Saturday, July 14, 2007

Politics in Sunday's WaPo Book Section, with reviewed books on Nixon, Clinton & Cheney

There are reviews of books on three major political figures in this Sunday's Washington Post Book World. The most interesting is the least conventional: THE CONVICTION OF RICHARD NIXON: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews, by James Reston Jr., reviewed by Matthew Dallek. Dallek writes:

In 1976, former President Richard Nixon made an arrangement with the British celebrity David Frost: Frost would interview Nixon for more than 20 hours on camera and pay him $1 million. Nixon would make money, possibly build a reputation as a statesman and remind the American people of his presidential achievements. The stakes were just as high for Frost, who wanted to prove himself as a serious interviewer and burnish his celebrity credentials.

James Reston Jr. was teaching creative writing at the University of North Carolina when he was asked to join Frost's team as a Watergate adviser. Reston... viewed Nixon as a contemptible figure who, despite his 1974 resignation, "remained . . . uncontrite and unconvicted."

The Conviction of Richard Nixon is Reston's chronicle of his involvement in Frost's efforts to wrest an apology and an admission of wrongdoing from Nixon on national television. Written in 1977, the book was not published until this year. The unfinished manuscript helped inspire Peter Morgan's award-winning Broadway play, "Frost/Nixon."

Reston's memoir is a compact and gripping behind-the-scenes narrative focused on Frost's struggles to prepare for his encounter with the formidable Nixon. Reston captures Nixon's inner turmoil and myriad moods during the tapings. Nixon wiped his brow, touched his eye, and "his jawline seemed to elongate." He told anecdotes about lessons learned in politics that skated unevenly around Frost's questions. Vindictive and bewildered, angered and bemused, Nixon came across as an angst-ridden ex-president. Reston's portrait of Frost suggests an uninformed show business personality, who Reston initially felt was too lazy to confront a politician of Nixon's caliber.

Reston also conveys his own sense of himself as a partisan eager to impeach the president....

Above all, the book sheds important light on Nixon's failure to rehabilitate his reputation after his 1974 resignation. In the course of his research, Reston discovered undisclosed transcripts of conversations between Nixon and Charles Colson -- one of the Watergate conspirators -- that revealed Nixon's role in the coverup. Frost asked Nixon why he told Colson that "the President's losses got to be cut" and why he ordered his aides to "turn over any cash we got" to buy the Watergate burglars' silence. At another point, Frost tossed his clipboard onto the coffee table and asked whether Nixon was ready to admit his "wrongdoing," acknowledge that "the power of the presidency [had been] abused" and "apologize" to the American people for having dragged them "through two years of agony."

Under this barrage, Nixon finally was forced to admit that he had skirted the law, participated in a coverup, misled the country and "let the American people down." "For all those things" he said he felt "a very deep regret."
Continue reading this excellent review here.

Other works reviewed:

For a review of CHENEY: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful And Controversial Vice President, by Stephen F. Hayes, the sub-headline is: "A journalist attempts to plumb the depths of our secretive vice president." But the point of Karen DeYoung's review is that the author fails to do just that.

Bryan Burrough finds BILL CLINTON: Mastering the Presidency by Nigel Hamilton, on Clinton's first term, a "minor contribution to the Clinton canon," and unfortunately spends a paragraph of the review sharing his personal Clinton fatigue and reluctance to read the book. So pass on the review to someone else, who might come to the same conclusion in a more worthwhile review.

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