For my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon’s memoirs, I’ll use as my starting-point something that Nixon says on page 356:
“‘Whatever we say about Harry Truman,’ I said, ‘while it hurt him, a lot of people admired the old bastard for standing by people who were as guilty as hell, and, damn it, I am that kind of person. I am not one who is going to say, look, while this guy is under attack, I drop him.'”
Nixon expresses admiration for Harry Truman for standing by his corrupt friends during Truman’s Presidency. This is ironic because, as Senator, Nixon was a strong critic of the Truman Administration’s corruption. It’s also different from other approaches that Nixon takes in his memoirs. Nixon argues that the sorts of shady things that were done within his own Administration and campaigns (though Nixon doesn’t use the term “shady”) were also done by Democrats. Nixon also implies that he handled Watergate better than Truman handled some of his scandals, for, while Nixon did not seek to hinder the Justice Department’s investigation and Congress’ probing into the Watergate affair (though I’d say that Nixon pressuring the CIA to limit the FBI’s investigation into Howard Hunt, which Nixon acknowledges doing, was somewhat of a hindrance), Truman forbade the Executive Branch to cooperate with the Congress on the issue of subversives in the Truman Administration. (UPDATE: On page 413, Nixon mentions the story that he released claiming to explain why he encouraged the CIA to limit the FBI’s investigation into Watergate: Nixon said in a document that he sought to ensure that the investigation would not uncover “secret CIA operations”, I presume because Watergate conspirator Howard Hunt had done things for the CIA in the past. But Nixon denied in the document that he wanted to impede the investigations into Watergate.) Nixon seems to present himself as more open, honest, and cooperative than Truman, in short. But, on page 356, Nixon expresses admiration for Truman. Nixon can identify with the man whom he attacked back when he was a U.S. Senator. And Nixon looks beyond self-righteous partisanship in identifying a characteristic that he liked in someone from the other political party.
Did Nixon stand by people within his Administration? As with much of Nixon’s discussion of Watergate, Nixon’s account of this issue strikes me as rather muddled. Nixon certainly conveys that he cared about those who were accused of wrongdoing as well as their families, and he was even willing to provide concrete help. At the same time, my impression is that Nixon also wants to portray himself as someone who didn’t want the non-guilty people to be sacrificed, implying (perhaps) that he desired for wrongdoers to take responsibility. Nixon also narrates that he did not like asking his aides, John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, to resign, not only because he respected them, but also because he had doubts about their guilt (though he appears to equivocate on this in the book, at least in Haldeman’s case).
What interested me was that Pat Buchanan encouraged Nixon to ask for the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman. On page 369, we read Buchanan’s words: “Anyone who is not guilty should not be put overboard…however, presidential aides who cannot maintain their viability should step forward voluntarily…Howard K. Smith questioned on television: Will Nixon be the Eisenhower who cleans his house himself, or the Harding who covered up for his people? This in ruthless candor is the question.” This somewhat surprised me because Buchanan said on pages 186-187 of Right from the Beginning:
“During Watergate, when reporters would ask me how I could continue to defend Nixon now that it was clear the President had deceived everybody, including their own, I wondered where, exactly, they had come from. How, in that ultimate crisis of Mr. Nixon’s life, could his own people not defend him? No one I grew up with ever faulted me for staying with Nixon to the end…Whether Nixon was wrong was not the relevant issue. Even if he had booted it, he had a right to be defended; and his friends had a duty to be there.”
In that passage from Right from the Beginning, Buchanan exalted loyalty; privately, at least in that note that Nixon read, Buchanan was an advocate of subordinating loyalty to what was right.