ON RICHARD NIXON , PART I.
When we write or discuss the 19th century in terms of broad American history, it usually comes down to a handful of names. Abraham Lincoln
, of course, enjoys pride of place but in his vanguard march Henry Clay
, Daniel Webster
, Andrew Jackson
and John Calhoun
. They march there not because everything they did was great or good but because, unlike lesser figures, even formidible ones like Mark Hanna
or Thomas Hart Benton
, these men and their battles defined the age. For the twentieth century, among the very few figures that historians will select to stand alongside Franklin Roosevelt
will be Richard Milhous Nixon.
Nixon ran for national office no less than five times, winning four out of those five times and losing to John F. Kennedy
only by one of the slenderest of margins in American history and winning reelection as President, in the midst of an unpopular war, by one of the largest landslides. Nixon served in both houses of the legislative branch where he established himself as a force to be reckoned with despite his lack of seniority. His exposure of Alger Hiss
as a Communist spy earned Nixon the undying hatred of the left-liberal wing of the Establishment in a way that Nixon's bareknuckle red-baiting against Jerry Voorhees
and Helen Gahagan Douglas
did not. Nixon's comeback in 1968, after his crushing defeat (and subsequent televised self-destruction) in California's gubernatorial election, was a skillfully executed rise from the political dead.
Space in a mere blog post does not permit detailing the heights of Nixon's accomplishments in foreign policy or his ignominious fall in his criminal conspiracy of Watergate. For that, books are required:
If you are and remain a devoted Nixon-hater, your best bet in terms of scholarship would be historian Stanley I. Kutler's Wars of Watergate
and Abuse of Power
. If you are an admirer of Richard Nixon, he wrote a slew of books of which his memoirs, RN
, may be the most interesting from any American president other than those of Ulysses S. Grant. I would also recommend Six Crises
. For a more balanced (though hardly favorable) view than Kutler's, of this analytically brilliant, at times visionary and deeply flawed man, I like Richard Reeves'
biography, Richard Nixon:Alone in the White House
. Nixon's role in the Hiss case is illuminated by Sam Tanenhaus in his biography Whittaker Chambers
Alongside Nixon and his critics are a few books by Nixon's collaborators and aides. The postumously published The Haldeman Diaries
are an indispensible resource for historians that far eclipses Haldeman's The Ends of Power
. Less meticulous, but a still interesting sampling of Nixon administration mentality, was From: The President
, edited by Bruce Oudes
. Henry Kissinger's
ponderously large, three volume memoirs have numerous valuable commentaries about Richard Nixon and especially, his foreign policy, must be included in any serious study of Nixon.
Most of the books produced by the Watergate conspirators tend to be at least as self-serving as Nixon's account without the benefit of Nixon's selectively incisive intellect. Dean's Blind Ambition
is probably among the worst of the lot but none of them, often written hastily in the face of mounting legal bills and fines, add much substance to that covered by Bob Woodward
and Carl Bernstein
. John Ehrlichman's
cynicism is occasionally amusing as is G. Gordon Liddy, though often unintentionally. Of lesser figures, little need be said.Next, Part II. Nixon in his own words