I started Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990. This is the third volume of Ambrose’s trilogy on Richard Nixon.
This volume will talk a lot about the Watergate scandal. For my blog post today, I’ll use as my starting-point something that Ambrose says on page 10:
“This is a play that does not edify or enlighten or uplift. There is no moral lesson to be learned from a play in which many of the characters, much of the time, are rotters. Yet there is a hero…That hero is the American system of justice, as embodied in the Constitution.”
To be honest with you, the Watergate scandal does not particularly interest me. I’m doing a Year (or More) of Nixon, in which I read and blog through books about Richard Nixon. But I don’t have a great desire to read about Watergate. I have John Dean’s book, Blind Ambition, but I don’t particularly want to read it (at least not anytime soon). I also have G. Gordon Liddy’s autobiography Will, which probably won’t be on my Year (or More) of Nixon reading list. I could order books by the key players in the Nixon Administration for a fairly cheap price—-by H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and the list goes on. I could also order Judge Sirica’s book about Watergate. But I’m just not interested in the details of Watergate.
I do plan to read a couple of books about Watergate, though. I was debating about reading Silent Coup, but I’ve decided to read it at some point in my Year (or More) of Nixon. From what I’ve heard about it, the book’s thesis is quite edgy, but it was praised by Roger Morris (who wrote a renowned book about Nixon), and John Mitchell (Nixon’s friend and one of his Attorneys General) apparently thought that the book was on to something. And, looking at Monica Crowley’s Nixon in Winter, Nixon himself seemed to have taken Silent Coup seriously, on some level. So I might as well read it! It must be more than tabloid-type speculation! I’m also planning to read The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. One reason is that I tried to read this book as a kid, and (while I enjoyed the book) I did not finish it. I like to read books that I tried to read as a kid but did not get through. That’s what I did with Richard Nixon’s Six Crises! Second, Woodward and Bernstein have excellent prose. I just have to read The Final Days!
In reading Nixon’s memoirs, I did not like reading and blogging about Watergate. Nixon had interesting insights in his discussion of the scandal: his struggle to find a coherent narrative of what actually happened, and how we may not recognize the significance of what we are doing while we are in a particular situation, as opposed to looking at it in a big-picture or retrospective sense. But, overall, his discussion of the Watergate scandal bored me.
Why? I think it’s because there were no heroes in it, which is the point that Ambrose makes. Even in Nixon’s own account, he did not come off smelling like a rose. And, although I didn’t care for Nixon’s complaining about the hypocrisy of those who were going after him, that sort of talk did convince me of one thing: I didn’t consider Nixon’s persecutors to be heroes, either! Do I consider the American system of justice to be the hero? Well, I’ve been inspired when I’ve heard that point on documentaries: that the American system was stable and went on, even though the President resigned. There is something inspiring whenever the American system is based on law rather than the whims of the powerful. But I don’t need to read that point over and over again.
Watergate was a tragedy. It was an unhappy ordeal. It’s depressing to read about. I’d like to think highly of Nixon, since I identify with his introversion and think that he did some pretty remarkable things. But he really dropped the ball with Watergate.
But there may be a silver lining in this third volume of Ambrose’s book: that Nixon (on some level) recovered from the Watergate scandal. I like what Ambrose says on page 10:
“Incredibly, unbelievably, he does come back. Were this really a play, instead of real life, the story would end with his resignation. But Nixon is Nixon. There is no one else like him for refusing to quit, for plotting and executing comebacks, for winning redemption, for self-resurrection. Within a decade and a half of his resignation, he had not only become America’s elder statesman but was threatening to become America’s beloved elder statesman.”
Ambrose concludes his Forward with “I have loved writing this book.” That’s one reason for me to read it, even if I’m not particularly interested in Watergate: Ambrose loves his subject matter, and that really shows in his writing.