The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, August 15, 2002  

Choice Words From the Watergate Tapes

It looks like former President Richard Nixon hated pretty much everybody, except perhaps bickering daughters Julie Eisenhower and Tricia Cox.

By now we’ve all heard snippets from the Watergate tapes in which he disparages blacks and Jews, but, speaking for ourselves, we only just today came across these lovely gems from a 1970 conversation between Nixon and his adviser, John Ehrlichman:

Nixon: “The Italians. We musn’t forget the Italians. Must do something for them. They’re not, we ah . . . they’re not like us. Difference is, the . . . They smell different, look different, act different. After all, you can’t blame them. Oh no . . . can’t do that. They’ve never had the things we’ve had.”

Ehrlichman: “That’s right.”

Nixon: “Of course, the trouble is . . . the trouble is you can’t find one that’s honest.”

We found these statements in a modest yet remarkably informative book, Five Centuries of Italian American History, by Richard A. Capozzola.

[Now, before everyone jumps on us for plugging yet another Capozzola, two days in a row no less, we’ll add that Richard Capozzola and Jim Capozzola, editor of The Rittenhouse Review, only became acquainted after the launch of this site. A family relationship between the two has not been established and is currently the subject of research on both sides.]

After having read this Nixonian dialogue, with which we were completely unfamiliar until now, we did what any good webloggers would do: We “Google’d” it. Guess how many citations we found? Two. Just two. And one of the two was written by the same Richard Capozzola.

It strikes us as more than a little odd that Nixon’s crass comments about Italian-Americans have been so casually overlooked. They would appear to be deeply held beliefs: Coming in 1970, they were made years before Nixon found enemies in the forms of Rep. Peter Rodino and Judge John Sirica.

Did not one single historian or hobbyist listening to the tapes recoil at this ugliness? Did not one of them think the remarks strange enough to warrant at least a passing mention? What are we missing here?

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