On January 4, 1971, Richard Nixon sat in the library of the White House with four reporters: John Chancellor of NBC, Eric Sevareid of CBS, Nancy Dickerson of PBS, and Howard K. Smith of ABC. It was Howard K. Smith who in a later interview best said what was on the minds of these reporters even at this interview: “Mr. President, l understand that this has been the winter of your discontent.” That was the tone of this earlier meeting as they came to discuss his first two years in office. The 1970 midterm elections had not quite been a defeat for his party; but they were no great mandate either. After a rather lengthy and cheerless interview and toward the end of the questions, Nancy Dickerson addressed the President: “Speaking of your campaigns, you made the kickoff address in New Hampshire in 1968 . . . You made a speech how the next President had to give this country the lift of a driving dream . . . Well, as yet, many people have failed to perceive the lift of a driving dream. I wondered if you could articulate that dream for us briefly and tell us how you plan to specifically get it across to the people in the next two years.”
The President is always a most polished television personality, and he is characteristically quick, precise, and alert with his answers. But now, toward the end of a trying session and with the weight of the full meaning of that query heavy on his mind, he did a rather uncharacteristic thing. He hesitated, and he looked almost blankly around the room at the four people there with him, and away from the uncompromising eye of the camera. Then he lowered his head and slowly said: “Miss Dickerson, before we can really get a lift of a driving dream, we have to get rid of some of the nightmares we inherited. One of these nightmares is a war without end. We are ending that war . . . But it takes some time to get rid of the nightmares. You can’t be having a driving dream when you are in the midst of a nightmare.”
Five Presidents have been responsible for and have learned to live with the CIA. Five Presidents at one time or another, under varying conditions and events, have all suffered from this relationship. It can be said that Richard Nixon has come as close as any of them to putting into words the soul-rending, brutal reality of the impact of the power and of the burden that this covert force places upon the mantle of government, when he said, “You can’t have a driving dream when you are in the midst of a nightmare.” Like a terrible, haunting, terrorizing nightmare, the sinister machine pervades every aspect of the government today — and affects all of us, our way of life, and the welfare of the entire world.
Chapter 23 Five Presidents: “Nightmares We Inherited” L. Fletcher Prouty