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The Secret Plot to Make Ted Kennedy President: Inside the Real Watergate Conspiracy Hardcover – June 17, 2008
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Between John Dean’s efforts to gain immunity from prosecution for his central involvement in the Watergate break-in and plot to cover it up and Ted Kennedy’s efforts to redeem his political career after Chappaquiddick lies the real truth behind the Watergate scandal, alleges Shepard, a former Nixon White House staffer. Drawing on extensive research, Shepard contends that Kennedy used his subcommittee to begin an investigation and funnel information to the committee officially charged with looking into the Watergate scandal. Kennedy insiders were all part of a Camelot conspiracy to bring down President Nixon and harm the Republican Party to such an extent that Kennedy would be primed to win a bid for the presidency in 1976, alleges Shepard. Although Dean has come to be regarded as one of the heroes of the era, Shepard asserts that once Dean, the president’s counsel, decided to aid the investigation, he became the villain, breaching attorney-client privilege and releasing government secrets. All the drama of Watergate is here: Deep Throat, the 18½-minute gap on the Nixon White House tapes, the Senate posturing, and the impeachment inquiry. Shepard is thorough in his research and passionate in his viewpoints but has no compunction about imagining events and motivations when they are not documented and is reluctant to provide facts and let readers come to their own conclusions. Still, Shepard brings back vivid memories of an acrimonious time and raises some interesting questions. --Vanessa Bush
About the Author
Geoff Shepard worked in the Nixon White House for more than five years, first as a White House Fellow, then as a senior member of the Domestic Council staff. After leaving the Ford administration in 1975, he spent the next thirty years as a corporate lawyer, primarily in the insurance industry.
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As a very young man, I was opposed to the war, and I did my share of "wallowing in Watergate" as the Erwin trial proceeded. I actively disliked Nixon (although he had shaken my hand), just as I later actively disliked Ronald Reagan. (I saw him once, at U.C. Santa Barbara, emerging from an elevator, and noted that he had dyed hair. Reagan even signed my diploma!)
It was only later that I began to understand the horror of Stalin. I can date this precisely to an article in "The New Republic" which undermined all of my assumptions. The late author of "The Gulag Archipelago" played an important role as well. In short, I began to grow up. Are the "starry-eyed illusions of youth" a good thing? I don't think so.
And then the real implications of Watergate began to hit home. Nixon, for all his faults, had left Vietnam with the clear diplomatic understanding that invasion of South Vietnam would bring disaster for Hanoi. You can laugh and chuckle, but Nixon brought "peace with honor," having obtained nothing more than the "status quo ante."
And then Watergate struck. Nixon was forced to resign, Ford became President, and a wave of McGovernites were elected to office. They actually cut off ALL funding to South Vietnam, and so invited Hanoi to invade. Which happened.
Note that they didn't just cut off military funding to Saigon. They cut it ALL off. Imagine what would happen if we did that to Egypt right now, in 2008!
The result was a bloodbath in SE Asia.
And this brings me to the point of this review. Anyone who thinks that Watergate was some sort of non-partisan political action needs to have their head examined. It was obviously an effort to get rid of Nixon and bring in a Democratic majority. It worked. Kind of. Because, after Ford had been disposed of, the next presidential candidate was NOT Teddy Kennedy -- which was the idea -- but some peanut-chomping nincompoop named Carter.
And we abandoned SE Asia for this? We surrendered to the enemy (some really vicious thugs) just because the Democrats wanted the White House?
Well, thank goodness, that was A Long Time Ago.
Other good points of this book: John F. Kennedy (for a long time,a liberal icon) was in fact the son of Joseph Kennedy, one of the richest men in America, and he bought his way into the White House with amounts of money which had never been seen before. I guess everyone knows that Kennedy was much "worse" than Clinton in the marital fidelity sweepstakes, but somehow nobody in the press thought that this was worth mentioning.
Shepard takes a different tack to most books on Watergate. Instead of focusing on the burglary, he focuses on its political aftermath. He persuaded me of a number of key insights:
1. the centrality of John Dean to the entire scandal - Dean was involved in both the direction of the Plumbers before the burglary and in the efforts to clean up the mess after the burglary. Nixon appears to have been unaware of Dean's prior role as he used him as "case officer" to clean up the mess afterwards. But Dean's earlier role made him vulnerable to criminal charges. And Dean's vulnerability and desire for immunity thus made Nixon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman vulnerable to Dean turning state's evidence.
2. the partisan nature of the post-Watergate investigations - it is clear that both prosecution and congressional inquiries into Watergate were controlled by Kennedy Democrats and that they used their powers in a highly partisan manner.
3. how legal priorities were sidelined by political priorities in this process - by the time the Watergate Prosecution Force was established, regular prosecutors were on the point of issuing indictments. But, to serve a political timeline, the indictments were postponed several months so that the American people could be publicly informed of Nixon WH wrongdoing.
4. how journalistic priorities were subordinated to political priorities - in the immediate aftermath of Ben Bradlee's death, it is interesting to read about him in this book. Shepard reveals how, during the campaign for the 1960 Democratic nomination, Bradlee sent a secret memo to JFK with inside information he gathered on LBJ. While JFK was president, Bradlee continued to pass on information to him. In one memo he even wrote "The boss asked for the enclose last night". Boss???
The book concludes that the Nixon White House engaged in criminality to advance its political cause but that the scale of its criminality differed little from the Johnson White House or the Kennedy White House. This is not to justify Nixon WH wrongdoing - two wrongs don't make a right. But it does call into question the scale of the political reaction to Watergate.
Shepard has taken a mountain of complex material and presented it in a succinct and coherent manner to overturn much of the conventional wisdom on Watergate. The book is written by a former Nixon aide - so it is partisan. But the author writes concisely and in a strikingly clear style - so it is an excellent read.