We Shall Fight Them in the Kitchens

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the famous Kitchen Debate between Nixon and Khrushchev.

The setting was the American National Exhibition. It was our part of a cultural exchange program with the Soviets that year. Our exhibit displayed a cross section of American products, from cars to household gadgets to Pepsi Cola. It was meant to showcase good old Yankee ingenuity, along with a healthy helping of truth, justice, and the American Way. The Soviet exhibit in America earlier that year was less well known, but presumably connected many endeavoring spies with many eager useful idiots.

Khrushchev, unhappy with recent events regarding East Germany and the status of Berlin, showed up in a downright cranky mood and fired the first shots in the impromptu debate. Sounding especially neo-reactionary that day, he questioned the utility of superficial gadgets when his Soviet products, such as rockets and prison camps, were so much more impressive in the grand scheme of dialectical progress.

Despite the jaded revisionism over the years since the Cold War ended, Nixon more than held his own responding to Khrushchev’s sallies. Free markets and competition drive innovation that benefits our lives. A wide variety of consumer choices does lead to a broader distribution of wealth, and it is the best way known to man that, while certainly not eliminating social classes, allows for greater circulation between classes.

The communist solution, in contrast, is a sclerosis of social mobility. Everyone is a slave to the state and will remain that way.

“After all, you don’t know everything,” Nixon said to the inflated Khrushchev. Of course, none of us can, but even more importantly, what we do know will always be more than we can tell,. What we know will always be more than we can perceive to know. True knowledge about human values and the human condition must be disentangled and teased out, abducted from available information that is only seen through a glass darkly, and then put back together over and over in an endless cycle of return and departure. The best products that emerge from the scuffle are the ones that unite us, and, when we look at them, they reflect back the best about ourselves and our way of life.

Khrushchev, the son of a humble miner, may have known this once, but he was perhaps cleansed of this notion in the Soviet revolutionary fervor for the charade of a new socialist consciousness. Nixon, the son of a Quaker grocer, born and raised in the house his father built, did not forget.

14 thoughts on “We Shall Fight Them in the Kitchens”

  1. Nixon was paranoid and had a mean streak, but his unforgivable sin was being an effective anti-communist. It caused the far left to unrelentingly paint him in the worst possible light, which eventually bled over into the milder left, then the center left. Even among the people who lived through it in my generation, Nixon is associated with Vietnam more strongly than Johnson and especially Kennedy. Watergate? Please. Chicken manure.

    Alger Hiss really was guilty. RMN’s vindication came too late.

  2. Nikita told RMN that in 7 years, the Soviet Union would be on the “same level of achievement as America and in the following years we shall continue to surge ahead..and when we shall overtake you at the crossroads we will greet you amiably…” Didn’t quite turn out that way.

    Nikita may have been a miner/peasant with little formal education beyond Party schooling, but he was definitely no dummy.
    Quick comeback of Nixon when Nikita says that the US has an inordinate fear of communism- RMN replies that this exchange will be broadcast in translation all over the US.
    The body language of the two shows me they were fairly comfortable with each other.

    Thanks for posting this.

  3. If these quotations are being relayed in anything like accurate versions….this is a degree of eloquence from public figures that is long gone and much to our detriment.

    How much of our dysfunctional politics simply comes from the perceived need to compress ideas into Twitter sized crumbs? Or to never say anything that could be interpreted in a hostile fashion by your own countrymen?

    When we’ve taken up as our standard the concept that our political foes are Stupid and/or Evil we can’t admit eloquence even on the rare occasions that we hear it.

    Days gone by, not to be seen again.


  4. Despite the congeniality on display in the archives, their time together didn’t always go as smoothly as the videos suggest. Both Khrushchev and Nixon did seem to have some friendly rapport going on, but before the cameras were rolling it didn’t quite start that way. According to his first book, they were walking through a grocery exhibit, and Nixon tried to break the ice and highlight his own working class roots by talking about how his father owned a small store. Khrushchev bellowed back in a brusque Bolshevik tone, “Oh, all shopkeepers are thieves”. Nixon then pointed out how the Soviet state is the biggest thief of all.

