I finished Jonathan Aitken’s Nixon: A Life. In this post, I’d like to share one of my favorite stories. I don’t have any profound thoughts to add about it, but I just liked it.
On page 566, Aitken is talking about the dedication of Richard Nixon’s Presidential Library and Birthplace. Back when Nixon was President, Nixon’s close adviser, H.R. Haldeman, did not get along with Nixon’s long-time secretary, Rose Mary Woods. Haldeman tended to restrict access to the President, and he could be quite intimidating, which was why Nixon entrusted him with the tasks that he himself was uncomfortable doing. And Woods herself was one tough lady! Incidentally, Woods reportedly did not get along with Henry Kissinger, either, and Aitken tells a story about how she really dressed Kissinger down when Kissinger proudly did not want Alexander Haig to be Chief of Staff because Haig had served under him in the past; to his credit, Kissinger agreed to play ball!
But back to the dedication of Richard Nixon’s Presidential Library and Birthplace! Aitken narrates: “Resplendent in a green silk dress, [Woods] was meeting and greeting like a Hollywood hostess, even giving her old adversary Bob Haldeman a warm embrace after he whispered: ‘I’m so sorry Rose, and for so many things.'”
I have to respect Haldeman for apologizing. I’ve wondered about his human side, underneath his gruff exterior. Some day, I may read his book and his diary, but I most likely won’t do so for My Year (or More) of Nixon, since I’m in the process of winding that down, and I’m getting eager to move on to other things. Haldeman did have a human side, beyond being Nixon’s stern functionary. He had children. He (like John Ehrlichman) was a devout Christian Scientist. And I have to give him credit for being loyal to Nixon throughout Nixon’s life, when there were others who bitterly deserted him, for Haldeman attended Pat Nixon’s funeral. Haldeman’s book about his time in the Nixon Administration was not particularly flattering to Nixon, as I understand it, but he would come to be reconciled with Nixon. Moreover, it’s also interesting to me that Haldeman was generous with his time when it came to people who were writing about Nixon, for he gave interviews. I’ve wondered if I would be too intimidated to interview a no-nonsense man like Bob Haldeman, but, from what I read of his responses in interviews, he seemed to be quite open and helpful.
I’m glad that I read Aitken’s book. It’s probably my favorite biography of Nixon that I have read so far, especially because of its anecdotes about Nixon’s kindness, as well as its interviews. Plus, Aitken is a really good writer: I like his easygoing prose! I suppose that his book speaks to the side of me that loves The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie, which seeks good in people, notwithstanding their flaws. I think that it’s important to balance out Aitken with books that are more anti-Nixon, if one is interested in studying Nixon. But I’m definitely glad that I read Aitken’s work, and I someday may read some of the other books that he has written.