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Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon

All good politicians are pretty much alike and pedestrian, but all bad political regimes are Machiavellian in their own unique way.

How can you sum up the madness of Nixon in power? The dirty, dirty politics. The complete undermining of basic rights and abuses of privilege. The tapes and bugging and dirty election tactics, the shit files. The opportunistic baiting and pursuit of Communists and all dissenters. The blithe continuation of break-ins well after the Watergate busts; the derailment of the 1968 (Democrat) peace process in Vietnam for purely selfish aims; the political abuse of bombing power to achieve hollow victories (and the unnecessary continuation of the war) (and the suspicion of an ever-present and shape-shifting enemy… my how times change); the illegal funds and campaign contributions and associations with known hoods and Howard Hughes and dictatorial allsorts; the contempt and the tantrums and the drugs and paranoia, lunacy and delusion and the incoherent rambling drug fugues and deranged regressions and dubious mental health. The cronies and shadowy side-players and scapegoats and criminals. But above all, the lies and dissembling, the spin and falsification and distortion and censorships and slander-smears… right from page one. That man lied through his entire life, never lived an honest day. A pure politician, addicted to power: corrupt and pliable and conservative and utterly deranged in his beliefs and assumptions. A warning. A destroyer of faith in politics and executive ability.

It appears Nixon had a thing for Dilantin and alcohol, that he beat Pat and that he had loads of dirty money stashed in Swiss bank accounts. He was in on the earliest plans to kill off the Beard and a driving force behind the Bay of Pigs debacle; knew enough to topple him from power if it was revealed earlier. He was corrupt through and through but hid it cleverly, like a Mafioso chain of command. And tried to pretty everything up in his memoirs. And there was something familiar about the way he went after political enemies and non-compliant media after winning his second term, dismissing almost his entire domestic staff, drawing up lists of enemies; think of the current CIA bowling alley and the ascent of Condoleezza to head crony on foreign policy. As we say around here, Jebus is in the White House! All hail King Jebus! Jebus will lead his land and people to victory, his land of the Republican Red Centre.

There’s some fine journalistic triangulations of the truth and extensive cross-interviewing. A veritable army of researchers was employed. There is no way the reputation and estate of Nixon can hide from the dirty reality he was. And yet, that funeral… Bill Clinton and all the others testifying his greatness as a peacemaker… the unbridled political cynicism and attempted historical correction — this is the biggest contrasting riddle posed by the book, and insufficiently explained. Why would everyone try to justify this crook? Why even consider him a great man?

Some notable quotes:
An unprecedented examination of a president whose personality embraced both political brilliance and criminal vindictiveness… The pattern that emerges is of a man driven by a lifelong addiction to intrigue and power, a man whose subversion of democracy during Watergate was merely the culmination of years of cynical manipulation of the political system. [For once, the flap copy is spot on. But the book does focus on the build-up and antecedents to Watergate at the expense of domestic policy and daily affairs]

Adlai Stevenson characterised “Nixonland” as a ‘land of slander and scare, of shy innuendo, of poison pen and anonymous phone call and bustling, pushing, shoving — the land of smash and grab and anything to win. (p136, and this is before RN even became president)

Norman Redlich… read the Checkers speech as a ‘handbook for Demagogues’ based on low precepts… Create your own ethical standards and then point out how rigidly you adhere to them… And if the people are really as dumb as you think they are, you may someday be president of the United States. (ibid.)

[On the Madman stunt:] Kissinger… instructed Len Garment, about to leave on a trip to Moscow, to give the Soviets “The impression that Nixon is somewhat ‘crazy’ — immensely intelligent, well organised and experienced to be sure, but at moments of stress or personal challenge unpredictable and capable of the bloodiest brutality.” Garment carried out the mission, telling a senior Brezhnev adviser that Nixon was “a dramatically disjointed personality… more than a little paranoid… when necessary, a cold-hearted butcher.” The irony, the former aid reflected ruefully in 1997, was that everything he had told the Russians turned out to be “more or less true.” (p296)

[Or this Gestapo scheme, ringing bells:] “With Presidential authority, the intelligence community could at will intercept and transcribe the communications of Americans… eavesdrop from near or far on anyone deemed to be a ‘threat to international security,’ read the mail of citizens, break into the homes of anyone tagged as a security threat.” (p345)

A website by Liddy included an ad for the ‘G.Gordon Liddy Stacked and Packed Calendar Featuring America’s Most beautiful Women Heavily Armed.’ This was the man who, in 1971, became field operations coordinator for the President’s special unit [the Plumbers] [this guy is daft]. (p389)
As I said, what’s more disturbing, worrying is the attempt to exonerate and eulogise Nixon as a hero in death (when, like Hunter S directed, his corpse should’ve been tossed onto a hill of trash and shit); take this speech by Bob Dole at the funeral, revelatory of how badly the Americans need a Jebus in Charge:
I believe the second half of the 20th Century will be known as the age of Nixon. Why was he the most durable public figure of our time? Not because he gave the most eloquent speeches, but because he provided the most effective leadership. Not because he won every battle, but because he always embodied the deepest feelings of the people he led.

To tens of millions of his countrymen, Richard Nixon was an American hero, a hero who shared and honored their belief in working hard, worshiping God, loving their families and saluting the flag. He called them the silent majority. Like them, they valued accomplishment more than ideology. They wanted their government to do the decent thing, but not to bankrupt them in the process.

They wanted his protection in a dangerous world, but they also wanted creative statesmanship in achieving a genuine peace with honor. These were the people from whom he had come and who have come to Yorba Linda these past few days by the tens of thousands — no longer silent in their grief. The American people love a fighter. And in Dick Nixon, they found a gallant one.
I mean, is this real? Is that you, John Wayne? Has that new Red Centre of American Republicanism finally found its Jebus?

And then, in the quoting spirit, I chanced on this grab from a George Carlin sleeve:
We must view with profound respect the infinite capacity of the human mind to resist the introduction of useful knowledge. – TR Lounsbury
But by gosh, Hunter was right.

posted by rino breebaart  # 1:31 pm
Gee, I'd love to make a serious comment here, but my brain has just been fried but clicking on the "Stacked" Liddy link. I will now be unable to take anything seriously for the rest of the day.

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