    Now that we have real communists running for president, others taking over Congress, and multinational corporations with no loyalty acquiescing to their social reforms no matter how cockamamie, we need to remember why we have consumer choices and also remember what the alternative is.

  5. Watergate? Please. Chicken manure.

    No, it was an FBI attempt at a coup d’etat which was successful then and failed this time.

    Liddy has apparently written that Dean was the real author of the burglary as he was concerned that the DNC knew about his wife’s past as an “escort.

  6. According the Miles Copeland, the CIA’s guy in the Middle East during the 50s and 60s, Watergate was a CIA operation and the Plumbers were really their counter-intel squad set up to infiltrate the presidential campaign. The G-man, and probably Dean too, were just along for the ride. Although, it is plausible that Dean, who by all accounts was a cuckolded loser, had some strange ties through his wife to D.C. call girl operations.

    Knowing what we know now from the past few years, I think everything about Watergate is back on the table for debate.

  7. yes that’s entirely likely, the ivy league dominated company was not well disposed against Nixon, they were the ‘George town set’ most personally affiliated with kennedy, dulles viewed the ‘disposal’ of the brigade, on playa giron, much like what had happened in the Balkans and the Baltic states in the 50s, only the likes of rip Robertson and gray lynch, doubly decorated us marines, stood up for the unit, helms was one who had stayed far away.

  8. Yes, what a funny lovable old guy Nikita K was. Hard to believe this was the same guy who was side-by-side with Stalin signing off on death warrants in 1930’s and sending people to the Gulags. Or agreeing with the crushing of Czech Republic or the 1953 East German Revolt.

    Imagine if Nazi Germany had beaten the USSR in the 1941 and made peace with us in 1943. It might have been Goering – that barrel of fun – having a kitchen debate with Nixon.

  9. This “lovable old peasant” almost stared WW III over Cuban missile crisis and the 1961 Berlin wall. In fact, its the Cuban missile debacle that brought him down. Fortunately for him, Mr. K had begun the precedent of letting your rivals live out their lives in retirement, instead of shooting them, like Mr. Stalin. So, Mr K, in turn, was allowed a long if boring retirement.

  10. Last Comment. Atlantic Magazine has new article about “racist” Nixon talking with “Racist” Reagan about the African countries voting against us in the UN in 1971. You can read the private conversation for yourself, but what’s hilarious is that Nixon was playing the “I”m not a racist like Reagan” card even then. And what did it get him? He’s been labeled the author of the Southern Strategy!

    The moderate Republican types never learn.

  11. I just read the Atlantic article, and nowhere is Nixon playing the “I’m not racist like Reagan” card. You fell for the disingenuous, condescending subjectivity of the author disguised as some kind of objective authority. The author, Tim Naftali is lying. He is a liar.

    Nixon was acknowledging Reagan’s concerns with his advisers as the basis for his own retaliation at UN delegates that voted against Taiwan. Both Reagan and Nixon felt the damage, but Nixon expressed it procedurally while Reagan spoke of it from his gut.

    Everyone Nixon discussed this with understood his view and Reagan’s view were the same but expressed as different sides of the same coin. That view was not racism, but rather indifference to race to the extreme.

    That’s why Reagan only once in recorded history made a racial comment – a comment I’m sure was designed for shock value in order to get the president to return his phone calls and didn’t represent his real views. And that’s why Nixon had to be dragged along by pseudo-intellectual behaviorists to support social welfare programs that he wouldn’t have arrived at in a million years on his own.

  12. yes, he picked up some bad habits when he was at mudge rose, in new York, garment and Moynihan particularly,

  13. It was a real credit to Nixon that he was such good friends with a beatnik like Garment, who for his part was obviously just a second-hander, similar to Buchanan but in a different way.

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