Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Dick Tuck (1924-2018), R.I.P., The Consummate Political Twister Has Played His Last Trick

The legendary Dick Tuck passed away at the ripe old age of 94. Sadly he’s not known to most Americans today. Dick was a highly partisan political operative for Democrats. More significantly he was the pioneer political trickster, political magician, political prankster often focused on Richard Nixon. The stories are legendary, often building in the retelling so the truth can’t always be known. Non-Tuck antics have even been attributed to him. His prankster career of political sabotage started as a political science student at the University of California Santa Barbara in the 1950 Senate race between Democratic Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas and Republican Congressman Richard Nixon. He supported Congresswoman Douglas, but was asked by a professor to serve as an advance man for Congressman Nixon’s campus visit. He scheduled the talk for a large auditorium (2,000 or 4,000 seats – the stories vary), but then did not publicize it. Only 23 or 40 students showed up. Tuck then gave a long winded, wandering speech, followed by introducing the candidate to talk on the International Monetary Fund. The flustered, unprepared Nixon bombed. That was just the beginning of the Tuck-Nixon stories. One of the Nixon’s campaign taglines was “Nixon’s the One.” Tuck had one (or many) pregnant African American women carrying “Nixon’s the One” signs at a 1968 Nixon rally. He often posed as a fire marshal at Nixon rallies, providing the media with low attendance estimates. Vice President Nixon was in San Francisco awaiting renomination at the Republican National Convention. The garbage trucks, serving the convention, carried large signs saying “Dump Nixon.” Republican Senator William Knowland and Republican Governor Goodwin J. Knight decided to switch positions in 1958. Knowland would run for Governor and Knight for the Senate. Both lost in a landslide year for the Democrats. Senator Knowland hosted a banquet for Chinese supporters during the campaign. The guests opened their fortune cookies. Their fortune read “Knowland for Premier of Formosa.” Senator Kennedy won the 1960 debate. Tuck had an elderly woman wear a Nixon pin and hug the Vice President the next morning. She loudly said “Don’t worry, son. He beat you last night, but you’ll get him the next time.” A Nixon speech at San Luis Obispo became political legend. Nixon was on a whistle stopping campaign, addressing the audience from the rear platform of the train. Tuck signaled the train’s engineer to pull out. The train may or may not have left the station in mid-Nixon speech. A 1962 Nixon rally in San Francisco’s Chinatown, or was it Los Angeles?, featured another Tuck Tale. Either Tuck, or another person, or several attendees held up one or many signs saying “Welcome Nixon” in English. A message in Mandarin was under the English. It said “What about the Hughes loan?” Howard Hughes had loaned an unsecured $250,000 to Nixon’s brother. Nixon was informed of the Mandarin language. The Nixon temper kicked in. The cameras captured him ripping the sign in half. His creativity was not limited to Nixon antics. One 1964 Goldwater campaign motto was “In your heart you know he’s right.” Tuck changed it to “In your gut you know he’s nuts.” He once displayed a sign “Nixon in ‘80; Why not the worst?” Tuck told bandleaders at Nixon rallies that Nixon’s favorite song was “Mack the Knife.” They would often play the song as Nixon walked on stage. Tuck uttered a famous political statement when he lost a 1966 bid for a state Senate seat. He said “The people have spoken. The bastards.” He had come in a dismal third with only 5,211 votes. He said during his non-serious campaign “The job needs Dick, and Dick needs the job.” Dick Tuck probably did not break the law. He knew where to draw the line. Today’s political twisters have no such restraint. For example, two Democratic operatives were fired in 2016 because they boasted on tape of hiring agitators to incite violence at Trump rallies. The media would then publicize how out of control the Trump supporters were. Ironically Richard Nixon was tagged with the sobriquet “Tricky Dicky” – not Richard Tuck.

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