One of Richard Nixon’s Many Faults

Nixon even cheated at bowling

Megan McArdle related a funny Richard Nixon story last week, concerning his creation of a White House Palace Guard. The palace guard episode is silly at any level and also reveals something of Nixon’s character. Let me start off your August weekend with a similar anecdote.

BowlingIf you tunnel deep down under The West Wing, you will find a maze of poorly lit, unpainted hallways with exposed pipes and wires (no OSHA rules apply underneath The White House, apparently). If you stumble about the labyrinth for awhile you will come to a nondescript door that, quite surprisingly, opens onto a two-lane bowling alley which was built for President Truman.

Here I am showing fantastic form therein. I bowled 300. It took me about 50 frames, but I did it. I can’t bowl at all really. But I am very good at looking like I know what I am doing when in fact I don’t — an essential Washington D.C. survival skill.

Anyhoo, almost every President since Truman has gone down at least once to the White House bowling alley and posed for a photo, bowling ball in hand. Most never return. But Richard Nixon actually liked to bowl and did so frequently. Study his left foot in the photo below and ask yourself: “Was there anything at which this guy wouldn’t cheat?”


Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

29 thoughts on “One of Richard Nixon’s Many Faults”

    1. Honestly, try to aim for some semblence of self-respect. Lots of nasty things have been written about Kennedy, Daley, and LBJ, by people who aren’t conspiracy-peddling nutjobs incapable of simple arithmetic and determined to force their conclusions. Of course, your linked writer has a problem with those more level-headed people, namely that they don’t reach the desired conclusions. Just for a case in point: your linked source alleges that LBJ stole Texas by destroying 45,000 Nixon votes – but the margin in Texas was 46,257. He spins a yarn about LBJ blaming his opponent for his supporters’ behavior, which he imputes to be the darkest of perfidy by LBJ. And that’s not even to delve into his vague and paranoid ramblings about the mob.

      Please, try harder.

    2. Steve–Those are (a) an unwarranted assumption, and (b) a misleading statement.

      (a) We have no idea what Nixon did behind his or somebody else’s bedroom door, either before or after his terms in the White House. Back in the day, we had the good sense to focus on important issues. In the view of most of us, Nixon was on the right side of some and the wrong side of others.

      (b) That he was unsuccessful in stealing the 1960 election does not in any way prove that he did not TRY to steal it, which we don’t know, but judging by his other actions during his career, we might certainly suspect. Stealing an election is a result; TRYING to steal it is an action. It is actions we should judge folks by. And to the extent that success is a subject of judgment, then all we can say for sure is that IF he tried to steal it, he failed.

  1. Keith is definintely not a bowler. If he was, he’d know that Nixon was as likely just falling over the line while trying to bowl than consciously doing it. It’s like saying someone committed a foul in basketball on purpose just from us knowin the foul was committed. Lots of fouls are not intentional in basketball (and some of us who watch the NBA closely know lots of calls are not made and too often calls for fouls are made that are not fouls at all…:-)).

    But Steve Crickmore deserves a response, too. Nixon’s forces were stealing votes in southern Illinois that election and elsewhere. It is most likely why Nixon thought about a recount demand and then decided against it. Also, Roger Stone’s article may start out talking about Illinois and Chicago particularly, but even if Nixon won Illinois, JFK is still the president under the Electoral College vote.

  2. Oh, come on! The guy was POSING for a photo, not bowling. If you should blame anybody, it would be the photographer, for not noticing and suggesting the photo be retaken.

    Does Obama take Mulligans? Inquiring minds want to know.

    I mean, seriously, I despise Nixon for multiple reasons, and was utterly outraged when Ford pardoned him. But this is reaching, and then some.

    1. What he said!

      I was a good bowler. I bowled a 300 game in competition back when the lanes were wood, the balls were rubber, and the oil wasn’t tailored for mediocre bowlers to guide their ball to the pocket. And at least once a season, in some league game or tournament, I fouled. The foul light went on, my ball was dead, I suffered the penalty in my score and the good-natured derision of my teammates.

      But nobody called me a cheater, even in jest.

      1. Tell me guys, did it hurt when the doctor removed your sense of humor? When something is labelled as a funny story for a weekend in August that means it’s a, well, funny story for a weekend in August.

        1. Sorry, Keith, it went right by me. I saw a slam of a guy I hated for a lot of reasons, but none of which were related to the subject.

          I will get a new battery for my detector.

      2. If you should blame anybody, it would be the photographer, for not noticing and suggesting the photo be retaken.

        Because you know they had instant processing back then…

  3. The alley is in the Old (now Eisenhower) Executive Office Building, not the West Wing.

    1. Yes that is correct, the alley is under the OEOB. The tunnels I refer to are extensive and I think go all over (under?) the White House complex.

  4. It all depends on what he wrote on the score sheet. Anyone check NARA to see if they keep those? 😉

  5. Amazing how some have attempted to turn a joke about a guy who was nick-named “Tricky Dick” into an attack on JFK and LBJ.

    Wish I knew how to send someone a sense of humor over the internet.

    In any event, I am much more interested in the conspiracy that led to removal of the wallpaper. Why, oh why, did John Mitchell (or insert any name that fits your opinions) attack our American wallpaper?

    1. Wish I knew how to send someone a sense of humor over the internet.

      Thanks Anonymous! Me too. I have added a “humor” category marker, perhaps that will help..

      Enjoy the weekend everybody.

  6. He bowled while wearing a tie? Held to his shirt by a tie clasp? Did anyone, ever, anywhere, actually do that? (This is, of course, proof that the picture was posed.)

    1. It also proves that Nixon had a strange sense of PR. If you are going to pose for a picture of yourself bowling, trying for the common touch, would you wear a white shirt and tie and what appear to be the pants from a business suit? It’s a wonder he didn’t wear wingtips.

      And BTW, Keith, had you dressed more comfortably you might have gotten to 300 in only 30 frames or so.

    2. “Posed?” I doubt it. Look at the bowling ball in the air an inch or so above the lane. Nixon was definitely bowling, not posing.

      Also check his perfect form … the position of his right hand, with a firm wrist, fingers extended and parallel, and thumb pointing up; his left arm extended in the opposite direction for balance; his feet perfectly placed (other than his hunching the foul line) for a smooth slide. No, this is not the pose of a politician, this is a picture of a bowler who knew what he was doing, and did it a lot.

  7. “almost every President since Truman has gone down at least once to the White House bowling alley and posed for a photo, bowling ball in hand. Most never return.”

    That sounds ominous. What is it about this apparently innocuous bowling alley that swallows up Presidents? Maybe it was the exposed wiring that got them.

    1. Nah – it was the wallpaper. If you stare at it long enough, it starts to vibrate, hypnotizing you and before you know it, you are under the spell of the CIA!

    2. What is it about this apparently innocuous bowling alley that swallows up Presidents?

      I probably should not reveal this, but they are replaced by replicants designed by the PBA. From then on they push the interests of bowlers in all possible fora.

  8. Since nobody else seems to have noticed I may as well be the spelling Nazi.

    “White House Place Guard” should be “White House Palace Guard”.

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