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Politics The tragedy of Richard Nixon

06:50  11 june  2021
06:50  11 june  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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The Watergate scandal, the bungled break-in of the 1972 Democratic campaign headquarters and cover-up that led to Richard Nixon’s abrupt resignation from the presidency in 1974, has generated at least 100 books to date. Everyone directly and even peripherally involved — the burglars, the handlers, the lawyers (some since disbarred), the reporters, the pundits, the politicians, the investigators, the historians, the administration officials high and low, the federal judge, “Hanging” John Sirica, who wrangled guilty pleas and evidence from the terrified perpetrators, even Nixon himself — has contributed at least one biography or autobiography or news analysis or big-picture chin-puller to a literary mountain so high that only a lifetime Watergate junkie could hope to ascend to the top.

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Richard Nixon sitting at a desk in front of a curtain: LA.Nixon.jpg © Provided by Washington Examiner LA.Nixon.jpg King Richard: Nixon and Watergate: An American Tragedy , by Michael Dobbs. Knopf, 341 pp., $32.50. © Provided by Washington Examiner King Richard: Nixon and Watergate: An American Tragedy , by Michael Dobbs. Knopf, 341 pp., $32.50.

At this point, one might wonder if there is anything fresh to add to the story. But Michael Dobbs, a former Washington Post reporter best known for One Minute to Midnight, his nail-biting 2008 book about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, has done just that. Dobbs has hit on the ingenious strategy of recasting Watergate as a Greek or, more aptly, Shakespearean tragedy in five acts, the protagonist of which, Nixon, falls inexorably from the pinnacle of his presidential fortunes to ignominy and disgrace. Hence the title of the book: King Richard, recalling Shakespeare’s two plays about fallen monarchs who bore Nixon’s first name.

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Drawing on the mechanics of tragedy described in Aristotle’s Poetics, Dobbs focuses on Nixon’s hubris, his insecurity-fueled “propensity for turning everything into a fight,” which led him straight to catastrophe. Dobbs also observes, more or less, the Aristotelian unities of place — Washington, D.C., and its environs, with brief escapes by Nixon to the beach-view "Western White House" in San Clemente, California, and the Key Biscayne refuge of his friend Bebe Rebozo — and time. All of the book’s action takes place during the 178 days from Jan. 20, 1973, with the blaring of “Hail to the Chief” at a series of inaugural balls, to July 17, 1973, when Nixon learns that presidential aide Alexander Butterfield has revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee the existence of the elaborate voice-activated taping system, installed on Nixon’s orders, that automatically recorded every conversation taking place in the Oval Office and over White House telephones.

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The thousands of hours of tapes were Nixon’s “most closely guarded secret,” Dobbs writes, known only to the president himself, his chief of staff and minder, H.R. Haldeman, and Butterfield and the handful of Secret Service agents who installed and maintained the system. The tapes were Nixon’s downfall, making it impossible for him to perjure himself to evade criminal liability. He spent the next full year fighting their release, until a unanimous Supreme Court rejected his claim of executive privilege on July 24, 1974, just as the House Judiciary Committee was drawing up articles of impeachment. Two weeks later, Nixon resigned.

A Shakespearean-style dramatis personae at the beginning of the book both buttresses its tragic mood and helps novices to Watergate sort out which of its dauntingly numerous participants worked for the White House (that is, for Nixon himself as president), and which ones for the Committee to Re-elect the President, or CREEP, which actually engineered the Watergate burglary as part of a larger “dirty tricks” operation designed to get dirt on Nixon’s political opponents. But it is Dobbs’s ability to use the techniques of fiction — getting inside the characters’ heads and reconstructing their interactions scene by scene — that gives this book its page-turning power. As Dobbs states in an afterword, he was inspired by a 1972 Tom Wolfe essay for Esquire, in which Wolfe explained how the “New Journalists” (including himself) used dialogue, telling description, and their subjects’ own points of view to transform humdrum coverage into reporting that read like novels. Dobbs draws on the 3,700 hours of Nixon tapes that were finally released to the public in 2013 to not only recreate Nixon’s actual conversations with his associates and perceived enemies but also follow the president from room to room as he moved through the White House to his hideaway private office across the street in the Old Executive Office Building. Even the archival photographs that accompany Dobbs’s text aim to show, not tell. One of them, “of Nixon’s customary lunch of canned pineapple and cottage cheese,” illustrates “the grim self-discipline of our thirty-seventh president in pithier, more accessible form than any psychological study,” Dobbs writes.

