Blacks versus Italians: Nixon Also Tried to Get the Right Mix in His Cabinet

Brad Haynes – The Wall Street Journal

Copyright The Wall Street Journal
Reports on the latest batch of President Richard Nixon’s White House tapes.
As interest groups do what they can to influence President-elect Barack Obama’s picks for a diverse cabinet, newly available archives from the Nixon Presidential Library put the politics in sharp historical relief.
The nearly 200 hours of President Richard Nixon’s White House tapes released today include a particularly telling conversation that took place after Nixon’s 1972 re-election. In planning selections for his second cabinet that November, Nixon, known for using “expletives” and his hard-nosed chief counsel, Charles Colson, provide a glimpse into the identity politics of the day:
Nixon: Well if you’ve got a candidate, what we need there… Godammit Chuck, we haven’t got an Italian yet. I can’t find any…
Colson: Did Bob mention the [foreign adviser John] Scali idea to you? …Could be at the U.N.
Nixon: Instead of the black?
Colson: Instead of the black. Who the hell cares about the blacks? Scali would love the U.N. That would give you an Italian in the cabinet. At least it’s a thought. And he’s a legitimate Italian. A good Italian…
Nixon: You know, basically, we don’t owe the blacks a damn thing anyway.
Colson: Oh hell, no. As a matter of fact, I think it’s a bad signal to put a black in the Cabinet… The people that voted for us– (Laughs)
Nixon: …And after all, this pampering of blacks isn’t a good idea. I think you’ve got a good point there…
Colson: If we appoint a black in the cabinet in the second term and we didn’t have one in the first term, people are going to say, “My God, they’re moving–
Nixon: That’s right.
Nixon: But I think your idea about the U.N. makes a hell of a lot of sense.
Colson: Well, it’s just a suggestion.
Nixon: No, but why put a black in there? Why do it? Why?
Colson: I wouldn’t do it. I would deliberately not put a black in a position that–
Nixon: As a matter of fact, I don’t see any reason– We’ve got our black in– Keep– Keep a few in the administration– You can’t– You can’t be in position where you just turn your backs on them, totally.
Colson: Oh no no. But I think this much, Mr. President: You were just elected with one of the biggest landslides in history. But with no better participation from the blacks…
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