Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever by Patrick J. Buchanan
NIXON’S WHITE HOUSE WARS documents, in great detail, the battles among top White House staff—especially the struggles for conservative causes. The author, Patrick J. Buchanan, kept detailed records and his correspondence with the president and other top officials. Richard Nixon “asked for and welcomed my missives. It became our primary means of conversation. Over the Nixon White House years, I would send him a thousand.”
This book is designed specifically for political junkies who really like all the nitty-gritty details about the Nixon presidency. If you are fascinated by reading detailed memoranda arguing for or against certain political causes, you will likely enjoy this book. I generally skipped over the memos.
It’s easy to see how the author came to such a high position at such a young age (barely 30!). Buchanan writes well, and argues fervently for his conservative beliefs. Coming into the White House, the author had high hopes that Nixon would advance true conservative causes. He soon discovered, however, that Nixon was not nearly as dedicated as Buchanan. The author laments Nixon seemingly embracing “Great Society” extensions in the tradition of LBJ. Right after Nixon took office,
“My fears that this was not going to be the conservative administration I had envisioned during my three years with Nixon were confirmed.“
If you read nothing else, don’t miss the chapter on Nixon’s historic visit to China. I thought this chapter was the most interesting part of the book; it also shows the author’s dismay with the administration’s lukewarm embrace of conservative principles.
After the visit to China, for example, the author is disgusted at what he saw as a complete sell-out of our Taiwan friends. On the flight back, Buchanan stands up to Henry Kissinger, who negotiated the “Shanghai Communique.” Kissinger asked Pat what was wrong with the document, and tried to defend it. Buchanan would have none of it:
“Though sitting in a window seat , I stood up, leaned over, put my face about eighteen inches from his, and shouted, “Bullshit!”
The latter part of the book covers the whole Watergate mess—all the way from the first reports of a break-in, to Nixon’s resignation. I did not know that Buchanan had actually testified about his peripheral role in Watergate. Similarly, I had no idea that the author’s brother had been falsely accused of money laundering during that same time period. (Cronkite’s network had to issue an apology.)
The author includes the transcript of a light-hearted testimony before Senator Sam Ervin. The author also includes voluminous copies of memoranda sent to the president. Perhaps the most interesting was the one recommending that Nixon burn the tapes.
This book is quite serious, as is the author. There are a few lighthearted moments, however. In China, Buchanan describes the drinking bouts:
“One problem we all had that night was the drinking. The mao-tai the Chinese served for toasts— I still have four bottles—tasted as one imagines gasoline might taste. It was awful. The only thing that made it tolerable was that the more we consumed the more we began to ignore the taste.”
Another funny moment describes the author and Henry Kissinger poolside:
“Henry, wearing his bathing suit and working on a tan, repaired to his chaise, beside which lay papers and files. As we talked, he bemoaned the fact that though he was national security adviser to the most powerful man on earth and had secret papers lying all about him, no beautiful women had tried to seduce him.”
So all in all, I found NIXON’S WHITE HOUSE WARS to be an interesting book, documenting one of the most turbulent political periods in recent times. I liked seeing the author’s perspective on the Nixon years—especially the visit to China. Prior to reading this book, I did not realize how controversial this trip was, and how it angered the conservatives in the White House. The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking, “Buchanan was barely 30?”
Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.