were all about logistics. Richard had enrolled in Whittier Union High School, close to home, and helped run the family store. He focused heavily on his studies and became a champion debater. On graduation, he enrolled in the Quaker tradition Whittier College, interested in his studies, student politics and the future. As he had stated in an 8th grade essay shortly after the death of his little brother, he believed he would ultimately go to Columbia law school and then enter politics with a goal of being “of some good to the people.”

As for Harold, he continued to decline, as his fellow boarders in Prescott, one by one, died under his mother’s loving care. He was back in Whittier when, on March 7, 1933, he presented his mother a new mixer for her forty-eighth birthday. He then bid farewell, and died.

The family grieved, and one could argue, Nixon fought on, in support of the aggrieved family to whom fate had been unkind, for the rest of his life. His brother was now gone, and even with the Depression, his parents’ business was flourishing. He earned a scholarship to Duke Law School, and predictably, studiously mastered the material.

He took and passed the California bar in September, 1937, joining a local Whittier firm. One year later, his personal life began to look up. He had always enjoyed music, and in college had performed and enjoyed theater. Most believe the young lawyer was lonely and looking for company. He found it in the local production of a George S. Kaufman play, “The Dark Tower”. It was billed as a mystery comedy.  Nixon played the role of playwright Barry Jones who in the print materials of the day was described as “a faintly collegiate, eager blushing youth of twenty-four”. Playing opposite him was a local school teacher from Whittier Union High School named Thelma Catherine Ryan, but everyone called her Pat. That was because she was born on St. Patrick’s Day and from birth her Catholic father called her “Patty-babe”. In any case, she inhabited the role of Daphne Martin, described as “a tall, dark, sullen beauty of twenty wearing a dress of great chic and an air of permanent resentment.” In the play, Daphne dumps Barry for her true love, but not before she performs the song “Stormy Weather” with Barry accompanying her on piano.

Looking for a short term means of support, she was attractive enough to earn a Screen Test in Los Angeles, and interested enough to act as an extra for RKO and MGM. But like many women of her day, she was unwilling to advance by taking roles on the “casting couch” and steered clear of the Industry. She graduated with honors from USC, was certified and began to teach high school in 1937.

She never liked Whittier much and would routinely decamp to Los Angeles, to her brothers’ place each weekend. After she met, and in time made peace with Richard, he began to ferry her back and forth to the city on weekends. In time, she met his parents and liked Hannah enough to help her meet her quota of pies each week which were sold in their general store. Two years after the courtship began, after she had herself become a Quaker, they were married on June 21, 1940, with the president of Whittier College, where Nixon had been a trustee for the past three years, presiding over the ceremony.

Over the first few years of married life, he began his move toward politics and elected office. This goal quietly collided with a growing self awareness that he was different, not your typical back-slapper or “yes” man. As one biographer described his behavior in those early years, “…his heart and his thoughts…were always for those who had little, who struggled, who had been short changed. To some degree, he identified with them as one who, though favored with high intelligence and opportunity, had known the sorrow of family tragedy and the loneliness of isolation and chronic insecurity.”

His new wife arrested much of that loneliness and insecurity, and that’s all he needed to move forward. His first breakthrough came when he was elected as an assistant city attorney for his hometown, Whittier. This was 1938, the mid-term elections with FDR in firm control, but with the President still reeling from the Court Packing case and the battle over Social Security. These topics became the core of Nixon’s “Speech” on the local lunch and dinner circuit. At the ripe age of twenty-eight, he eyed the State Assembly as his next goal post, but in the mean time, he positioned himself to be successfully elected as president of the local Young Republicans and as the leader of a new business collaborative governing nine local regions, the Association of Northern Orange County Cities.

As Nixon and his young wife looked for an opening to pursue national office, the war spread in Europe. In late 1941, he received a call from a former classmate at Duke asking if he’d be interested in a job in Washington. He’d be working in the Office of Price Administration (OPA), the FDR organization designed to harness America’s precious material supplies (especially rubber and metals) to create the necessary war supplies. As a couple, they became ultra-focused on service after December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. On January 9, 1942, Dick and Pat Nixon arrived in Washington, D.C.

His organizational talents allowed him to rise fast, earning him a promotion by March, 1942. As summer approached, Nixon knew he needed to enter the fighting forces. This was a deliberate decision and one that Pat supported. He was protected from the draft, at least on two count’s. First, his employment by the OPA made him an “essential employee” of the Federal Government and thus immune from the draft. Second, as the Quaker child of Quaker parents, he was eligible as a conscientious objector for deferment. Inherently idealistic and patriotic, and with an eye toward his future political narrative, he chose neither route. Instead, he joined the Navy.

He ended up on a Pacific island that was MacArthur’s first step toward reclaiming control of the South Pacific, on his way to the Philippines and ultimately to an invasion of Japan itself. By late 1944, he was reunited with Pat after being shipped back to the states to become the base administrative officer at Alameda Naval Air Station, and then on to Philadelphia, and from there to Maryland, where he focused on the details of closing out contractual agreements with war suppliers. By January 1, 1946, he officially ended his military career as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.

Though the Red Scare was not yet scarlet, Nixon sensed an opportunity in the waiting. The current reality was that sixteen of the twenty-five Congressional seats in his home state of California were held by Democrats. Nixon felt that that was about to shift. Back on the West Coast, Nixon threw himself into the Congressional campaign, optimistic and renewed, as Pat gave birth to their first child, Trisha, on February 21, 1946. He won and was sworn in on January 2, 1947.

