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Jewish World Review August 9, 1999 /27 Av 5759

Chris Matthews

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With warm regards,
Richard Nixon -- TODAY MARKS the 25th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation. We will read much of those midnight torments, real and imagined, that unnerved this gifted man and destroyed his presidency.

Before that table of woe and grief is set before you, I present to you a fascinating pair of letters:

November 5, 1990
Dear John,

Almost 20 years have passed since we met at the White House but I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on passing the New York bar.

I have endured a few crises in my lifetime but there is no greater ordeal than taking the bar exam.

Your tenacity in spite of a couple of setbacks demonstrated real character.

I'm sure your father would have been proud of you.

With warm regards,


November 29, 1990

Dear President Nixon,

I cannot thank you enough for your enormously kind letter of support that I received after getting the good word from the Bar examiners. Of all the letters I received yours meant the most.

People tell me you learn things from such ordeals and I'm sure they're right but I think it may be a lesson best learned by others. All I know is I'm glad it's over.

I remember vividly our nighttime trip to the White House some years ago. I believe I spilled my milk at dinner. That was a most generous invitation.

Again sir, thank you for your thoughts. All the best,

John Kennedy

The tragedy of last month gives these notes an added historic value, and a special poignancy.

Despite their bitter, close fight for the White House in 1960, Nixon clung to a strange respect for Jack Kennedy, with whom he'd been oddly close in their early Washington years. He felt a special tie with Jackie, who had shown great sensitivity to him over the years.

"I don't think there's anyone in the world he thinks more highly of than you," she'd written the then-vice president after he'd shown an extraordinary courtesy to the ailing Jack in 1954.

"While the hand of fate made Jack and me political opponents," he wrote her the night of Kennedy's assassination in 1963, "I always cherished the fact that we were personal friends from the time we came to the Congress together in 1947."

In February 1971, Nixon displayed his quiet regard for Jackie by having her, John and Caroline to dinner at the White House to see the official portraits of President Kennedy and his first lady. Nixon sent a small presidential Jetstar up to New York so as to keep the evening private.

And when 10-year-old John Kennedy spilled a glass of milk on the presidential lap, his father's historic rival never made a peep.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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