So maybe you’ve seen Tuck. Slight, old, with shorts in all kinds of weather, and bright red knee socks. If you’re in Tucson you’re almost surely seeing Dick Tuck.
Who is Dick Tuck? First of all, today, he’s “birthday boy,” 91 years young. Second, he’s the now retired political consultant, and the bane of Richard Nixon’s existence.
You know, political consultant really doesn’t accurately describe Tuck. There are lots of political consultants out there. Many are drawn to placing ads for candidates, with those fat 15% commissions. Others advise on reaching this or that segment of voters, helping candidates be for and against the set of policies that maximizes votes.
Not Tuck. Prankster best describes him. Here are a just a couple of great “events” he managed. He paid a woman to wear a Nixon button in 1960 and embrace the candidate the day after the first Kennedy-Nixon debate. What did she say to the Vice President? Per Tricky Dick, a New Yorker profile of Tuck by Tom Miller from August 30, 2004: “Don’t worry, son! He beat you last night, but you’ll get him next time.” Per William F. Buckley, Jr. in Subpoena Dick Tuck in Watergate Caper Probe in December 1972, in 1968 Tuck hired Negro women—pregnant Negro women—to carry Nixon campaign signs during a demonstration in Miami Beach. And the issue? Well, in 1968 the former vice president ran with the slogan “Nixon’s the One!”
And there’s more. Without getting into the weeds too far, my favorite story—it may or may not be true, and Tuck may or may not have intended the outcome—involved Richard Nixon on the back of train during a whistle stop tour. Crowd gathers. Nixon waves and starts to speak. Train steams out of the station.
You can read more about Tuck at his website. I can’t leave him, though, without commenting on the comparisons to Watergate. Mr. Buckley’s headline writer called it the Watergate Caper but, to be fair, that was in December 1972. By August 1974 we had a new president, and knew much, much more than Mr. Buckley did in 1972. Caper does not begin to do justice to what happened. Now, we don’t hear much about Watergate, partly because more than 40 years have passed, and partly because we live in times in which many dismiss bad acts with “everyone does it.” Well, I was around in the Watergate years, and since; everyone didn’t do what Nixon and his minions did between 1968 and 1974, and even bad acts today almost always pale by comparison.
About the comparison, Tuck reports an encounter with Nixon Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman during the Watergate investigation:
One day during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff under Nixon, passed Tuck in the Capitol. Haldeman reportedly turned to Tuck and said, “You started all of this.”
Tuck replied, “Yeah, Bob, but you guys ran it into the ground.”
Ain’t it the truth!
Note: Several years ago Ms. J told me she’d become aware, at her Starbucks, of an older man who had been in politics. “Name,” I asked. “I think it’s Tuck, or something like that,” she reported. I was on it right away, and soon thereafter I hosted a two-man, five martini lunch (among us, for G-d’s sake, on a slow Friday, and I did meet my match) with one of the best storytellers I’ve ever encountered. Best place for Tuck encounters now is The Shanty at 4th Ave. and 9th St.