Monday, September 17, 2007


Nixon, Bill and Bonds

Smart people can be very, very stupid.

Richard Nixon and Bill Belichick have something in common. Both developed reputations for being very, very smart in their professions. Yet both did very stupid things. And both were strongly disliked by the public save their most die hard supporters.

Nixon first showed his smarts when he was so disliked by the public that Dwight Eisenhower considered dropping him from the ticket during the 1952 presidential campaign. Nixon didn’t go to Ike on bended knee and plead for a second chance. Instead, he went directly to the American electorate, without knowledge or consent from Ike, by way of the powerful new communications medium called television. He played the humble bit and showed his little dog, Checkers, and his wife, Pat, whom he declared didn’t own an expensive fur coat but, rather, a plain cloth coat. Gosh, they were just simple folk after all!

It worked.

He showed those smarts again sixteen years later. After stunning election defeats to John F. Kennedy in 1960 (presidential) and to Pat Brown 1962 (gubernatorial), Nixon’s career seemed to be over, especially when he made the public pronouncement that the press “won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” Game over!

But Dick Nixon was not a man of his word. The press would have Nixon to kick around some more because he made an astounding political comeback. Perhaps it was because Barry Goldwater almost single handedly destroyed the Republican right in 1964 or because Ronald Reagan wasn’t ready, somehow Nixon convinced the Republicans that, as the campaign slogan said; “Nixon’s the One!” There was a war going on and the public had turned against it. In order to win the White House, a candidate had to convince the public that he could end the war. Nixon had a plan.

Not knowing that the plan included bombing the hell out of North Vietnam and extending the war into Laos and Cambodia, the public elected Nixon over Hubert Humphrey by a narrow margin. Richard Nixon outsmarted all his political enemies, Republicans and Democrats, and finally became President of the United States.

He faced an easy reelection in 1972.

Senator Ted Kennedy had an accident one night on Martha’s Vineyard that took two lives: one, Mary Jo Kopechne, the other, Kennedy’s presidential candidacy. Without him, the Democrats had no candidate with star power. They nominated soft spoken war critic Sen. George McGovern. Despite his own military record as a bomber pilot (the Distinguished Flying Cross and 35 missions), McGovern was seen as a wimpy dove and was able to win only one state in the election.

Nixon won the election easily. As one writer noted, Nixon could have probably won that election without even campaigning. But Dick had a problem.

Nixon had a group working on his behalf known by the appropriate acronym CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President). They authorized an act of political espionage forever to be known as the Watergate break-in at Democratic headquarters. Nixon tried to buy the silence of the burglars to cover it up but failed and was eventually impeached. He resigned from the presidency in disgrace.

How could such a smart man be so stupid? Ask Bill Belichick.

He’s a smart coach, having won three Superbowl titles in a four year span. But all athletes and coaches, like politicians, are hungry for that competitive edge that will make them a winner. And that’s why they can get stupid.

Bill never had to try videotaping the signals of opposing coaches. He especially shouldn’t have done it against a coach who used to work for him and probably helped him do it in the past. In the first game after receiving a very large fine and the loss of a draft choice or two, Belichick’s Patriots destroyed the San Diego Chargers on a nationally televised game, proving that the Patriots can win without breaking the rules.

So why do smart men who are tops in their fields have to do stupid things? I don’t know. Ask Barry Bonds.

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