The Republicans, learning well the lessons of Stalin, are succeeding admirably at the political art of creating a nonperson. sThey have exorcised Richard M. Nixon so completely from his convention that scarcely a vestige of his presence remains.
Nixon's name is never mentioned. His poster adorns no wall. His acts are never recalled. His presidency received no reference during all the dreary and ritually required speeches boasting of past Republican glories. His campaign buttons are not for sale, even as curios.
That does not mean that the memory of Nixon, with the politically disastrous impeachment proceedings that badly crippled the Republican Party, has been easily extinguished. Nixon remains vividly, embarrassingly alive at this upbeat GOP convention; it's just that the Republicans studiously want to do all in their power to suppress any reawakening of the painful Nixon period.
Detroit is filled with "Nixon men" (who no longer want to be called that), and key Republicans who owe much of their political fame to him (though no longer claim it) are prominently on display. But they will speak about their former chief only guardedly, and off the record. They want to avoid, as one of them said, "the fatal association of being called a 'Nixon man.'"
This person, who worked closely with Nixon for years, says pointedly that the Nixon relationships with so many people here remain too close and too complicated. Many of the Reagan people, for example, spring from the Nixon southern California group and shared similar views.
As he says:
"There is an organic link between this coronation and that beheading, if that's what you want to call it."
All the more reason, then, to keep the Nixon and Reagan groups separated in the public mind.
"Of all the things that I expected most when I came to this convention," says the former Nixon associate, "it would be the absence of any mention of Richard Nixon. What in the world could be said by the Republicans about him?"
Still, reminders of Nixon abound. On the streets, in hotel lobbies and at the convention hall you see faces in the crowd that stir memories:
Ron Ziegler, his press secretary, looking heavier and prosperously tanned, was in the Pontchartrain coffee shop this morning, looking for people. What was he doing in Detroit? Just observing.
Dwight Chapin another loyal aide, looking as boyish as ever in his gabardine suit and button-down shirt, walked in the crowds between the Plaza and the convention hall.
Richard Moore, a Nixon assistant, has been working for George Bush for months. Now he is a behind-the-scenes operative for Bush for vice president. m
W. Clement Stone, the Chicago insurance executive who gave Nixon more than $2 million in the days before federal financing law revision, stands by a 106-foot-long chartered yacht, the Helene, moored near the convention hall. Stone -- his dark glasses, white suit and pencil-line mustache as prominent as ever -- continues to entertain Republicans lavishly; he reportedly is paying $300 an hour for the yacht, on which he hosts convention and other GOP luminaries.
In other ways this convention bears a certain Nixon stamp. Nixon was a dominant figure at GOP conventions from 1948 to 1972 and in many ways the structure of the current party springs from his years as the GOP's most familiar and most powerful figure.
Gerald R. Ford, of course, advanced to the White House because of Nixon's appointing him vice president and then elevating him to the presidency when Nixon resigned. Others who have appeared before the convention -- Donald Rumsfeld among them -- were Nixon appointees.
But they have all escaped the Nixon "taint" by, as one person said sardonically, "the Ford absolution -- the kiss of life." He meant Ford's pardon of Nixon.
Nixon remains physically far removed from this Republican gathering. He left his New York home on a vacation for Florida as the convention approached. That in itself carries an ironic memory.
It was just 12 years ago when Nixon arrived in Miami Beach to take up his command post at the 1968 Republican convention. He had been destined, it seemed, to be a political failure. His defeat by John F. Kennedy in 1960 and his failure to gain the GOP nomination in 1964 seemed to have removed him from presidential consideration.
Yet fate, in the form of Kennedy's assassination and Lyndon B. Johnson's fall from power over Vietnam, propelled Nixon back onto center stage at the 1968 Republican convention, where he finally got the presidential nomination he had sought for so long.
That first day when he got to Miami Beach, reporters were ushered into his suite. Nixon aides, many of whom are in Detroit now, made a point then of showing the name of that suite and its symbolic application to Nixon's career: the Jackie Gleason suite and the slogan "How Sweet It Is."
Now Nixon has been virtually officially banished from notice by the Republicans.
"This is a forward-looking party now," said Patrick Buchanan, a Nixon speechwriter and loyalist to the end of his White House days.
Buchanan, here as a newspaper columnist and radio commentator, speaks of the Nixon era as a "fault line" in the Repulbican Party. The Reagan era, in that view, represents the new beginning after the cleavage of Watergate.
But Nixon continues to crop up in subtle ways at this convention. Sometimes it is the sudden appearance of a man wearing a Nixon mask in a hotel lobby, but more often it is in the private, telling conversations about him.
"I would hazard a guess," said someone who saw Nixon recently and had served him long, "that his influence, or the memory of his influence, continues to be felt. I mean, what's felt or perceived about him are more important than what people are failing to say out loud about him in public."