Thursday, June 12, 2008

Big-Ass Book of the Week

For the past month, I haven't been happy if I haven't been reading a 700-page tome, preferably about Richard Nixon. I think that, without realizing it, I've been privately commemorating the Senate Watergate hearings, held 35 years ago this summer. Or maybe election year politics have just made me interested in elections of the past. For whatever reason, I spent all my free time two weeks ago devouring Nixonland, then last week moved on to The Last Campaign, the story of RFK's 82-day long 1968 bid, and have now just finished Richard Reeves' President Nixon: Alone in the White House.

Nixon's rise and fall, and rise and fall again, and final rise and fall, have always interested me probably because it all feels so much like a Greek tragedy. Sure, he was "tricky", "dirty", paranoid, whatever you want to call him, but he was also a brilliant politician. He invented the politics that the Republican right have used to keep themselves in power for most of the past 40 years, after all. It's sad because he probably would have accomplished his goals - bringing order to the streets and an end to Vietnam - without illegally wiretapping anybody, and without using the IRS and FBI for political purposes. He undoubtedly would have been re-elected without spying on the DNC and then covering it up, as well. But his worse nature got the better of him, as it did throughout his life.

Nixonland led me to believe that I was right to admire him as a politician even if I can't admire him as a human being, but the Reeves book has led me to admire him for something completely different: for becoming President despite being clearly and obviously insane. I mean, he was more than just a little bipolar, and more than just a little paranoid. He was completely looped, and would have benefited from at least one of Eagleton's electric shock treatments. Read the book and you'll marvel at the fact that a person of his mindset could not only become President but also rack up some successes, particularly in terms of foreign policy.

Crazy cleaves to crazy, so it's no wonder CREEP's operatives were a sandwich or two short of lunch. Yes, of course I refer to G. Gordon Liddy. We all know what they did; what's less known is the original plan, called Operation Gemstone. Liddy presented the plan to Mitchell and Dean with one hand bandaged, because he'd held it in a candle's flame to demonstrate the pain he would endure in the name of loyalty. Here's the plan, as quoted by Reeves:

"We need preventive action to break up demonstrations before they reach television cameras. I can arrange for the services of highly trained squads, men who have worked successfully as street-fighting squads for the CIA...Teams that are experienced in surgical relocation activities. In a word, they can kidnap a hostile leader with maximum secrecy and a minimum use of force. If, for instance, a prominent radical comes to our convention, these teams can drug him and take him across the border...I have secured a option to lease a pleasure craft docked on the canal directly in front of the Fountainbleu Hotel. It is more than sixty feet long, and expensively decorated in a Chinese motif. It can also be wired for both sight and sound...We can, without much trouble, compromise these officials through the charms of some ladies I have arranged to have living on the boat. These are the finest call girls in the country. They are not dumb broads, but girls who can be trained and programmed..."

Mitchell rejected this plan, not because of its absurdity, but because it would have been too expensive. Give me something cheaper, he said. Colson says focus on bugging and stealing documents, that we can afford. We all know what happened next.

My father hated Nixon with a passion that would have led Liddy to exile him to the pleasure boat. He hated Nixon so much he made me, at the age of 9, sit with him and watch the Senate hearings, all 37 days of them, televised that summer of 1973. I didn't get much of it, except that I thought John Dean was cute. I get it all now, though, and for the first time in my life I understand my father's hatred. We want this stuff in a situation comedy, we want it in a work of fiction. We don't, however, want it in the White House.


Anonymous said...

Any particular reason why you only read about Republican crazies? Are there no Democratic crazies that tickle your fancy?

Elucidator said...

Plenty of crazies of both parties to go around, Anon. I've just been on a late 60s politics jag. Although I'm sure there's a book about George Wallace out there somewhere - there's a Democratic crazy for you.

tunsie said...

nixon asked and he and kissinger knelt on the ground in his office and prayed together.nixon asked g-d for forgiveness and guidence. tunsie.tunsie,tunsie

SPIKE ROGAN From Easton,PA said...

Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 is a book I highly recomend. PLENTY of Dem crazies in that.

Wallace and Muskie to name a few.

SPIKE ROGAN From Easton,PA said...

BTW SOrry I missed Weds. Marjorie was going away Thursday to Virginia so I had to spend the night with her since I'll be away next week when she gets back.

I can't belive this horrible lock down of the parks for over 13.

Can you say ACLU lawsuit?