A couple of weeks ago while shopping for Puddin Cookies ingredients, we were debating what our next politician recipe attempt ought to be. The universe delivered us an easy option: Watergate Salad, right on the side of the pudding box.
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) JELL-O Pistachio Flavor Instant Pudding
1-1/2 cups JET-PUFFED Miniature Marshmallows
1 cup thawed COOL WHIP Whipped Topping
1 cup chopped PLANTERS Pecans
REFRIGERATE 1 hour. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Nixon it is!
Of course, this recipe doesn’t have anything directly to do with the thirty-seventh president (nicknamed “The Embattled President,” according to the deck of presidential trivia cards in my fifth grade classroom—I don’t think that was really a nickname, just what diplomatic newsmen ended up calling him a lot. “Tricky Dick” was probably too inflammatory to make it onto the card. My teacher that year had actually bought the deck for the class so that we could copy the presidents’ pictures and the embroider them into a quilt. I ended up drawing and stitching a very large Nixon head at part of the project.) The dish is named after the Watergate Hotel, which was somewhat famous as a hotel long before its name became synonymous with “scandal.” The fine accommodations were why the Democratic National Committee decided to locate their offices there.
During the 1972 presidential election, G. Gordon Liddy, a right-wing loon and Nixon campaign hanger-on, came up with the idea of burglarizing the DNC headquarters, as part of his Operation Gemstone dirty tricks campaign. The goal was to find out what dirt the Democrats had on Republican candidates. The White House Plumbers (a group of Cuban exiles used to “stop leaks,” through such wizardry as breaking into the office of the psychiatrist who happened to be treating Daniel Ellsberg, the man to leaked the Pentagon Papers) broke in and tried to tap the phone of the DNC chairman, but they instead ended up tapping a phone in a minor side office that was most notably used by DNC staffers making discreet calls to prostitutes.
This was all done without the direct knowledge of president Nixon, although it was approved by his top legal advisors. (Let that one sink in.) What doomed Nixon and most of his inner circle was that they tried to cover up what had happened—that, and the unprecedented fact that Nixon had decided to bug his own offices. The Nixon tapes have been a gold mine for political historians, giving insights into both the ordinary operation of a presidential administration and the uniquely dishonest character of Tricky Dick himself. I saw only recently that somebody had noticed part of one conversation on the tapes whose irony had previously not been appreciated. As things were unraveling, Nixon wanted somebody to find out who the legendary leaker codenamed “Deep Throat” actually was. So he ordered the best men onto the job—Deputy FBI Director Mark Felt.
Nixon’s presidency ended in utter disgrace, and that should always be what people remember the most about him. In terms of policy, he was a very conventional mainstream Republican, not part of the Goldwater-Reagan conservative movement that came to dominate the Republican Party. His longest-lasting impacts were in foreign policy, where he moved toward more cordial relations with the communist powers and in establishing the “southern strategy”; that meant subtly advertising the Republican Party as a new home for racist white southerners, who had been Democrats for a hundred years but whose racism and conservatism were increasingly out of step with the national Democratic Party.
But who cares about one of the most disgraced leaders of American history? Let’s try this Watergate Salad (which Jell-O claims has nothing to do with the Watergate Scandal, despite being created around the same time).
Dump everything in a bowl and get ready to mix? That’s all I have to do? Wow, this is easy.
(Plenty of time to write up an extensive Nixon bio for the beginning of this blog post.)
The four-year-old was absolutely amazed by the color change when enough liquid hit the pudding mix. “It’s GREEN!” he screamed, and ran laughing from the room to tell Daddy that it had turned green.
“Wasn’t it supposed to turn green?” Buzz yelled in, while “IT’S GREEN!” kept echoing through the house.
“Yes,” I yelled back. “Ignore the boy child.”
Much like the Watergate break-in, this “salad” is a little bit nuts. If I’d left out about half the marshmallows and let the pineapple feature more prominently, it would have felt more like a creamy fruit-nut salad than a green sugar bomb. But as a dish, this just screams 70’s — the color, the flavor, the mix-and-done approach… and the name of the hotel that made the decade so interesting politically.