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Pat Buchanan's Majestic Memoir Of Nixon, Politics, and What Might Have Been

Pat Buchanan's Majestic Memoir Of Nixon, Politics, and What Might Have Been
Pat Buchanan (Kris Connor/Getty Images)

Sunday, 24 September 2017 12:59 PM Current | Bio | Archive

"From the day I had signed on [to work for the future Republican president] in December 1965," Pat Buchanan wrote, "I wanted Richard Nixon to become the president — that Ronald Reagan became. And I think Nixon did, too. For he carefully underlined my sentence [in a memo] about his losing the ‘historic opportunity…to become the political pivot on which America turned away from liberalism.’"

It was not to be, as the latest book by columnist and commentator Buchanan carefully delineates.

Richard Nixon was someone Buchanan admired deeply and served for more than eight years as speech-writer and adviser. More often than not, he was the lone advocate in the White House for conservatives and their causes — and they would be sorely disappointed.

Appropriately entitled "Nixon’s White House Wars," Buchanan’s book vividly recreates the turbulent politics of the Nixon presidency (1969-74). He also brings to life many of the political personalities around the 37th President who — at least through Buchanan’s pen — seem grander and far more intriguing than today’s counterparts.

With "White House Wars," Buchanan emerges as the lineal heir to fellow "insider" journalists Mark Sullivan, who’s six-volume "Our Times" succinctly captured the politics in the nation’s capital from 1900-25, and C.L. Sulzberger, who’s probative "A Long Row of Candles" offered unique insight into the international politics of 1934-54.

"While I had opposed some of his domestic policies and foreign initiatives, Nixon’s first term was undeniably one of extraordinary accomplishment," summarizes Buchanan, "Had he stepped down in January, 1973, Richard Nixon would be ranked as one of the great or near-great presidents."

Indeed, the 37th President brought the Vietnam War to an honorable end and brought U.S. troops home, ended the draft (which also brought to an end the anti-Vietnam War protests), put the government on the side of environmental protection, and quietly desegregated the remaining whites-only schools in the South without incident. Perhaps most significantly, he opened the door to Mao’s China for the U.S.

But as for repealing Lyndon Johnson’s big-spending Great Society domestic programs, deploying Nixon’s signature anti-Communist rhetoric against the Soviet Union through the Voice of America, or completely remaking the Supreme Court, it was not to be. This Buchanan blames on some major personnel choices that meant, in his words, "The chance to seize control of and redirect the government had passed us by. It would not come again."

He specifically singles out Henry Kissinger, national security advisor and later secretary of state, "who believed in a Metternich concept of peace and security through a calculated balance of power, was diluting the moral content of the East-West struggle to secularize and de-ideologize the Cold War."

Kissinger, a master of political gamesmanship and advisor to New York’s liberal Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, elbowed aside Dick Allen, Nixon’s foreign policy advisor in the campaign, to secure the National Security Council portfolio in 1969. Liberal Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had worked for John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, headed up the urban affairs desk in the Nixon White House.

As for conservatives, Stanford’s Martin Anderson, who would later be a key advisor to President Reagan and headed up domestic policy in the Nixon campaign, would leave the White House in a year. Alan Greenspan, research chief for Nixon’s campaign and future Federal Reserve Board chairman, "got no office that appealed to him," Buchanan noted.

A similar disregard for finding conservative personnel would have an impact on perhaps the most significant appointments Nixon could make: the Supreme Court.

Like most conservatives of his generation, Buchanan blamed the liberal majority on the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren for the social upheaval and what he called its "campaign to de-Christianize America" in the 1960’s."

Upon Warren’s retirement in 1969, he urged Nixon to immediately name the respected-but-aged conservative Justice John Marshall Harlan as chief justice ("interim Pope" was his term) and then find "the most brilliant appellate judge in the nation" to be associate justice. With Harlan 71 years old at the time, the move would also have given Nixon the opportunity to name two chief justices.

Of the four jurists Nixon did eventually name to the high court — Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist — only Rehnquist proved to be the strict constitutionalist and nemesis of Warren Court rulings that the President truly wanted.

Those "upon whom he relied to select, vet, and advance the most distinguished constitutionalists in the nation failed him [Nixon], Buchanan concludes, "and thus it was that the social and cultural revolution of the 1960’s prevailed."

If Buchanan had any close ideological friend in the Administration, it was Vice President Spiro Agnew. The two shared a passion for hard-ball politics and Buchanan was happy to write the vice president’s fighting speech taking on the left ("the nattering nabobs of negativism") or his celebrated 1969 attack on the liberal news media —"one of the most masterful forensic efforts in recent public discourse," in Theodore H. White’s words.

(But like just about everyone in the know in 1973, Buchanan concluded that the evidence of Agnew continuing as vice president to take kickbacks from contractors he had dealt with as governor of Maryland would force his resignation. Had "he left the practices of Annapolis back in Annapolis," wrote Buchanan, "Spiro Agnew would have been President of the United States").

Even those who don’t share the author’s conservatism but love history will find "White House Wars" a feast for its delicious — and heretofore unknown — historical vignettes. Among them are Buchanan’s February 1971 memorandum urging to Nixon to retire the aging FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover "as soon as possible — for his good, for our good, and the country’s good" (Nixon, while upset with Hoover for not moving on the investigation into Daniel Ellsberg’s leaks of the "Pentagon Papers," would not consider removing someone he considered a friend); his joining in a toast with other U.S. officials to aides to Soviet strongman Leonid Brezhnev summit declaring "F--- the KGB!" during the Moscow summit; and his repeated urgings to not only have Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox fired but to not replace him and to burn the tapes of White House conversations not under subpoena.

In what could be a primer for President Trump as he ponders present Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, Nixon did have Cox fired in the storied "Saturday Night Massacre." But then he soon appointed another special prosecutor (Leon Jaworski) and began giving up the tapes that would eventually be his undoing.

"Courage and hesitation," is how Buchanan characterized Nixon’s action, citing a phrase of author Allen Drury.

"Nixon’s White House Wars" is not only a fresh and lively look at history, but a reminder that, as Mark Twain put it, "history doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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"From the day I had signed on [to work for the future Republican president] in December 1965," Pat Buchanan wrote, "I wanted Richard Nixon to become the president - that Ronald Reagan became. And I think Nixon did, too. For he carefully underlined my sentence [in a memo]...
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Sunday, 24 September 2017 12:59 PM
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