Wednesday, December 17, 2008

1978- Nixon's First Public Speech in Hyden, Ky.

Copy, Time mag, Monday, Jul. 17, 1978

Photos, jk

We'll survive. Despite all the polls and all the rest, I think there's still a hell of a lot of people out there—and you know, they want to believe...

—Nixon to Haldeman, April 25, 1973

It was not a re-emergence to compare with Napoleon's journey out of Elban exile to try to regain France. Nor was it precisely the great soap opera of redemption that occurred in the mid-'50s when the American people decided that Ingrid Bergman, disgraced adulteress, might be restored to favor. But somewhere in the historic procession from the majestic to the trivial, one might plausibly place Richard Nixon's trip to Hyden, Ky., over the Fourth of July weekend.

For the first time since he said goodbye to the White House staff four years ago and flew away to his self-imposed house arrest in San Clemente, Nixon came to speak at a fully public occasion. He had rejected 100,000 invitations. He chose Hyden carefully: a remote eastern Kentucky coal-mining town of 500, Republican since the Civil War, where the virtue of loyalty has been toughened into a kind of clannish defiance. Nixon rightly sensed that there he would find, unregenerate, some of the believers he described to H.R. Haldeman in the spring of 1973, when his Administration was in the first stages of its slow-motion collapse. "All Nixon did was stand by his friends," said the local motel owner in Hyden. "And that is one of the traits of us mountain people."

Hyden and the rest of Leslie County had reason to think well of Richard Nixon. His revenue-sharing program had, among other things, helped to build a new $2.5 million recreation center (gymnasium, swimming pool, community center and tennis courts). Gerald Ford was invited to dedicate the center, but his schedule was full. To Hyden's surprise, Nixon accepted. Flying into a tiny nearby airport in an executive jet, Nixon may have imagined himself in a time warp, transported back ten years to an old campaign. He found a crowd of 1,000; some of them had waited for three hours in 90° heat.

They wore Nixon campaign buttons; some lugged his 1,120-page memoirs, the size of a small steamer trunk, hoping to get an autograph from the last President they truly and fully liked. "He should get around the country more and speak out," a local Republican committeewoman said with wistful truculence. "Other Presidents have done as bad as he ever did." But a friend of hers was not so sure. "He wouldn't ever want to run for public office again," she said. "He should just lead a quiet life from now on."

Five satin-shirted high school musicians played Hail to the Chief. Nixon plunged into the crowd, pressing flesh, absorbing adulation like a man breaking a long fast.

1 comment:

Curious Observer said...

I was assigned to cover the event by WKYT-TV, in Lexington, Ky.

I had a CP-16 in one hand and my Pentax in the other.

Amazingly, I discovered the other day
that my photos could illustrate the
Time article, written 30 years ago!