By Robert Capehert
The Republican Party needs another Rosemary Woods. In a 2005 obituary notice, New York Times reporter Francis Wilkinson wrote Rosemary Woods, President Nixon’s secretary, liked to dance.
She was, according to Wilkinson’s piece, “a blazing typist” and “a master of shorthand.” Ms Woods, who died in 2005, infamously posed for Time magazine, reenacting the “erasure” moment before the precipice of President Nixon’s vertiginous fall, observed by a sea of disgruntled media.
Woods, wrote Wilkinson, ran President Nixon’s shop. She was a political animal—the President’s secret weapon; she tempered Nixon’s melancholy moods. She swore allegiance to her boss, outsized and strong. She dictated from Nixon’s infamous recordings.
She tore through Secret Service to get to Nixon. Halderman won battles. But Rosemary won the war. Her hair was red, Wilkinson wrote. According to early Nixon supporter, Herb Klein, “She [Rosemary] was fun.”
In Wilkinson’s piece, a fiery Woods once spilled a drink on an annoying reporter while train-bound. She hated to lose. Following John F Kennedy’s narrow defeat of vice president Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election, Woods spirited temper raged at a recreant Kennedy supporter.
Such stories bring tears to the eyes. She, Rosemary, sounded wonderful. She was Irish Catholic. The G.O.P., when Rosemary slipped in, ran Protestant. Such affairs of religion in public life, and its dimensions, did not stop her. She pushed forward.
It began in earnest. Rosemary left her northeastern Ohio homestead to work at the Office of Censorship, during World War II. Later, she was hired as a staff secretary for the Select House Committee on Foreign Aid. When Richard Nixon won his senate seat in 1950, he hired Rosemary to be his personal secretary.
History sprinted forward—as it is known to do. John F Kennedy defeated Nixon in November 1960. Defeated again in California’s gubernatorial election, Nixon left public life, some thought for good.
But providence’s judgments are ever cloudy; ever unknowable. Vietnam destroyed President Johnson. Facing Vietnam’s calamitous repercussions, which reached an apotheosis in 1968, Lyndon Johnson quit the stage. He broke for highland. LBJ walked, lighting up a cigarette against his doctor’s orders as soon as he boarded a forlorn flight back to his Texas abode. Probably a ghost in the White House, President Johnson died in body of heart failure on Jan. 22, 1973—his greasy hair long, his legacy shipwrecked; the Democratic Party after him, an isthmus of ruin.
History kept going, fast and free, under no mortal’s sanction. Robert F Kennedy, months earlier, a former attorney general to his brother, and New York Senator at the time—the brains behind the Kennedy mythology—was gunned down after his victory in the Democratic California primary. RFK lay mortally wounded in a pool of blood. Bleeding red on the Ambassador Hotel’s kitchen pantry floor, RFK’s supporters were captured in unbelieving gasps. But history, rutting and shaking through the echo of gunfire, swiftly marched forward. Like that! Richard M Nixon, a witch of ambition on one shoulder, insecurity ripened on the other, experienced political resurrection. Somehow, someway—through an orgy of death and war, America elected Nixon in November of 1968.
Rosemary Woods sprinted, ever in service, alongside President Nixon, her political husband of sorts—her faithful friend. She was there, riding shotgun through America’s turbulent gyrations, the tumult of the nation several thousands of fathoms deep.
She held on through the country’s twists and turns—its reverberations, its immense spoils and bitter contradictions—a gale force wind of commitment at her back.
She must have felt like a princess dressed in white when Nixon was sworn in as the nation’s 37th President. Hand raised, Nixon atop the mesa. Victory! Nixon and Rosemary, together, the Presidency of the United States, finally achieved.
Nobody could bait her temper, now. Not in 1969. Not the smug Democratic Party bastards, seen in the pane of history’s window—not the priggish lug on the train, the Kennedy confederate from 1960.
Nobody could take it away. But they did. It would happen five and half years into the future, at the apogee of Nixon’s second-term. Watergate sucked Nixon’s blood thin—a political disease of lethal finality. It entrapped Nixon, captured Rosemary in a vise. Nixon and Rosemary became ensnared in a labyrinth of President’s own lies and serial paranoia.
Nixon had opened up China, gone to the Soviets with Detente—won peace with honour in Vietnam, sort of. A perfect Greek tragedy.
All in a day’s work, with Rosemary close by.
In 1972, President Nixon throttled Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern and the Democrats into slumber, winning reelection—the Plumbers yet secret, sleuthing and prodding in the Washingtonian night.
But what Richard Nixon carried to victory, carried him, kicking and screaming—moody as a whore—to defeat. Rosemary was there, too.
But good thing for Rosemary Woods, sated by the 1969 inaugural festivities, and human beings everywhere, we do not know what the future will deliver. It would have broken her heart, disabling her ability to go forward, one might imagine.
She was a tough lady. Who knows?
Still, on that cold January in 1969, some 44 years ago, Rosemary and her political ally, Richard M Nixon, were winners, blissfully unaware of the tragic presentiment approaching.
Now, and according to the history books, evermore.
Remember, Rosemary hated losing.
Jan. 20, 1969 came. Nixon walked to the Oval Office with Rosemary Woods in tow. One does sense, in some way, the need for such a woman as Ms Woods in G.O.P. circles, presently. A woman—a loyal, political happy warrior of wit, and shall we say, political spirit. President Nixon was an imperfect man who made large mistakes. Not all of them encompassing Watergate.
The creation of the EPA, for starters, wage and price controls—the abdication of Gold Standard, et cetera, et cetera. But the President had Ms Woods, too—a politically feral woman, many Republicans now do not have. It is, in our day, hard to imagine the modern G.O.P. wooing the charms and loyalty of such a woman.
Women retreat from Republicans. Women are bored to tears by the G.O.P. Certainly this is not all Republican’s fault. But Republicans have done little to reverse such traffic, beating a path through a forest of political and social pandemonium.
Women have fears, too.
The G.O.P. needs a message to address such concerns. And so, Republicans need a substantive message aimed at the issues attenuating national and institutional life in America, rising in the imagination of the female psyche.
Rosemary Woods is surely missed.