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Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever Hardcover – May 9, 2017
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About the Author
Patrick J. Buchanan, America's leading populist conservative, was senior adviser to three American presidents, ran for the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996, and was the Reform Party's presidential candidate in 2000. The author of twelve previous books, many of which were New York Times bestsellers, Buchanan is a syndicated columnist and founding member of three of America's foremost public affairs shows: NBC's The McLaughlin Group and CNN's The Capitol Gang and Crossfire.
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This book is designed specifically for political junkies who really like all the nitty-gritty details about the Nixon presidency. If you are fascinated by reading detailed memoranda arguing for or against certain political causes, you will likely enjoy this book. I generally skipped over the memos.
It’s easy to see how the author came to such a high position at such a young age (barely 30!). Buchanan writes well, and argues fervently for his conservative beliefs. Coming into the White House, the author had high hopes that Nixon would advance true conservative causes. He soon discovered, however, that Nixon was not nearly as dedicated as Buchanan. The author laments Nixon seemingly embracing “Great Society” extensions in the tradition of LBJ. Right after Nixon took office, “My fears that this was not going to be the conservative administration I had envisioned during my three years with Nixon were confirmed. “
If you read nothing else, don’t miss the chapter on Nixon’s historic visit to China. I thought this chapter was the most interesting part of the book; it also shows the author’s dismay with the administration’s lukewarm embrace of conservative principles.
After the visit to China, for example, the author is disgusted at what he saw as a complete sell-out of our Taiwan friends. On the flight back, Buchanan stands up to Henry Kissinger, who negotiated the “Shanghai Communique.” Kissinger asked Pat what was wrong with the document, and tried to defend it. Buchanan would have none of it: “Though sitting in a window seat , I stood up, leaned over, put my face about eighteen inches from his, and shouted, “Bulls**t!”
The latter part of the book covers the whole Watergate mess—all the way from the first reports of a break-in, to Nixon’s resignation. I did not know that Buchanan had actually testified about his peripheral role in Watergate. Similarly, I had no idea that the author’s brother had been falsely accused of money laundering during that same time period. (Cronkite’s network had to issue an apology.)
The author includes the transcript of a light-hearted testimony before Senator Sam Ervin. The author also includes voluminous copies of memoranda sent to the president. Perhaps the most interesting was the one recommending that Nixon burn the tapes.
This book is quite serious, as is the author. There are a few lighthearted moments, however. In China, Buchanan describes the drinking bouts: “One problem we all had that night was the drinking. The mao-tai the Chinese served for toasts— I still have four bottles—tasted as one imagines gasoline might taste. It was awful. The only thing that made it tolerable was that the more we consumed the more we began to ignore the taste.”
Another funny moment describes the author and Henry Kissinger poolside: “Henry, wearing his bathing suit and working on a tan, repaired to his chaise, beside which lay papers and files. As we talked, he bemoaned the fact that though he was national security adviser to the most powerful man on earth and had secret papers lying all about him, no beautiful women had tried to seduce him.”
So all in all, I found NIXON’S WHITE HOUSE WARS to be an interesting book, documenting one of the most turbulent political periods in recent times. I liked seeing the author’s perspective on the Nixon years—especially the visit to China. Prior to reading this book, I did not realize how controversial this trip was, and how it angered the conservatives in the White House. The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking, “Buchanan was barely 30?”
Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.
Using his notes and lengthy memos as resources, Buchanan sheds light and provides details on the issues of the day. Understandably, some issues will appeal more to certain readers than others. The battle to determine the Supreme Court justices was the least interesting to me. I was, however, very interested in Agnew's attacks on the media, the strategy behind the 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns, Cambodia and Kent State, and, of course, Watergate.
Buchanan says that when Nixon took office on Jan. 20, 1969, the country was divided by war, race, culture and politics.
Buchanan writes that Nixon was more sensitive to media attacks and wounded by them than any other figure he had known in politics in 50 years. Nixon used Vice President Agnew to attack the media on their "credibility, arrogance, bias and elitism." Nixon saw the media as a "distorting lens." Agnew spoke for the silent majority, and Buchanan said the media's credibility would never be restored after Agnew's attacks, which he advocated.
The 1972 presidential race featured Ed Muskie, Ted Kennedy, William McGovern, George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey. Buchanan details the strategy employed to paint the candidates in the most unflattering light and win the election. McGovern was painted as the candidate of "acid, amnesty and abortion."
The campaign spawned Watergate and the eventual downfall of Nixon. Buchanan advised Nixon to burn the tapes that had not been subpoenaed. If the tapes had been burned, Buchanan believes Nixon's presidency would have been saved and he would have served out his second term.
Less than one year after his 1972 landslide victory, Nixon's approval rating was a dismal 29 percent. Nixon befuddled Buchanan on April 29, 1974, when he released 46 conversations related to Watergate. A June 23 tape, which proved Nixon had known about the cover-up for at least 3 months, proved to be Nixon's eventual downfall.
Buchanan writes that from 1948 through 1974, Richard Nixon was arguably the most influential politician (he appeared on the cover of Time magazine a record 55 times) in American history.
The challenge of Buchanan's book is the level of detail about the various issues, some of which may not interest the reader. Skipping those parts will increase your enjoyment. Whether you agree politically with Buchanan, or not, he always presents great insight.
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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*
That politics sometimes overwhelms principle unless good people get busy.