IU, Watergate and the Clinton impeachment

People associate college campuses in the 1960s with New Left politics and countercultural lifestyles. There was quite a bit of that, but IU Bloomington in that era was also an influential incubator of conservative activism.

A forum Wednesday sponsored by the IU Civic Leaders Center should make that clear. Featured guests will be IU alumni R. Emmett Tyrrell, founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator, and Tom Charles Huston, who was an assistant to President Richard Nixon.

Goldwaer_poster_3The event, focusing on the 50-year anniversary of Barry Goldwater’s campaign for president, will take place thanks to the efforts of Paul Helmke, professor of practice in SPEA and the Civic Leaders Center director, who was also active in IU campus politics in the 1960s.

Helmke and Tyrrell were Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers. Huston was a member of the same fraternity a few years earlier. (So, coincidentally, was the late Steve Tesich, “Breaking Away” screenwriter).

Tyrrell launched his magazine of conservative opinion while at IU and initially called it The Alternative. Later, Helmke recalled, Tyrrell lived in an estate near Bloomington that he called The Establishment, where conservative intellectuals like William F. Buckley Jr. and Irving Kristol would visit.

He moved the magazine to Washington, D.C., in 1985. A few years later it played a key role in the investigations that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Huston worked from 1969 to 1971 at the White House, where he drafted the Huston Plan, which suggested using mail intercepts, break-ins and other measures targeting anti-war activists. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, writing on the 40th anniversary of Watergate, said Huston “informed Nixon that it was illegal, but the president approved it regardless.” But FBI director J. Edgar Hoover overruled the options.

So it may be interesting to hear Huston’s take on post-9/11 domestic security activities.

After the White House, Huston returned to Indiana and practiced real estate law. He has been back in the news recently with the release of an oral history that supports claims that Nixon may have interfered with Vietnam War peace talks before he became president. This summer, Huston wrote a review in the Washington Times excoriating a new book by Watergate figure John Dean.

Helmke was also pretty conservative as a politically prescient high school student – he recalled carrying a “Fort Wayne for Goldwater” sign at the 1964 GOP convention. But he moved to the center by the time he was elected IU student body president in 1969 and mayor of Fort Wayne in 1987, 1991 and 1995. Later he was the bête noire of conservatives as head of the Brady gun-control campaign.

So Wednesday night’s forum, at 7 p.m. in the IMU Solarium, could be lively.



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