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Dobbs also understands what every good historical novelist understands: that the reader must be able to sympathize with the protagonist, even if he is the blackest of villains. Nixon was a socioeconomic underdog who never stopped thinking of himself as such even as he rose to the top via a combination of brainpower, will, and combativeness. He was born in 1913 in the dry and dusty hinterland of rural California, where his father had been first a failed citrus farmer in Yorba Linda and later a struggling grocery store owner in Whittier. Nixon’s exacting Quaker mother named three of her four sons after English kings; the future president’s namesake was Richard the Lionheart, the Crusader-forebear of the flawed protagonists of Shakespeare’s plays. A photo of the boys in Dobbs’s book taken in about 1923 is heart-rending: The youngest, 4-year-old Arthur, died two years later of tuberculosis, and the oldest, Harold, succumbed to the same disease at age 22. At Whittier College, Nixon made the football team, mostly because he was tough enough to pick himself up from the ground after brutal tackles; he was otherwise so physically uncoordinated that he couldn’t pull a pen out of his pocket without fumbling. When he played with his Irish setter, King Timahoe, he often tangled himself in King Tim’s leash.

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Nixon’s political life — California congressman and senator, then vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower — was a roller coaster ride of victories that cemented his truculence and defeats that he took personally, not least his narrow loss of the presidency to John F. Kennedy in 1960. He saw enemies everywhere: the elite “eastern establishment,” the hostile liberal press, the Vietnam War protesters who afflicted him outside the White House. Setting up the taping system in 1971, two years into his first term, was an act that reflected his paranoia and self-regard. He would have an “authoritative record” that would “meticulously chronicle his accomplishments, settle scores with his enemies, and put uppity subordinates like [then-national security adviser Henry] Kissinger in their place,” Dobbs writes.

At the same time, the emotional Nixon lacked the total ruthlessness he would perhaps have liked to possess. As the vise tightened in early 1973, with the constant unspooling of Watergate secrecy, he grew so agitated and depressed that he began closing himself off from his family and taking drugs to help himself sleep. He couldn’t bring himself personally to fire Haldeman or longtime domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman, both heavily involved in the burglary and its cover-up, when those firings seemed necessary to save his skin. Both would ultimately serve prison terms for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, but they were his friends and confidants, and it was only with tears in his eyes that Nixon could beg his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, to do the deed for him.

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If Dobbs’s Shakespearean tragedy has an Iago, it is John Dean, Nixon’s young, Porsche-driving, vaultingly ambitious White House counsel. Dean played a double game that involved a gross conflict of interest, on the one hand flattering his boss and elaborately redecorating his office, on the other passing information to the Justice Department’s Watergate investigators as well as likely indirectly leaking it to the press. Dean had been in on Watergate since the planning stages, and he had already hired his own lawyer to try to negotiate immunity from prosecution in return for testimony. Up his sleeve was a March 21, 1973, conversation with Nixon in which the two had discussed where to find the money for the hush payments. The conversation was on the tapes. On June 25, 1973, having received at least part of the immunity he craved, Dean appeared before the Senate Watergate Committee and told it everything. At that point, it was all over, except for the Supreme Court ruling that propelled Nixon out of office.

As Dobbs points out, there is no credible evidence that Nixon ordered the Watergate break-in or even knew about it until afterward. This makes sense, as Nixon was far too intelligent to get involved in something so harebrained. (The scheme had been cooked up by G. Gordon Liddy, a colorful former FBI agent on the CREEP team, as part of a range of proposed dirty tricks that originally included kidnapping Democrats and supplying them with prostitutes.) “On the other hand,” Dobbs writes of Nixon, “there is little doubt that he set in motion the chain of events that resulted in the bugging of Democratic Party headquarters by waging an all-out war against his political enemies.” Perhaps. But he did set in motion a mechanical device that generated his tragic downfall.

Charlotte Allen is a Washington writer. Her articles have appeared in Quillette, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times.

Tags: Books, Book Reviews, American history, Presidents, Richard Nixon, Watergate

Original Author: Charlotte Allen

Original Location: The tragedy of Richard Nixon

As India's surge wanes, families deal with the devastation .
LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Two months ago Radha Gobindo Pramanik and his wife threw a party to celebrate their daughter's pregnancy and the upcoming birth of their long-awaited grandchild. They were so happy that they paid little attention to his wife's cough. It's an oversight that may forever haunt him. Within days, his wife, his daughter and his unborn grandchild were all dead, among the tens of thousands killed as the coronavirus ravaged India in April and May. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh) It's an oversight that may forever haunt him.

usr: 1
This is interesting!