Who was Richard Nixon? The most amazing thing about the man was not what he did as president, but that he became president. In President Nixon, Richard Reeves has used thousands of new interviews and recently discovered or declassified documents and tapes -- including Nixon's tortured memos to himself and unpublished sections of H. R. Haldeman's diaries -- to offer a nuanced and surprising portrait of the brilliant and contradictory man alone in the White House.
President Nixon is a startling narrative of a desperately introverted man who dreamed of becoming the architect of his times. Late at night, he sat upstairs in the White House writing notes to himself on his yellow pads, struggling to define himself and his goals: "Compassionate, Bold, New, Courageous . . . Zest for the job (not lonely but awesome). Goals -- reorganized govt . . . Each day a chance to do something memorable for someone. Need to be good to do good . . . Need for joy, serenity, confidence, inspiration."
But downstairs he was building a house of deception. He could trust no one because in his isolation he thought other people were like him. He governed by secret orders and false records, memorizing scripts for public appearances and even for one-on-one meetings with his own staff and cabinet. His principal assistants, Haldeman and Henry Kissinger, spied on him as he spied on them, while cabinet members, generals, and admirals spied on all of them -- rifling briefcases and desks, tapping each other's phones in a house where no one knew what was true anymore.
Nixon's first aim was to restore order in an America at war with itself over Vietnam. But in fact he prolonged the fighting there, lying systematically about what was happening both in the field and in the peace negotiations. He startled the world by going to communist China and seeking détente with the Soviet Union -- and then secretly persuaded Mao and Brezhnev to lie for him to protect petty White House secrets. Still, he was a man of vision, imagining a new world order, trying to stall the deadly race war he believed was inevitable between the West, including Russia, and Asia, led by China and Japan. At home, he promised welfare reform, revenue sharing, drug programs, and environmental protection, and he presided, reluctantly, over the desegregation of public schools -- all the while declaring that domestic governance was just building outhouses in Peoria.
Reeves shows a presidency doomed from the start. It begins with Nixon and Kissinger using the CIA to cover up a 1969 murder by American soldiers in Vietnam that led to the theft and publication of the Pentagon Papers, then to secret counterintelligence units in the White House and finally to the burglaries and cover-up that came to be known as Watergate.
Richard Reeves's President Nixon will stand as the authoritative account of Nixon in the White House. It is an astonishing story.
"Reeves [is] a researcher of high standards and a writer whose paragraphs can read like delicacies. . . . It's hard to think of a better introduction to [Nixon] and his presidency." Rick Perlstein, The New York Times Book Review
"Reeves has once again succeeded in making a presidency come alive. . . . [Reeves captures] Nixon's brooding and lonely personality as well as his subtle mind. With a wealth of color about key days and decisions, the book shows what it is really like to be president." Walter Isaacson, Author of Kissinger: A Biography
"A wealth of information that makes the absolute convincing case that Nixon was not just alone but isolated, walled off, and even lonely. May we never again have a president so cut off from the rest of humanity. It is a haunting story that no reader will ever forget." Bob Woodward, Author of Maestro
"[Reeves places] the reader inside the lonely world of President Nixon, day after day, like no one has before. . . . There are hundreds of surprises here for even the most obsessed Nixon watchers." David Maraniss, Author of When Pride Still Mattered
Richard Reeves stopped writing his syndicated column at the end of 2014 after 35 years in more than 160 newspapers and websites.
LOS ANGELES — In the final months of any presidency, the men and women serving in the administration are ready to leave and move on with their lives. That was true of Harold Tyler, a New York lawyer who was the deputy attorney general for civil rights as the Eisenhower administration was winding down in 1960. But he had to find his own replacement, not an easy job because few lawyers were eager to leave their practices and lives to serve a few months in Washington.
LOS ANGELES — "Democrats Worry Obama Is Helping Their Rivals" was the headline over an article last Friday in the Los Angeles Times. I think that was the one thousandth piece I have read in the last couple of months saying that the president has low approval ratings and will hurt Democratic candidates in November's Senate and House elections.
LOS ANGELES — "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest of these are, 'It might have been.'" So said John Greenleaf Whittier more than a hundred years ago.
LOS ANGELES — I could be mad at Vice President Joe Biden, who has been here for two days and tied up traffic for miles at a time. But it's hard. He's just too nice a guy, even if he talks too much — and worse, these days, tells the truth.
It is something of a cliche to quote George Santayana one more time, saying, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But for folks of my age, ignorant repetition has been a constant in our lives. And, of course, it is happening again right now.
WASHINGTON — I woke up last Thursday morning to learn that my FedEx man does not work for FedEx. Voices on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" informed me that although FedEx controls just about every minute of its drivers' days, the corporation regards them as "independent contractors." Thus, no benefits — they even have to pay for their own uniforms — and the workers can be kicked out anytime FedEx feels like it.
