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Friday, March 20, 2009

THE PRICE OF GRATITUDE

I know it is popular to demonize Karl Rove as Bush’s brain, but in fact he is merely the latest in a profession that goes as far back as Democrat Amos Kendall, who was Andrew Jackson’s brain. And more directly, Rove’s take no prisoners style can be traced through Lee Atwater, (of “Willie Horton” ad fame) to Murray Chotiner.
Murray Chotiner was probably the last political campaign manager who had a day job. As a political manipulator Murray claimed to have created Earl Warren, who was elected California Governor in 1942. But Murray’s tactics in that campaign so alienated Warren that the Governor refused Murray’s help for his 1946 re-election campaign. The politician Murray is usually credited with “creating” and the one who never broke trust with him was Richard Nixon.Doctor John Lungren, personal physician to Richard Nixon, recalled a breakfast lecture he received from Murray Chotiner in 1952. Said Murray, “First, a basic truth – you must define your opponent, never let him define you. If he does you are through, pure and simple. Then you find your opponent’s weakness in his record or conduct – he’s too liberal, he’s soft on defense, he’s too weak on criminals, he’s got character problems – and you move in, hitting harder and harder – with no letup. And you never give voters more than they can handle. They have their own lives. Most people can’t absorb more than two or three issues during a campaign. So limit your themes, focus and refine the issues and drive them home again and again.” (Healing Richard Nixon; A Doctor’s Memoir 2003.)Murray was a “cigar chomping wheeler-dealer”, “…a chubby lawyer…(dressed in) monogrammed white-on-white dress shirts and silk ties with jeweled stickpins. The monograms said “MMC” because…he billed himself as Murray M. Chotiner, though, in reality, he lacked a middle name.” Murray was married four times, hung out with gangsters, and the L.A. Times described him as “…a brilliant, abrasive and passionate political strategist whose campaign instincts were so acute and effective that his opponents feared him as the “Machiavelli of California politics.” A friend described him as a “…a very aggressive, hard driving fellow… a mechanic, a nuts and bolts man”. And a future Nixon aid described Murray as “...a hardheaded exponent of the campaign philosophy that politics is war.”Murray’s first experience in politics came when he worked for Herbert Hoover in 1932. In 1938 he ran in the Republican primary for a California Assembly seat and lost. In 1942 came his work for Earl Warren, and in 1944 Murray was elected president of the California Republican Assembly. In ’46 he worked for Republican Senator William Knowland, under the slogan, “We Will Not Surrender” without ever identifying to whom the Senator would not surrender to. That same year he advised Richard Nixon’s first run for office against Democrat Congressman Jerry Voorhis. Both Nixon and Knowland won. Politics was still a “hobby” at this point for Murray. To earn a living he practiced law, sharing an office with his older brother, Jack. Their clients were, according to Murray, "unsavory, to say the least"; over four years - from 1949 to 1950 – the Chotiner brothers defended 249 mob clients, ranging from local bookmakers to New Orleans mobster Carlos Marcello and L.A.’s mob boss Mickey Cohen. In fact Cohen donated $5,000 to Nixon’s 1946 campaign and provided free space for a “Nixon for Congress” office in one of his buildings”, again according to Chotiner.There are two pronouncements usually credited to Murray Chotiner. The first is “Chotiner’s Law”; "An incumbent forced to fight in a close primary election almost always loses the general election that follows.” (This was the origin of Ronald Reagen’s 11th Commandment – “Never speak ill of a fellow Republican”). And the second pronouncement was the professional code of conduct which Murray Chotiner lived by: “Victory is all that matters".In 1950 Murray took full control of Nixon’s U.S. Senate campaign, labeling his opponent, Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas, as “The Pink Lady”, alleging that she was a communist sympathizer – “Pink right down to her underwear,” said Murray.
Gangster Mickey Cohen threw another fund raiser for Nixon that year. Mickey later recalled, “Everyone from around here that was on the 'pad' naturally had to go. It was all gamblers from Vegas. There wasn't a legitimate person in the room.'' While introducing Nixon, Mickey announced the doors had been locked and no one could leave until $75,000 had been collected. Cohen also claimed that his support for Nixon had been ordered by “''…the proper persons from back East. '' It is assumed Mickey meant gangster kingpin Myer Lansky.It was Murray’s advice that lead Nixon to accept the vice-presidental post from Eisenhower in 1951. And when, during the campaign, Nixon was accused of influence peddling, it was Murray who tore up Nixon's resignation telegram to Ike, and pushed him to make his famous “Checkers speech; “We did get something, a gift, …It was a little cocker spaniel dog…and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers….and I just want to say this,…we are going to keep it.” Needless to say, even though Nixon never fully answered the questions about his favors for friends, the speech saved his career and propelled him into the vice-Presidency.Murray was there when Kennedy defeated Nixon in 1960, and when Nixon failed to win the Governorship of California in 1962. In 1968, when Nixon won the Presidency by a narrow margin, Murray was still there again, if now behind the scenes. In May of 1972, when the “Plumbers” were arrested planting "bugs" inside the Democratic Party National Headquarters in the Watergate complex, Murray Chotiner had an office directly above them. As the crises grew and began to engulf Richard Nixon’s Presidency, on Thursday, January 24, 1974, Murray’s Choitner’s car collided with a truck in suburban Washington, D.C. Curiously the accident happened directly behind the home of Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. In fact, Kennedy called for the ambulance. Murray was taken to the hospital with a broken leg and seemed on the way to a quick recovery when he developed a blood clot. A week after the accident, on Janurary 30th, he died.Nixon’s office released the following statement on February 3rd, 1974; “I am profoundly saddened by the death of Murray Chotiner. For more than a quarter of a century, he was an ally in political battles, a valued counselor, and a trusted colleague. But above all, Murray Chotiner was my friend. His friendship never wavered; in periods of adversity it grew stronger. While some recoil from the label "politician," Murray was rightly proud of it because he was a professional who had the respect and admiration of those who worked with him…he will forever have my gratitude”Effective at noon on August 8, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned as President. I suspect that Murray Chotiner would have called him a quiter.
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