Richard Nixon calls for a "truth offensive" during a speech in Seattle on February 7, 1966.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 5/05/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10105

On February 7, 1966, Richard Nixon (1913-1994) calls for a "truth offensive" during a speech at the King County Republican Lincoln Day dinner held at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. Although he is referring to alleged failures of the then-current administration of President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) to fully inform the American public of significant issues connected with the Vietnam War, Nixon will get his own truth offensive during his presidency in the 1970s. The political scandal involving a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters will become known as Watergate, and will ultimately force Nixon to become the first president in American history to resign.

3,876 Delighted Republicans

Richard Nixon served as vice-president under Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) between 1953 and 1961, and ran for president in 1960. He narrowly lost to John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), but carried Washington state and King County. He remained a favorite in the state's Republican circles during the 1960s, so the county's Republican elite were thrilled when he agreed to speak at the annual King County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in 1966, held that year at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall.

Nixon arrived at Boeing Field late on the afternoon on February 7, 1966, and gave a brief press conference at the Olympic Hotel. Asked about the John Birch Society, a an organization to the political right of the Republican Party, Nixon replied, "The John Birch Society has had it ... . The Birch Society purged itself by putting Birch views above those of the Republican party" ("1966 Will Be Our Year").

Nixon arrived at the Exhibition Center at 7 p.m. and was greeted with a standing ovation by 3,876 delighted Republicans; another 550 were turned away when organizers realized there was nowhere else for people to stand or sit. Looking tanned and relaxed, Nixon wowed the crowd with a few jokes, including one at the expense of W. Walter Williams (1894-1983), a prominent Seattleite and Nixon supporter.  In 1958, Williams (who served as undersecretary of commerce during much of the Eisenhower administration) suggested Nixon visit Caracas, Venezuela, assuring him it was a fun town.  "It sure was," said a jocular Nixon. "I got stoned" ("1966 Will Be Our Year").  What really happened was an angry crowd stoned the car he was riding in.

Playing Politics

Turning to more serious topics, Nixon predicted -- correctly, it turned out -- that Republicans would see sizeable gains in both the House and Senate in the 1966 Congressional elections, explaining that Republicans had a "better selection of GOP candidates on the horizon," and that Democrats were "suffering from being on top too long" ("1966 Will Be Our Year"). He criticized the Johnson administration for "playing politics" with anti-poverty programs and with the national budget, which he said failed to take into account the escalating costs of the Vietnam War.

Nixon also accused the Johnson administration of playing politics with the war, claiming the administration had failed to keep the American public fully informed of vital matters about it, and firmly declaring, "What is needed now is a truth offensive" ("Truth Offensive").  Yet despite his criticism, Nixon was unequivocal in his support for the war. (At this time, early in 1966, a majority of Americans also supported the war.) He contended that if the country let Vietnam fall to the communists. other similar wars would follow, perhaps in Thailand or the Philippines, and added that a larger world war might follow within a few years if America did not respond aggressively to the communist threat.

A Sneak Preview of the New Nixon

At 10 a.m. the following morning, Nixon spoke to more than 2,000 Western Washington high school students at the Seattle Opera House (today McCaw Hall) at the Seattle Center. After a brief speech, he took questions from an audience of preselected high school students seated on the front row. He dodged just one question -- when asked to comment on the qualifications of actor Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), who was making his first run for political office for governor of California, Nixon simply answered that either Reagan or George Christopher (1907-2000), former mayor of San Francisco, would be better than the incumbent Edmund "Pat" Brown (1905-1996).

Nixon was again in fine form, peppering his talk and delighting his audience with self-deprecating jokes, and joshing as he explained some slight confusion as he was being escorted to the stage, "It has always been difficult for me to turn to the left" ("Pupils Greet Nixon"). It was a sneak preview of the "New Nixon" that the country would meet when he ran for president in 1968. However, he was coy during his Seattle visit when asked about his plans for the 1968 presidential election, hinting that, if anything, he was not interested.

But he was very much interested.  He ran in 1968 and won, and was re-elected in 1972, just about the time the scandal of Watergate, an illegal break-in at Democratic National Headquarters located at the Watergate office complex, was beginning to materialize. Nixon's attempted cover-up of his involvement and the resulting truth offensive eventually forced his resignation in 1974, an ironic end for the man who had called for a similar offensive during his visit to Seattle more than eight years earlier.


Sources: Robert Cour, "'1966 Will Be Our Year,' Nixon Tells Cheering Republicans Here," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 8, 1966, p. 3;  Robert Cour, "GOP to Gain, Nixon Tells Students," Ibid., February 9, 1966, p. 10; Lyle Burt, "More Than 3,000 May Attend Nixon Dinner Tomorrow," The Seattle Daily Times, February 6, 1966, p. 42;  Lyle Burt, "Pupils Greet Nixon With Ovation -- and Questions," Ibid., February 8, 1966, p. 1;  Lyle Burt, "'Truth Offensive' Called for by Nixon," Ibid., February 8, 1966, p. 33;  "1960 Presidential General Election Results -- Washington," U.S. Election Atlas.org website accessed April 2, 2012 (http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/state.php?year=1960&fips=53&f=0&off=0&elect=0).

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