Original version published in The Moscow Times, March 8, 2002.
Picture this: the skulking ruler of a corrupt and vicious regime, hunkered down in his palace, besieged by the forces of good as he plots to unleash weapons of mass destruction on his "satanic" foes across the sea. Accused of war crimes and military aggression, he cynically turns to religion, often calling in the leader of the country's largest fundamentalist sect to lend "moral" support to the criminal regime. Together, the ruler and the holy man engage in frenzied diatribes against the enemies of the state, especially that sinister conspiratorial power lurking behind every eruption of evil in the world – the Jews.
A portrait of Saddam Hussein, raging desperately as he braces for the final reckoning at the hands of history's avenging angel, George W. Bush? No, it's just our ole pal Tricky Dick – Nixon, that is, not Cheney – back from the dead in White House tapes released this week: yet another star turn from the Founding Father of modern U.S. politics.
In the tapes, recorded in early 1972, we find Nixon hankering to hurl his nuclear thunderbolts at Vietnam – standard Cold War ranting for the apostate Quaker, who first suggested nuking 'Nam back in 1954. More relevant to the current scene is the Jew-bashing duet Nixon shares with the American elite's favorite fire-breathing evangelical, the Reverend (sic) Billy Graham.
Graham has – not to put too fine a point on it – sucked from the teat of U.S. power for more than 50 years, lending his "moral authority" to various presidents (usually when they're in political hot water) then leveraging the resultant publicity into boffo box office for his stadium harangues around the world. He is perhaps best known in recent years for a miracle that changed the course of human history – saving the soul of the aforementioned angel, G.W. Bush.
Bush credits Graham with "planting the seeds" of fundamentalist faith in his pre-presidential person during a family gathering in 1985. Graham was visiting the Bush clan's luxurious compound in Maine, mooching free meals and sucking up to the sitting vice president, Daddy Bush. (Well, what else should a disciple of Christ be doing? Breaking bread with the poor or something? Get real.)
At that time, of course, young George was in wastrel mode, boozing it up and losing millions of dollars of other people's money in the oil companies Daddy's friends gave him to play with. But the meeting with Graham struck a chord in the lost soul, as Bush himself (or rather his ghostwriter) tells it, in properly hagiographic tones: "[Graham] sat by the fire and talked. And what he said sparked a change in my heart. I don't remember the exact words. It was more the power of his example. The Lord was so clearly reflected in his gentle and loving demeanor."
That divine emanation was somewhat occluded in the Nixon meeting, where Graham heatedly denounced "satanic Jews" and warned Nixon that the "Jewish stranglehold" on the national media "has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain." The Lord-reflecting preacher then gently and lovingly described how he turned the Jews' two-faced perfidy against them with wily Christian deception of his own.
"A lot of Jews are great friends of mine," Graham begins with gentle, loving sarcasm. "They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them."
Graham chortles heartily when Nixon's toady and enforcer, H.R. Haldeman (the Karl Rove of his day) tells him to "wear a Jewish beanie" at an upcoming meeting with Time Magazine editors. And he yearns for a Nixon re-election later in the year: "Then we might be able to do something" about those nefarious Hebrews, says Graham.
As with Bush, Graham's potent spiritual seed found fertile ground in Nixon. "It's good we got this point about the Jews across," the president says after the meeting. "The Jews are an irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards."
This week Graham issued a most Nixonian reply to the taped revelations, saying he had "no memory" of the occasion, but even so, he "deeply regretted" comments he "apparently made" during the meeting. "Apparently?" Perhaps those "satanic Jews" doctored the tape, eh, Billy? As it says in the Gospels: "When the sins of thy past confront thee, always use a weasel-word to squirm thy way out."
These days, the elderly Graham is too frail to whack the Bible leather on the road anymore. His place has been taken by his son, Franklin, who runs the racket along the same old lines: hell-fire for the common folk, political cover for the high and mighty. Indeed, Franklin was called upon by the skulking ruler of yet another corrupt and vicious regime in January 2001, when he showered the Lord's blessing on the illicit inauguration of the unelected wastrel whom Daddy Graham put on the road to glory all those years ago.
Meanwhile, Bush is still faithful to his Imam's teaching. He believes Jews are damned to eternal torment, unless they adopt his own pinched and primitive fundamentalist faith, an opinion that once landed him in hot water with his less jihadic mother. Alarmed at her son's ignorant intolerance, she called – who else? – Graham to set Junior straight. Graham's response? "I happen to agree with what George says."
Well, he would, wouldn't he?