Thirty years ago, the Reverend Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon sat in the Oval Office and spoke words that Mr. Graham surely never expected the world to hear. But it is unfortunate in some ways that, thanks to Nixon’s penchant for audio tape, the conversation between the two close friends became public knowledge this month, when the National Archives released 500 hours of Nixon tapes. What was revealed was that the President and America’s best-known evangelist shared a paranoid view that there existed a Jewish plot to dominate the American media. It’s not news that Nixon was bitterly obsessed with the notion of a Jewish elite which had rejected him. But Mr. Graham is an unexpected enabler. Speaking of the Jewish people and the media, Mr. Graham said, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain.” Nixon eagerly agreed. Those who believe that America has always been run by a secret country club, one of whose membership requirements is ingrained anti-Semitism, will not be reassured by the transcript of the meeting.
Mr. Graham, now 83, claims he doesn’t remember making the bigoted statements, and apologizes if he did in fact make them.
The tape is particularly shocking because Mr. Graham has always maintained a respectable role in American life, presiding over Presidential inaugurations and appearing on the covers of Time and Newsweek . He has never been tainted with the scandals of some other famous evangelists. Former President George Bush called him “America’s pastor.” Publicly, Mr. Graham has made much of his friendships with Jewish leaders. But in the Nixon tapes, he is recorded as saying: “A lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that 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.”
“You must not let them know,” replies Nixon.
When Mr. Graham asserts that Jewish people control the news media, Nixon asks, “You believe that?”
“Yes, sir,” says Mr. Graham.
“Oh, boy. So do I,” says Nixon. “I can’t ever say that, but I believe it.”
Such a conversation would be disturbing enough if it was taking place among right-wing radio hosts in Idaho, or among a cell of Al Qaeda operatives in the caves of Afghanistan. That it was taking place in the White House–albeit the Nixon White House–is more than a little chilling. Especially as Mr. Graham hints that Nixon should take some action, as President, to deflate the imaginary Jewish conspiracy, saying, “If you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something.” He does not specify what that “something” might be.
Mr. Graham will have to make his own peace with what he said in the Oval Office in 1972. One can take cold comfort from the fact that Nixon’s time in the White House was soon over. That Mr. Graham’s influence over religious life in America has continued to grow for the past 30 years is less encouraging. It’s a sad end to what appeared to be an impeccable career.
Bigger Board of Ed? Bureaucrats Lick Lips
On the subject of improving the city’s public schools, many ideas have been floated in recent years, from direct Mayoral control to partial privatization. Most of these ideas have merit. One, however, has virtually none: a proposal to expand–that’s right, expand–the number of political appointees on the Board of Education.
At a time when many influential people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, believe it’s time to abolish the board, the teachers’ union and some members of the State Legislature have proposed increasing the board’s membership from seven to 11. This is an idea born of desperation and promulgated by bureaucrats. A bigger Board of Education would be nothing more than a larger obstacle to the radical reform that New York’s public schools require. The board in its current configuration is enough of a problem. Qualification as a member has more to do with political connections than academic accomplishments. Members appointed by the five borough presidents are often chosen for their loyalty and work on the campaign trail, not for their knowledge of education.
Those familiar with the worlds of business and philanthropy understand that bigger boards lead to inefficiency, political infighting and delayed decisions. If you want to make sure nothing gets done, expand your board of directors. Mayor Bloomberg said that an expanded Board of Education would “serve only to bring more cooks into an already overcrowded kitchen.” Exactly right.
The city’s public-school students have been treated poorly enough in the last few decades. Expanding the number of unqualified overseers would make matters even worse.
Ivy-League Cops? New York’s streets patrolled by graduates of Harvard, Yale and Princeton? It sounds like the premise for a comedy–after all, who in their right mind would give a Princeton English Lit major a gun? But it’s no joke: Police Commissioner Ray Kelly intends to actively recruit at Ivy League universities and other top colleges, and he’s created a panel to advise him. One hopes that Mr. Kelly, who thus far had shown himself to be an admirable commissioner, will come to his senses before wasting any more time on this absurd idea.
“I want to get the best possible into this organization,” Mr. Kelly says of his plan. He believes that elite colleges are a good training ground for cops–he went to Harvard, after all. But he was also a Marine, and one can safely assume that Mr. Kelly’s military training has come in more handy in his police work than his years in Cambridge. If he wants to find solid recruits for the Police Department, he would do better to look, say, at large state universities in the Midwest, where students are more likely to be responsive to authority and willing to put others’ needs before their own. An Ivy League education is fundamentally an exercise in learning to question everything and live by your own rules–hardly the qualities one hopes for in a police officer. And why devote resources to sending recruiters to the nation’s finest schools, whose students surely don’t need to be told that there is a Police Department in New York City?
If further proof were needed of the folly of the commissioner’s plan, one need only look at the advisory panel he has assembled. It includes Ellen Levine, the editor of Good Housekeeping ; Valerie Salembier, publisher of Esquire; and an advertising executive named Hank Seiden. Surely all capable people in their own fields, but why in the world would one turn to them in matters of public safety?
Mr. Kelly inherited a Police Department that has made stunning advances against crime in New York. There’s no need to muck things up with a bunch of Harvard grads debating the semiotics of handcuffs.