Watergate is an immensely complicated scandal with a cast of characters as varied as a Tolstoy novel.
Trading arms for hostages in the Iran Contra Affair or starting an illegal war in Iraq are events we would expect to take influential people down, and yet amazing enough, it seems to usually be something insignificant like the stained dress of an intern, tax evasion, or a third rate burglary that brings powerful people to their knees.
I was 5 years old when the Watergate break-in occurred, but as I got older I would occasionally hear my Dad talk about "Tricky Dick." A life long Republican, except for a brief flirtation with JFK, Dad never liked Nixon, but voted for him twice over "those damn liberals."
Nixon squeaks out the 1968 election against Hubert Humphrey, saved the embarrassment of losing to another Kennedy when Bobby is assassinated in California (my Dad admits he would have voted for Bobby.) In the 1972 polling, Nixon was well ahead of his challenger, George McGovern, which makes the amateurish attempt to bug the phones at the DNC all the more tragic/self-destructive/self-fulfilling.
When I opened this book the first thing I noticed was a four page list of "The Players". I didn't give it much thought until I jumped into the first few pages of the book and found myself flipping back to the list to refresh my memory which kept me from living on Wikipedia. In the beginning I was discombobulated, overwhelmed with what felt like shotgun blasts of characters. Mallon chooses to open with Fred LaRue, an important but lesser known character in the Watergate scandal, which made me feel very insecure with my grasp of Watergate history. Fred LaRue
Right off the bat I'm thinking who in the Sam Hill is this guy. I had to take a shuddering breath, pour myself another cup of strong coffee and leap back into my 1970s destination time machine. Mallon takes us into the thoughts and actions of the characters, revealing crucial dialogue. Who said what and when they said it becomes an important timeline in the prosecution of the Watergate participants. He teases the reader with a cryptic white envelope with MOOT written on the outside, with questions of why was Howard Hunt in Dallas when Kennedy was assassinated, and Pat Nixon's ongoing affair (WHAT?).
I especially liked the time that Mallon allowed me to spend with Pat Nixon and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Absolutely, to me, the best and most fascinating sections of the book. Alice, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, had an ongoing relationship with the Nixons and was treated as a political oracle by members of both parties. She was fond of Richard Nixon because she saw a lot of herself in him. She'd come to the house that night because of the look on his face--the creased, naked expression on this darkest of dark horses, this misanthrope in a flesh-presser's profession, able to succeed from cunning and a talent for denying reality at close range. She didn't share his general dinginess: she smiled in delight, however viciously, whereas he smiled only in a kind of animal desperation. But she shared the darkness beneath and the capacity for denial; she could sometimes change or negate reality just with her contempt for it."
Mallon is able to use Alice to reveal more of the gossipy parts of the time period. Who is sleeping with whom, how people are tied together, and apply her withering, witty remarks to better define some of the players. Someone talks to her about being out of money. She says she was poor once. They asked her what did she do? She replied I did a Lucky Strike advertisement. Of course, I had to track down the ad, shown below.
Pat Nixon in a moment of exasperation with Richard about his enemies list that became so public during the Watergate investigation summed up her husband's sick perversion to hate and be hated. "I would have made an enemies list twice as long as yours and Colson's, and I would have done something to get the people on it. Anything to be rid of them forever--the way I thought they were gone from our lives after '60, and then '62, and then--surely!--at this time last year. I hate your enemies, but you love them. You love their existence; they're what gives you your own. That's why I'm sick with anger at you: for bringing us to the top of this awful mountain. We're never going to get back down without being devoured!"
Wow Pat, gees... you can whip the guy all you want, but he'll just giggle and ask for more.
I loved this book. I lived and breathed Watergate for the 24 hours it took me to devour this book. I expanded my knowledge and understanding about Watergate by leaps and bounds. This is not a sympathetic portrayal nor does it harshly tear people down. It is just an honest, even handed account of the scandal and the personalities involved. Nixon was epically paranoid, moody, and tended to surround himself with people that reflected his own twisted world views. He had no compunction about breaking the law or ruining careers to keep himself safely in power. He was no more corrupt than the average president, in my humble assessment. His biggest flaw was that people just really didn't like him, and in return he really didn't like people very much either. When the time came for judgement, he found few friends offering a helping hand. Amazing to me that this man could have such a long career in politics. When he says, so historically, "I'm not a crook,"
I believe he was trying to convince himself of that fact more than he was the American people.
Nixon was a tragic character who would certainly have provided good fodder for the English Bard Shakespeare. Howard Hunt looking SHADY.
I'm off to see if I can figure out what the heck Howard Hunt, a man who loathed John F. Kennedy, was doing in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963.