When considering the young congressman’s subsequent rapid rise to Vice-President in just eight years, most point reflexively to Nixon’s role on Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. While he attempted to hide the fact, Nixon had worked aggressively behind the scenes to gain an appointment to this committee. And while Nixon did receive broad public exposure in his pursuit of government official, Alger Hiss, who, though not convicted as a spy, was ultimately imprisoned on charges of perjury, his equally significant achievement, in the eyes of Republicans during this period, was in rolling back the power of unions.

Nixon recognized the opportunity and seized it early, becoming one of the major authors of what would become known as the Taft-Hartley Act. It was a huge win for business leaders, like the ones who had supported the young Congressman’s campaign for California’s 12th District. And his participation and success, so soon after his arrival, did not go unnoticed. He made certain of that by authoring the July, 1947, Congressional Record report titled, “The Truth About The New Labor Law”. He also actively debated the issue on the stump, including one noteworthy session in front of 150 steel miners in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. His opponent – a young freshman congressman from Massachusetts, John F, Kennedy.

In 1950 he jumped to the Senate, winning by a 20% margin statewide. That year, he also found time to campaign aggressively for other Republican candidates who would remember his generosity in the future. Between the two elections, his second daughter, Julie was born. Life was good.

The rest – his two terms as vice-president, his loss to JFK, and his subsequent rise  to the Presidency eight years later – as they say, is history. And among his range of domestic objectives, national health care loomed large.

Nixon hadn’t created Medicare, but he now had the responsibility to manage it. By then, LBJ’s open-ended commitment to America’s hospitals, doctors, insurers and patients was on a downward financial management trajectory. On July 10, 1969, the President released an HEW report from the mild mannered HEW secretary, Robert Finch, which declared that the program’s budget deficits were “much greater than I had realized. We face a massive crisis in health care costs.” Nixon had no intention of taking out the popular program at this point. It was already the “third rail” of American politics. His only option was to contain costs.

He turned to Edgar Kaiser, son of Henry Kaiser, founder of Kaiser-Permanente, for advise. In a February, 1971 tape, Nixon is heard explaining the HMO idea to his aids as a way to control Medicare costs. He says, “This is a private enterprise one. The reason he can do it – I had Edgar Kaiser in here to talk about it and I went into it in some depth – the reason he can do it is all the incentives are towards less medical care.”

At the time, Senator Ted Kennedy was already pushing hard for universal health care. The Democratic Party had always felt that Medicare and Medicaid were only a step on the way to a one payor, universal system. HMO’s were part of the political push back of the Administration. Nixon was consciously aware that you couldn’t oppose something with nothing, and he had to win a second term or it was all for naught. But, in addition to those two realities, he would not, could not, abandon what he saw as an obligation to his family – especially his mother, Arthur and Harold.

He said as much in a conversation with Charles Hoffman, the president of the American Medical Association, in the Oval Office in September of 1972. He explained his interest in a health care plan this way, “My older brother had tuberculosis. He contracted it when he was 17 and he died when he was 22. For five years my parents, now they earned enough, but they borrowed, they sold property. They did everything. They put him in hospitals. They took him to Arizona for two years. He stayed in a very expensive hospital and then he finally died. But I know what it did to that family. Because my father and mother were very proud people. They wouldn’t put him in the public health ‘line’. They wanted to pay it all themselves. But I think the rest of their lives they owed money. You remember that’s what they did then. They put them to bed. It didn’t work.”

In meeting the needs, Nixon was attempting to protect what was good about American health care while expanding coverage and efficiency in tandem. For 1972, his goals were expansive. He called it CHIP – the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan. For the first time, it required employers to provide health care coverage with a defined menu of benefits. If you couldn’t find private coverage, a government plan would be available to you, without income limits or special qualifications. At the same time, HMO type programs would be pushed and importantly, made available to Medicare and Medicaid subscribers.

Four days before the election, on November 3, 1972, he took time in a radio address to spell out his intentions.“No American family should be denied access to adequate medical care because of inability to pay. The most important health proposal not acted on by the 92nd Congress was my program for helping people pay for care. One of the clearest choices in the 1972 presidential election is a choice between the comprehensive health insurance plan which is a private plan that I have just described and our opponents plan for a medical system which is paid for by the taxpayers and controlled by the federal government.”

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to release the White House tapes. This doomed his health care initiatives and toppled his Presidency. Republicans and Democrats alike would continue to resurface his ideas, in various shapes and sizes, over the next four decades. They looked to expose a sweet spot – where private insurance and universal coverage might coexist in harmony. His efforts in this area were clearly as much for Arthur and Harold, as they were for his fellow citizens in 1972.

On April 27, 1994, in Yorba Linda, California, in front of the reconstructed house that Frank built, Bob Dole delivered the eulogy that Richard Nixon had hoped for all his life. At the final two word sentence, “How American.”, Dole broke down in tears, crying for his fallen hero, and perhaps for himself, and what might have been for them both.

On January 17, 2018, Bob Dole, now self-muted truth-teller, was once more close to tears as a very different President, Donald Trump, presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor with these words intended to seal Dole’s lips forever, “Bob, you are a friend, you are a patriot, a hero, a leader and today you have become a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.”

With our domestic and foreign policy now in shambles, and Dole’s beloved Congress attempting to reassert itself as a third and independent branch of government to bring to heel an unhinged chief executive, does Bob Dole have one last act?  How better to honor his brilliant but deeply flawed and beloved Republican colleague then to find the inner strength to paraphrase his final two words of the Nixon eulogy, but this time, of Trump, say loud and clear, “How Un-American!”

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