LOS ANGELES — Welcome to Presidency 101. What would you do if you were "the most powerful person in the world" and:
WASHINGTON — Hooray! Hooray! The wicked Congress has gone home. So to speak, since most of the members actually live right here in the capital city and environs.
LOS ANGELES — We have lived for decades, even centuries, with the economic faith that a rising tide lifts all boats. But what if it doesn't? What happens then, economically and politically?
LOS ANGELES — Last Monday, a chartered flight took 38 mothers and children, who had been held in a detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to San Pedro Sula in Honduras. That's a tough town of drug dealers, violence and children soldiers, sometimes called "The Murder Capital of the World."
LOS ANGELES — This is a column about "Big Data" and a new way to predict the results of presidential elections for the next 20 years.
CHICAGO — I have never been much of a fan of the journalistic self-examination practiced by folks identified as "ombudsman" or "public editor." I changed my mind last Sunday, and I'll get to that in a minute.
LOS ANGELES — The most fascinating of the many theories about the fall of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary earlier this month has to do with the redistricting after the 2010 Census. He was supposed to be helped by having very politically conservative New Kent County added to the 7th Congressional District in place of more liberal precincts in the Richmond area. But the voters of New Kent, a 75 percent Republican stronghold, voted against Cantor by almost 2-to-1.
LOS ANGELES — Taking a couple of shots at President Obama over the latest round of war in Iraq, House Speaker John Boehner said last week: "This has been building for weeks."
LOS ANGELES — If today's Republican Party had been around during the Civil War, it would have tried to stop its own president, a fellow named Lincoln, from appointing Gen. Ulysses S. Grant commander of the Union Army because he drank on duty — quite a lot, apparently. And if the president was a Democrat, say Thomas Jefferson, the Republicans would be calling for hearings to find out the "real" reason he was sending Lewis and Clark into the wilderness to learn what was out there between the Mississippi and the Pacific.
LOS ANGELES — "This is the beginning of taking America back," said Shawna Cox, who had come from Kanab, Utah, one of hundreds of "patriots" supporting Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has refused to pay a million dollars in grazing fees to the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 85 percent of the dusty land of that state. That makes him a hero to folks like Cox, who have traveled hundreds and thousands of miles, toting their guns, to drive off U.S. Park Rangers trying to drive his cattle off federal land.
LOS ANGELES — Last Thursday was an interesting news day around here — and one that highlighted the importance of local reporting as newspapers fade away across the country.
NEW YORK — When the Constitution of the first modern democracy, the United States of America, was written, only about 10 percent of the population of the 13 states was granted the right to vote: white men who owned property.
LOS ANGELES — Sad to say, the most telling commentary on world affairs these days seems to come from comedians. The latest is Jimmy Fallon, the new "Tonight Show" host, who responded to Secretary of State John Kerry's reaction to the news that Russian soldiers were moving into Crimea:
DALLAS — Greg Abbott, a former judge and three-term attorney general of the great state of Texas, is expected to be the state's next governor. His official biography puts him on the side of God, the American way and children of all ages:
DALLAS — A few months ago, I agreed to talk at a program at the Sixth Floor Museum here, the building once called the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald waited, on the sixth floor, with a rifle for the motorcade that carried President John F. Kennedy to Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963.
LOS ANGELES — Immigration is something like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but not many people really want to do anything about it.
LOS ANGELES — I took my J448 students — that's "Government and Public Affairs Reporting" at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California — to a local Democratic club last Sunday. I wanted them to see and meet the new mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, and one of the most effective elected officials of his generation, Congressman Henry Waxman.
LOS ANGELES — I was surprised to see two long stories in last Thursday's New York Times about the same subject: cheating.
LOS ANGELES — I grew up in Jersey — Jersey City. I don't remember being west of the Delaware River until I was in college. I thought the United States was an Italian country governed by the Irish.
LOS ANGELES — It is refreshing for me to find myself in agreement with "mainstream" Republicans, beginning with House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan. I think.
LOS ANGELES — There was a cigarette commercial in the early 1960s that went, "I'm smoking more and enjoying it less." The president at the time, John F. Kennedy, going through a rough patch, was asked how he felt about one negative story after another in the nation's press. "Well," he said, "I'm reading more and enjoying it less."
LOS ANGELES — The news of the day Friday included a dispatch from Saudi Arabia reporting that 11 people were killed by drone-fired missiles in a remote corner of Yemen. The story added that five days before, three men were killed in a drone attack in another part of the country.
The International Herald Tribune is gone after more than 125 years as the American paper in France and then all over the world. Two months ago, it was renamed The International New York Times. That's a bit sad for someone like me who began at the New York Herald Tribune before it folded in 1966. Luckily, I was picked up by The Times, so my loyalties are split.
NEW YORK — Twenty-five years ago, I asked Charles Bartlett, a syndicated columnist, about his old and close friend John F. Kennedy. I have seen his answer published and broadcast dozens of times these past weeks as the nation marks the anniversary of the assassination of our 35th president.