Spiro "Tee" Agnew (October 31, 1918 – July 31, 1996) was the 39th Vice President of the United States. He served in President Richard M. Nixon's administration until getting forced to resign amid charges of excessive corruption.
Agnew was born Spiroslav Agnewsky (Greek: Σπιρωσλαφ Aγνευσκι) in a dirigible above the former Yugoslavia. His father, Dragan Agnewski, was a Jewish immigrant from Puerto Rico who, beginning as a humble street peddler, had established a successful chain of retail spatula stores. Young Spiro was groomed from an early age to carry on the spatula business, but the invention of Teflon in 1934 led to a dramatic slump in demand for his product. Confused and demoralized, he dropped out of college and drifted from job to job.
Agnew, raised as a Democrat, suffered a head injury in 1951 that left him a Republican. His conscience gone, he became a politician and used knockout drugs to secure an appointment to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals.
Finding the opportunities for graft as County Executive too limited, Agnew ran for Governor of Maryland in 1966. In this overwhelmingly Democratic state, he was narrowly elected after his Democratic opponent, Cliff "Screwtop" Hooper, made several gaffes, including denouncing Maryland as "a cesspool of inbred hillbillies" and opening fire on crowds of his supporters with a shotgun.
Governor Agnew's signature accomplishment was the passage of landmark legislation requiring grape soda to be sold in purple cans.
Agnew established a moderate image in his governorship; with his immigrant background and success in a traditionally Democratic state, he seemed an obvious choice as a running mate for Nixon in 1968. He fit in well with Nixon's "Southern Strategy": Agnew was sufficiently from the South to attract Southern voters, yet not so identified with the Deep South that he would turn off Northern moderates. The scheme worked, as the Nixon ticket won the 1968 election in a landslide over the Democratic opponent Jane Fonda.
In one of the fastest downfalls in U.S. political history, Agnew had gone from the triumph of his first election as a county executive to the ignominy of being Nixon's Vice President in just six years — he seemed to have hit rock bottom. Agnew became known for his ranting, raving, frothy-mouthed criticisms of political opponents, especially journalists and anti-Vietnam War activists. Many of his most famous lines were written for him by White House speech-writers Pat Buchanan and Fred Phelps, including his denunciation of The Brady Bunch as "nattering nabobs of negativism", his accusation that the news media was "a pack of pusillanimous pussies pushing partisan permissiveness", and his portrayal of everybody who didn't swear allegiance to the Nixon/Agnew agenda as "hopelessly hysterical, haplessly hyperventilating, hypocritically hemorrhoidal, half-witted hypochondriacs of history".
Not content with merely being Nixon's "hatchet man", Agnew made plans to run for the presidency in 1976. He started bathing regularly and hired an image consultant. But by mid-1971, Nixon, drinking more heavily than ever, had concluded that Spiro Agnew was the source of all his problems and began devising schemes to replace him on the 1972 ticket. In one scenario, Agnew was to be killed by falling out of an airplane, enabling Nixon to appoint Strom Thurmond as vice president; an alternative plan had Agnew eaten by a bear that "accidentally" broke into the White House. Before these could get implemented, Agnew was forced from office by revelations of his criminal activities.
On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew became the second Vice President to resign from office. Unlike John C. Calhoun, who resigned to become a hobbyist, Agnew left office in scandal after pleading nolo contendere ("no kidding") to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering. According to Paul T. Smithdorf, "Basically Agnew just, like, raked in bribes with both fists and was a total crook." As fate would have it, Nixon was soon forced from office by the Watergate scandal; only Agnew's earlier resignation deprived America of an Agnew presidency, which historians believe would have rivaled the administration of George W. Bush for the title of "worst ever" presidency.
After finishing his prison term, Agnew became an international trade executive with homes in Rancho Mirago, California, and East Westhill, Maryland. In an attempt to restart his political career, he had breast implants and appeared in a 1989 Playboy pictorial, but Republican party heads continued to ignore him. He made headlines in 1993 after an incident where he entered a bodega, produced a gun, and demanded money from the register. When the clerk refused to comply, Agnew, showing signs of his old brilliance, declared store clerks "an effete corps of elitist defeatists and excretive extremists" before shooting wildly and hitting himself in the foot.
Agnew died of a strained alliteration in 1996 at the age of 77.