Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dick Tuck: Having Fun In a Serious Business

Unless you’re a politics junkie of a certain age, you’ve probably never heard of Dick Tuck. But, trust me, the man is a legend. He made a career of driving Richard Nixon batty.

It all started in 1950 when Tuck was still a student at UC Santa Barbara and was asked by a professor to help promote a campaign visit to the campus by Nixon, then an ambitious young Republican congressman running for the U. S. Senate. Unbeknownst to the professor, Tuck was a volunteer working for Nixon’s opponent.

Gleefully seizing the opportunity, Tuck hired a 4,000-seat auditorium for the Nixon appearance, but did nothing to promote the event. Of course only a handful of people showed up to rattle around in the near-empty hall. Tuck himself gave a lengthy rambling introduction, and ended by announcing that the candidate would be speaking on the significance of the International Monetary Fund, which came as news to the flustered Nixon.

In 1960, the day after the historic Nixon-Kennedy debate, Tuck hired a sweet little old lady to go up to Nixon, kiss him on the cheek, and say, "That's all right, Mr. Nixon. He beat you last night, but you'll win next time." There was, of course, no other debate scheduled.

But my favorite Dick Tuck story took place in 1966, the first (and last) time he became a candidate himself, running for a state senate seat in California. He lost, but on election night delivered the all-time classic concession speech:

“The people have spoke – the bastards!”

The last I heard, Dick Tuck is in his mid-80s, retired, and living in Arizona.

They say he’s still a laugh a minute and I’m not at all surprised.


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