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Friday, November 20, 2015

The Last of the Presidents Men by Bob Woodward


Woodward’s book, his 18th  is a direct descendant of All the President's Men -- his iconic first book, written with Carl Bernstein in 1974. The Last of the Presidents Men  takes us back to Nixon’s White House and  is based on more than 46 hours of interviews with Alexander Butterfield and never before revealed diaries and other documents.  Butterfield "unable to tell a lie under oath"
was the White House aide who revealed that Nixon was taping conversations in the Oval Office. It was those tapes ordered up by the Supreme Court which revealed the lies and criminal behavior of the President of the United States.

The book doesn’t add a whole lot to the story oft told in many books and biographies of a President  who was bizarrely shy, even  paranoid and willing to settle scores for imagined,  even trivial slights. One who easily lied and was willing to break the law to serve his ends. A telling vignette from the tapes was Nixon telling his top aides that years of bombing in Vietnam had not done one bit of good. He also demanded an inquiry and a jacking up of the air force as to its ineffectiveness. A few month later he unleashed the massive bombing of Cambodia and Laos for political gain in the upcoming presidential election. He wanted to win at any cost.....

Butterfield was an Air Force pilot who fought in Vietnam. Believing his path to higher rank in the service was blocked he wrote to an old college friend H.R. Haldeman looking for a career move in Washington. Haldeman was Nixons chief of staff with Butterfield getting a job in the White House. Most of Nixons aides were longtime friends and insiders. Thus Butterfield was new, open minded yet military loyal to the new President. He remained loyal yet  came to view the man as strange, even more weird than even odd. This comes out at many points in this book which becomes more a personality/psychological portrait than anything else.

I was too young to vote for Richard Nixon though my parents did. He did some good things the opening to China being one.  Still the aura about the man was creepy. Mr. Butterfield recounts Nixon’s efforts to root out an “infestation” of portraits of Joh F. Kennedy in staffers’ offices and his demand for a proper “picture policy” that couldn't be traced back to him.  And he recounts Nixon’s need for talking points — even for events like a small private birthday party, and his extreme discomfort at any social event.

Thus we learn of  Nixon’s secrets, obsessions and deceptions. I’m not a fan of gossipy “celebrity” books but this book is the last word from a man who kept quiet for over fifty years and is backed up by thousands of document never seen before.  I think this may all be relevant today as I watch the Republican candidates spout their utter nonsense and wonder who these men and one women really are.  What lies behind their clichés and fear mongering. What do they really believe? Who are their friends?  How do arrive at decisions based on what values? Yes the story of Richard Nixon might well be worth thinking about again as we elect a new President …. Scary thought.

7 comments:

Bubba Muntzer said...

The book's title suggests the passing of an era. As those with direct involvement in Watergate disappear from the scene, so also do journalists of the stature of Bob Woodward, and so does the kind of media that made him possible. It's an important book in that regard. It's going to be the first thing some people will have heard about that chapter of our history, and possibly the last reminder to those of us who lived through it.

Your review comes at an interesting time, as we witness a public being whipsawed between politicians and the media that are both drumming up paranoia for their own reasons, but also as people with presumably better sense, their fingers in the air waiting to see how it affects them and their carers, stand by and say nothing, and allow fear and paranoia to have their corrosive affect. Thanks for saying something, and thanks for the gutsy review.

Out on the prairie said...

Wild times in our world.I went to school and argued Nixon with a friend, my gradfather said if Kennedy made it the pope would tell him what to do. Lost a friend over that one.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I remember that election, of course my parents couldn't vote for a Catholic so they voted for Nixon. Religion was a big part in the 1960 election. In 68 I know we all supported Hubert H. My Dad worked in the cities back then and when working in the neighborhood met him and Dad said his neighbors used to call him Vodka Humphrey. Too bad he lost, as far as us Northern Minnesota people were concerned his was a heck of a man. But he and Mondale never got further than VP.
I will probably never read this book, so I am glad to hear your review of it:)

Carla from The River said...

Hi,
Interesting!! We just watched a great documentary on the last days in Saigon. The film was directed by Rory Kennedy.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Fascinating. I had been thinking that history will be kind to Nixon. Much environmental legislation was passed during his term. However, reading about the cynical bombing of CambodIa just for political gain at home makes my blood run cold. He reminds me a bit of our mr Harper. I am still still so relieved to be rid of him....

LoieJ said...

Interesting review. Re current candidates: Are these self appoints candidates? Most are hardly successful in their present or previous positions. Who has the ? (balls??? sorry, can't think of what else to say) to put them self forward to be president? Maybe that is why we get such odd-balls for candidates. Politics leanings aside, it is important that we have someone who is "presidential" , meaning, one who can act calm and in control in certain situations, one who listens and considers before he/she speaks.

Sally Wessely said...

I think you made a very valid point with your last statement. I seldom read political books, but I think this one would be a great one to read.