Spiro T. Agnew

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You look a man in the eye and you know he's got it — brains. This guy has got it. If he doesn't, Nixon has made a bum choice.
—Nixon speaking to reporters after his nomination of Agnew for VP, 1968

Spiro Theodore Agnew (1918–1996)[note 1] was Vice President under Tricky Dick, a concession to racists in The South in exchange for their votes. He resigned his office before Nixon did because of a little tax complication (failing to report bribes, received in office in Maryland, as income and evading the tax on bribes), making both him and Tricky Dick crooks.

Before becoming VP, Agnew was the Governor of Maryland, best-known for trying to ban pinball machines and blaming race riots on civil rights leaders. That made him not only the first and only Greek-American vice president but the first Greek-American governor in U.S. history, distinctions about which Greek-Americans are justifiably circumspect.

Agnew posted a pro-civil rights record as Chief Executive of Baltimore County, working with black leaders to desegregate businesses and residential areas. He defeated segregationist Democrat George Mahoney in his gubernatorial election, and initially supported Moderate Republican Nelson Rockefeller's 1968 presidential bid. He also passed tax and judicial reforms, tough anti-pollution laws, and the first open-housing law in the state, while repealing anti-miscegenation statutes.[2] However, the riots following Martin Luther King's death remade Agnew into a hardcore "law and order" Republican. He blamed Baltimore's black leaders for the riots, berating them in a face-to-face talk. This attracted Nixon's attention, and he selected Agnew as running mate over better-known candidates like Rockefeller and Mark Hatfield, both deemed too liberal for the GOP base.

Agnew spent Nixon's first term denouncing the Administration's opponents, especially anti-war liberals and the media, in speeches as alliterative as they were insulting. Agnew's speechwriters (including Pat Buchanan and William Safire) fed him colorful insults, branding Nixon's enemies "an effete corps of impudent snobs" and of being "nattering nabobs of negativism". In particular, Agnew's November 13th, 1969 speech attacking the liberal media is considered a cornerstone of conservative complaints about alleged media bias.[3]

Left to his own devices, Agnew was prone to crude gaffes such as, "If you've seen one slum, you've seen them all", and calling an Asian-American reporter a "fat Jap." Like most Vice Presidents, Agnew played no role in shaping actual policy, and he and the President became estranged. Nixon tried dumping Agnew from the ticket in 1972[note 2] until realizing that his beloved Silent Majority liked Agnew more than him (d'oh!).

Agnew's antics also inspired a few companies to produce a "Spiro Agnew watch",[4] a classic piece of kitsch that remains a popular collector's item, and the more-obscure "Spiro Agnew dartboard".

Although much given to manly posturing against the enemies of law and order, etc., Agnew's June 19, 1972 response to efforts by Nixon White House staffer Jeb Stuart Magruder to talk about the details of the Watergate break-in before it exploded in the faces of the administration was neither politically fearless nor a stern commitment to the rule of law. He said, "I don't think we ought to discuss it again, in that case."[5]:49 So well done, Mr. Agnew. America knew that it could count on you when the chips were down.

After leaving office, he copped a plea deal which left him with 3-year probation and a $10,000 fine.[6] Agnew went into private business, spending his free time golfing with mobbed-up Frank Sinatra[7] (who paid his bail money). Agnew wrote a memoir claiming that Nixon not only engineered his tax scandal to distract from Watergate, but had Alexander Haig threaten Agnew with murder if he didn't resign. The fact that Nixon resigned anyway, and Agnew remained alive after disclosing this, undermined his credibility just a smidge. He also wrote a novel, The Canfield Decision,[8] an erotic thriller where a heroic Vice President saves the world from a Jewish-Arab-liberal conspiracy.[9] Oh, and on at least one occasion he corresponded with Holocaust denier and literal Nazi Hans SchmidtWikipedia to complain about "organized Jewry" and its supposed control of the media.[10]

Appropriately enough, "Spiro Agnew" is an anagram for "Grow A Spine" (also "Grow a Penis"), and John Oliver took advantage of that in his criticism of Agnew's support of Confederate statues.[11]

Gallery[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. His headless clone live on in Futurama.[1]
  2. Nixon wanted former Democrat John Connolly, recipient of the magic bullet, as his heir and successor.

References[edit]

  1. Headless clone of Agnew The Infosphere.
  2. Spiro Agnew. Britannica. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  3. Spiro Theodore Agnew: Television News Coverage (delivered 13 November 1969, Des Moines, Iowa) American Rhetoric.
  4. Watch, Spiro Agnew, 1970 National Museum of American History.
  5. Watergate: The Presidential Scandal That Shook America by Keith W. Olson (2003) University Press of Kansas. ISBN 9780700623587.
  6. United States v. Agnew (Mar 22, 1977) Casetext.
  7. Frank Sinatra’s Mob Ties and Other Secrets from His FBI File: The FBI documented Old Blue Eyes’ every move for 40 years. by Erin Blakemore (Updated: April 23, 2019 | Original: May 14, 2018) History.com.
  8. The Canfield Decision by Spiro T. Agnew (1976) Playboy Press. ISBN 0872234525.
  9. Literary Vices, with Rudolph Delson: Spiro Agnew, NSFW by Rudolph Delson (November 13, 2009) The Awl (archived from November 16, 2009).
  10. Seth Cotlar, Willamette University, on Twitter, 27 December 2020.

    In 1982, Spiro Agnew wrote a letter to Hans Schmidt, a white nationalist/Nazi who was the head of the German-American National Political Action Committee, in which Agnew complains about his unfair treatment at the hands of "organized Jewry" who play up the "so-called Holocaust."

  11. Confederacy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Oct 8, 2017) Last Week Tonight via YouTube.
  12. Spiro T. Agnew – The Speeches That Stirred America. Podium Records, 1970.