Amid the latest batch of Nixon tapes, there's a ripe one from May 13, 1971, recently described by James Warren in the Chicago Tribune. Discussing welfare reform with Haldeman and Ehrlichman, the president snarls about the "little Negro bastards," before remarking indulgently that "I have the greatest affection for them, but I know they're not going to make it for 500 years." The leader of the Free World and his senior advisers then drift into a chat about homosexuality, occasioned by the president's viewing of an "All in the Family" episode featuring Archie's son-in-law, described by the prez as "obviously queer, wears an ascot, but not offensively so."

Nixon: "I don't mind the homosexuality, I understand it. ... Nevertheless, god---mn, I don't think you glorify it on public television, homosexuality, even more than you glorify whores. We all know we have weaknesses. But god--mn it, what do you think that does to kids? You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them! Sure, Aristotle was a homo. We all know that. So was Socrates."

Ehrlichman: "But he never had the influence television had."

Nixon: "You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. ... Let's look at the strong societies. The Russians. God--mn, they root them out."

Mention of the morally robust Soviet Union prompts Nixon to contemplate its decadent antithesis, Northern California. He tells Ehrlichman, "San Francisco has just gone clean over." (It's unclear what they are referring to. That week, there were big demonstrations in the Bay Area against Nixon's Vietnam policy. Nixon may have equated attacks on him with homosexual decadence.)Nixon: "It's not just the ratty part of town. The upper class in San Francisco is that way. The Bohemian Grove, which I attend from time to time. It is the most faggy god--mned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anyone from San Francisco."

It's funny to think of Nixon at the Bohemian Grove's summer bash on the Russian River, brooding about the fall of Greece and Rome, aghast at the annual revue in which the flower of California's ruling class lumbers on stage in tutus and melon-stuffed bras. Imagine his apocalyptic ravings to Ehrlichman if he could have foreseen the most exciting political race in this premillennial season, in which a black man and a homosexual are battling it out in a runoff for the mayoralty of San Francisco, a contest in which neither skin color nor sexual orientation is the paramount issue.

Well, that's almost true. The Chronicle and the Examiner don't lose too many opportunities to point out that Tom Ammiano is gay. Even so, it's not topic A. Topic A is the fact that Ammiano -- a teacher who started his political career on the Board of Education and is now president of the Board of Supervisors -- entered the race only three weeks before the vote as a write-in candidate, spent $20,000, and made it into the runoff, with 25 percent of the vote. He beat out a former mayor, Frank Jordan, and a political consultant, Clint Reilly, who spent $3.5 million.

Willie Brown used to have raffish charm, but he's become arrogant, and is correctly perceived as the factotum of the big developers and corporations in a city where monstrous regiments of the super-rich from Silicon Valley strut their stuff. Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View, told his black readership that Brown had not come through, and endorsed Ammiano, who's spent years establishing a solid reputation as a left-populist politician. Already, it's a race that shakes up the usual predictabilities about money and politicking. Ammiano is running a grass-roots campaign that has electrified the city. Turnout in runoffs is usually low, which would favor his committed activist base. It really could be Mayor Ammiano. Look up from your ninth circle, Mr. Nixon, look up and weep for your America.

Alexander Cockburn is a columnist for The Nation and author of a syndicated column, essays and books. The Times Literary Supplement called him “the most gifted polemicist now writing in English.” To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.