Where Is Dick Tuck Now That We Really Need Him?

As we enter another election year, I am reminded that someone once said—this is probably not an exact quote and I can’t remember who said it anyway—“Politics ain’t bean bags.  It’s a blood sport.”

I was thinking about Dick Tuck the other day. He was a political consultant and a very good one. He was also a hero of mine, though I’m sorry to say I never had a chance to actually meet him face-to-face.

I know real talent when I see it because I have served as political strategist and created political advertising for several politicians—some of my stuff was pretty good, too.

Dick Tuck was best known—and revered by his peers—for the practical jokes with biting political messages that he played in front of hidden colleagues.

On one occasion—Richard Nixon was a candidate for governor of California at the time—Tuck somehow managed to get himself named Advance Man for a major speech Nixon was to deliver on the campus of one of the big California colleges. Tuck rented the school’s 4,000-seat auditorium for the Nixon speech, but made no effort to publicize the event. 

The results were entirely predictable: Nixon arrived and delivered a major speech to a dozen people who had wandered into the auditorium with no idea what was going on inside.

In 1962, as a candidate for governor of California, Nixon was having to deal with the fact that his brother had received an interest-free loan of $200,000 from Howard Hughes, the famous industrialist. On a campaign appearance in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Nixon was delighted to be greeted by a number of Chinese school children, each carrying signs that read “WELCOME NIXON” in English. Nixon was delighted . . . until someone told him that the Chinese characters on the signs disowned campaign borrowing and read “What about the Hughes Loan?”

The enraged Nixon snatched a sign from one of the young children and tore it to pieces . . . the entire scene captured by the television cameras.

Dick Tuck struck again just moments after the conclusion of the nationally-televised Nixon-Kennedy debate during the 1960 presidential campaign.

Following the debate itself, the proverbial little old lady walked up to Nixon, tugged at his sleeve to get his attention, and said, “Don’t worry, son. He beat you tonight, but you’ll get him next time.”

Years later, with his reputation secure, Dick Tuck became a political candidate himself when he ran for a seat in the California Legislature.

When it became clear that he had lost, Dick Tuck strode to center stage in the sound studio he had rented for the occasion, grabbed the microphone, and uttered the perfect political concession speech:

“The people have spoken . . . the bastards!”