Thursday, October 21, 2010

What A Pair Of Dicks

Half the time, it seems, when I click on the 'random article' button at Wikipedia, I land on a soccer player, a chemical arrangement of some sort, some animal I've never heard of, a city somewhere in probably eastern Europe, or the exploits of a garage band. A local radio station, WLUM, FM 102.1 in Milwaukee, uses the button for a trivia contest they call 'Wikipedia Roulette', and they seem to have little better luck.

Today, I had a bit of writer's block- my mind's still pretty foggy from the cold- but I have several ways I can combat writer's block around here. I can run the Random News Generator. I can dig through my bookshelf for a factoid I can expand upon here. I can scan a couple news aggregators and see if anything pops out at me. Or, in this case, I can play Wikipedia Roulette a couple times and hope I get lucky.

I got lucky.

Dick Tuck was a political operative from the 1960's, whose primary rival was Richard Nixon. Now, when you hear 'political operative' these days, it's usually in the vein of voter fraud, intimidation, lying without shame, and buying races. Tuck, while a man who liked playing dirty, didn't like to play quite THAT dirty.

Tuck was a live-action Bugs Bunny.

Tuck and Nixon first met in a 1950 California Senate race, where Nixon was running against Helen Gagahan Douglas, for whose campaign Tuck was working. Nixon was running the kind of campaign that Richard Nixon ran, and Tuck decided to give Nixon a taste of his own medicine, by getting onto Nixon's campaign staff and operating as a mole.

Thus was borne the first prank Tuck played on Nixon: his organization of a rally at UC Santa Barbara. One thing you don't want to see at a rally is any empty seats. Whatever place you book for your rally, you want to fill it. Tuck booked the biggest place he could get- a 4,000-seat auditorium- and very lightly advertised it for a day when most of the students were in class and almost nobody would show up even if they wanted to. 40 people ended up at the rally.

Tuck wasn't done yet. He was to introduce Nixon, and in doing so, made a long, rambling speech making frequent references to a previous campaign in which Nixon had done a lot of Nixon-style red-bashing. Then, finally, he introduced Nixon, so that he could speak about the International Monetary Fund.

What was Nixon planning to speak about? Not the International Monetary Fund.

And thus began a long career of one man's slow descent into paranoia, and the man who helped him along that descent as quickly as possible:

1956: Nixon was running for re-election as Eisenhower's vice president, with the Republican National Convention that year being in San Francisco. Tuck noticed that the normal route that the local garbage trucks took headed past the convention. So he had signs put on the trucks saying 'Dump Nixon'.

1960: Nixon was running for President against John F. Kennedy. The day after their legendary first-ever-televised debate, Tuck hired an old woman to meet Nixon as he was getting off his plane. The woman kissed Nixon on the cheek and said "That's all right, Mr. Nixon. He beat you last night, but you'll get him next time."

1960: Tuck informed rally bandleaders that Nixon's favorite song was 'Mack The Knife', a song about a conman.

1960: Tuck posed as a fire marshal to lowball Nixon rally attendance estimates to the media.

1960: There is an alleged story about Tuck posing as a train conductor with Nixon standing on the back of one for a whistle-stop rally, and ordering the train to pull away while Nixon was speaking. Tuck, however, denies it. He says he did grab a conductor's hat, he did give a signal to the engineer, but the train didn't move.

1962: Nixon was running for governor of California, and visiting Los Angeles' Chinatown. Tuck had a sign written in Chinese that said 'Welcome Nixon' on the top, and 'What about the Hughes loan?' on the bottom- this a reference to a controversial loan Howard Hughes had made to Nixon's brother. Nixon, not knowing Chinese yet, originally waved and campaigned it up, until he was informed of what the sign said, at which point he grabbed the sign and tore it up. (The sign actually read 'huge loan', not 'Hughes loan', but it did the trick either way.)

1964: Tuck made his own run for California state senate, on the slogan "The job needs Tuck, and Tuck needs the job". Nixon came in, endorsing Tuck's opponent, and Tuck challenged Nixon to a debate, promising not to shave- a reference to Nixon's unshaven appearance at his debate with Kennedy.

1966: Tuck, having lost in 1964, tried again. Nixon offered to campaign for him.

1966: Tuck designed his campaign billboards with a small 'Dick' on top and a big 'Tuck' on the bottom. On election eve, he went around defacing his own billboards, converting the T in Tuck into an F, hoping to get a sympathy vote from people who would think his opponent did it. It didn't work; he came in 3rd in a field of 8. As he watched the loss unfold, Tuck stated, "The people have spoken, the bastards."

1968: Nixon was running for President again. Tuck hired some very pregnant women to walk around at rallies in shirts bearing Nixon's slogan, "Nixon's The One".

1968: Nixon was by this point afraid enough of Tuck that he starts sabotaging himself. Buttons printed in Chinese, Greek and Italian showed up prepped for rallies in New York. Nixon ordered them destroyed just in case Tuck had done something to them. Tuck had not.

1972: Tuck, hampered by a George McGovern candidacy uninterested in pranks, was running on fumes. But Nixon, now President, didn't know it, and wanted a Tuck-like campaign of his own. He went out and got Donald Segretti. Segretti, though, was no Tuck. Segretti was not Bugs Bunny. Segretti was Kira from Death Note. All he could do was forge letters to look like the opposition was engaging in sexual and racist behavior. Tuck, for all his faults, had a bit of whimsy going in his pranks. Segretti didn't have that.

During Watergate, H.R. Haldeman told Tuck, "You started all of this." Tuck replied, "Yeah, Bob, but you guys ran it into the ground."

And they did. Many have tried to emulate Tuck since. Nobody, however, has gotten the style down, degenerating into a mean-spirited slamfest.

Tuck will tell you himself.

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