Richard Nixon and the Draft
By David Henderson
My Hoover colleague Tim Kane did a great job of interviewing me this morning. The interview (audio) will be available soon and I’ll post about it here when it comes out (assuming I didn’t say anything really embarrassing, and I don’t think I did.) Tim has a Brian Lamb-style way of getting his interviewee to go deeper on something personal than the interviewee (me) may have planned. So I talked about growing up in my family in a way that I hadn’t planned to.
I told him in the pre-interview yesterday that when we discussed Richard Nixon and the draft, I would tell my personal story about Nixon. I forgot to.
Here’s the background, which we did cover. Neither Tim nor I, as we made clear in the interview, was a fan of Richard Nixon, aka Mr. Price Controls. But we both gave him big credit for taking on the draft issue in 1967, speaking out against it in his 1968 campaign against pro-draft Democrat opponent Hubert Humphrey, and following through by letting the draft authority lapse in 1973.
The story I didn’t get to tell is this. In the summer of 1993, shortly after Nixon’s wife, Pat, had died, Nixon was on the same flight my wife, daughter Karen, and I were on from Newark to Lost Angeles. He was, of course, sitting in first class with a Secret Service agent seated beside him.
That kind of thing never stopped me. I thought I would tell Karen a little about Nixon having ended the draft and then take her up to say hi and thank you to Nixon.
But something did stop me. In 1979-80, I had been living in Oakland and commuting to my job at the Cato Institute in San Francisco. I subscribed to the Oakland Tribune. Sitting on that flight, I suddenly remembered a long interview with Nixon in the Tribune. The interviewer had asked him what the biggest policy mistake in his presidency was. Of course, I had hoped at the time that he would answer “imposing wage and price controls.” He didn’t. His biggest mistake, he said, was abolishing the draft.
I went through all this mentally in about 2 seconds and then decided, “The hell with him. I’m not going to take my daughter up there.”
That was a mistake. It’s always important, at least to some degree, to “cool the mark.” That expression usually has a negative meaning, because of the term “the mark.” It typically means that one should persuade the mark that his bad decision was a good decision. But in this context, what I have in mind is positive: trying to persuade Nixon that his good decision, which he thinks was bad, was really a good decision.
I should have tried to take my daughter to meet Nixon.