The Right Coast

January 28, 2005
Herb Klein
By Gail Heriot

I just got back from a breakfast honoring Herb Klein, until very recently Editor-in-Chief at Copley Newspapers. The event, sponsored by the Adam Smith Institute of California (on whose board I sit) drew a large crowd and featured an interview with Klein by ASIC President Ken Moser. Klein, it seems, has been everywhere, especially when it comes to the career of Richard Nixon, with whom he had been associated beginning with Nixon's Vice Presidential campaign in 1952. Klein served as Nixon's White House communications director from 1969 to 1973.

One of the things that struck me about Klein’s story was the good relationship he enjoyed with his Democratic counterpart, Pierre Salinger, during the 1960 Presidential campaign. They were adversaries, yes, but they shared polling data, jokes and had a sense of common enterprise. Kennedy wasn’t saving the world from Nixon, and Nixon wasn’t saving the world from Kennedy. The two of them were simply running against each other for President. This wasn't 2000 or 2004 (or for that matter 1964, 1968, 1972 ....)

Of course, that good relationship didn’t stop the voters of Chicago’s infamous river wards from holding strong opinions. Some preferred Kennedy over Nixon so strongly that they refused to let a little thing like their own deaths keep them from voting. These graveyard Democrats delivered just enough votes to deliver the crucial state of Illinois to Kennedy (and similar events in San Antonio may have also given Kennedy the equally crucial Texas). In the end, three overzealous Chicago Democrats went to jail for election-related crimes, and 677 others were indicted. And, of course, Kennedy (who was not himself implicated in the scandal in any way) was elected.

Some urged Nixon to challenge the election. Kennedy, for his part, offered Nixon a seat in his cabinet in exchange for Nixon's promise to leave things alone. But Nixon, to his credit, saw the issue terms of duty. He felt that it would not be in the nation's interest to have the election results up in the air. He refused to challenge, declined Kennedy's offer, and bowed out. (In contrast, here in San Diego, the results of last November's mayoral election are still being litigated.)

Years later, Oliver Stone would portray these events in his movie Nixon. You might remember the "Herb Klein" character. He was the unattractive one who was smoking cigars and urging Nixon to fight to the death. Except that Herb Klein doesn’t smoke cigars. And he advised Nixon not to challenge the election. And at 86 he seemed to me to be an altogether charming and attractive man.