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Parent Issue
Day
6
Month
January
Year
1975
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THE PALACE GUARD, by Dan Rather and Gary Paul Gates Harper & Row, S8.95 Dan Kather was always my tavonte White House correspondent back in the days before CBS promoted him to, predictably, a less visible position. I used to get my vicarious revenge on dirty Dick as I listened to Rather insert subtle put-downs into his nightly reports ("...all the King's liorses and all the King's men turned out to greet Nixon's arrival in Budapest today ..."). The Palace Guard, written with Gary Paul Gates, gives us Rather in print tor the first time, and the book reflects the Rather of those now defunct evening bulletins --careful reporting of all the facts, subtle and humorous put-downs, but no major revelations. Perhaps the Nixon gang has been the Eavorite topic of too many journalists for too long in order for there to be any revelations left, and the gang, the ghoulish groupies that Nixon installed as his own private audience of idolators in the White House, are the subject of this book. The overuse of the subject matter does not, however, mean that The Palace Guard is without it's strong points. The background stories on the main characters, for example, are thorough and telling. We find Haldeman, that anal-retentive adman from Los Angeles, stumbling out of a directionless, hungry adolescence to fall passionately in love with the young, red-baiting Nixon of the late 1940's. The book shows how that RïSl love became Haldeman 's "guiding light, his northern star through all the years ahead." And Erlichman, the smirking, sloppy real estáte lawyer from Seattle, always one to know a lucrative proposition when it carne his way, joining up with Nixon in 1960, at Haldeman's instigation, to do a little "casual spying" on the Rockefeller for President people. And Mitchell, a little bored with his Wall Street empire and eyeing the only step up left for one with all the wealth and prestige-the step into political prominence-playing the sympathetic listener and sage advisor to a disillusioned Nixon of 1963. The gang's all here, all right, unmasked by the authors for all time as the sychophantic manipulators andor hero-worshipping dogmatists they always were. And what else could they be. those who crept closest to and gave their darkest all for the likesof Richard Milhous Nixon? In what the authors refer to as a "major theme" of the book, The Palace Guard also shows how Nixon's boys successfully shifted all the power of governing to the executive branch, that is, into their own eager little hands. Haldeman and Erlichman shooing all the bothersome Congressmen away from the President's door ("put it in writing") and performing hatchet jobs on every half-way decent or competent Cabinet member, until they were surrounded by their own, hand-picked, eager-beaver patrol. The list of people they were responsible for ousting from the administration includes every politician who dared to differ from them or who held some of the power they coveted for themselves- Romney, Hickel, Volpe, Moynihan, Finch, Arthur Burns- all out of office, out of the way. Meanwhile, to Mitchell feil the task of subverting the judicial process, by refusing to enforce laws that the boys didn't like (such as school busing rulings from the Supreme Court), while at the same time prosecuting to the full extent of the law any political enemies of the White House. While posing as Mr. Law and Order, Mitchell in fact, the authors contend, had "a fundamental disregard for the law," seeing it "as something to be twisted or ignored, or, at times, even violated if there was a political edge to be gained." Keeping foreign affairs tucked securely away in his traveling bag was the sly Dr. Henry Strangelove. Not exactly an initiator of filthy tricks, he was more than willing to go along with the boys on wiretapping et. al. in order to hold down his piece of the action. After all, "power", he would ingenuously teil the world, "is the ultímate aphrodisiac." And not to be forgotten, back at the home base laying slippery doublespeak on the curious and obfuscating the issues with sleazy adman jargon, was what authors dub "an object of mirth and wonder", Ronald Ziegler. "Question: Was the decisión made to resume the B-52 bombings?" "Answer: I think I made it clear that when we were discussing the B-52 matter the decisión to delay flights of the B-52s for a period of 36 hours- that it related to the fact that the decisión, when it was made, related to a period of 36 hours, and there was not a decisión point after the decisión to delay the flights for 36 hours to again order the resumption." So much for the public's right to know. What struck me as the single, most dominant message of the book and about the crooked crew that sailed the ship of state from '68 to '73, was the fact that political expediency was their only real god. Rather and Gates show how virtually every major policy decisión made, every bilí or program proposed by Dicky and the boys was based solely on a calculation of what was most likely to solidify and prolong their power. In 1968, when Nixon had barely squeaked into the White House and was facing the formidable opposition of Teddy Kennedy, it was "bring us together," welfare reform, national health insurance. After Chappaquidick. with no real opponent to fear and the deep south to be wooed, it was "the politics of spite and vendetta," Agnew's spurious speeches and MitchelPs cops vamping every radical in the nation. When the Democrats won sweeping victories in the 1970 offyear elections, presto, another about face and Nixon gave us economie controls, detente with Russia and tea with Chairman Mao. The Nixon years, in short, with the policy changes madly careening from the politics of hate one day to the politics of love the next are evaluated in The Palace Guard as, simply, the politics of maintaining power. And that's what Nixon and "all the King's Krauts" were all about, and that's why, ultimately, they gave us Watergate. Conspicuous in their relative absence from this book are first, all women, and second, Nixon himself. That a sexist like Richard Nixon ishould have had no females of any significance on his staff is not surprising, considering his two ice cream cone daughters and his "yes, dear" little wife. What is a bit surprising,, however, is that Rather and Gates give no inkling of the family life of the men whose stories they teil, leaving this reader with the feeling that the picture was not quite complete. Maybe I'm biased, but I think one gets a true insight on the measure of any man by seeing his interaction with the woman he comes home to. Like Marge Piercey says, "watch who they beat and who they eat...the rest is decoration." Perhaps all the women who were bound up with these men were cut from the same mold as Pat Nixon, patiënt Griselda's waiting at home for their big, important hubbies (with the exception, of course, of Martha the Mouth). But one wonders, and it is regrettable that the authors left them out. Not so easy to explain is the absence of the ex-President himself from these pages. True, the book is about "the guard," not the mad king. And he does turn up nowand again, pacing the oval office under the careful guardianship of pokerface Haldeman, dreaming of how he will save the world, or conferring with Henry the K. But overall, it seems as though the authors are leery of laying a glove on Nixon, and when he is mentioned, they hasten to give him credit for "intelligence," continued on page 26 In what the authors refer to as "a major theme" of the book, "The Palace Guard" shows how Nixon's boys successfully shifted the power of governing to the executivebranch, into their own eager little hands. Palace Guard continued from page 22 "well-meaning," "global expertise,"' or some other such fol-de-rol. However great the authors' reluctance to besmudge the so-called "higliest office," however gunshy Rather may be from receiving criticism over his oiït -spoken ways in the past, the fact is that Nixon is the crux of it all. Nixon is the one who chose the palace guard, he is the one and only real forcé behind the scènes, and the book is weakened by its failure to confront the problem of tiiis shadow tïgure who looms, to this day, like some malevolent crone in the wings just off-stage. Thanks to Ford, he will nevel come to trial, and thanks to his oh-Mfortúnate phlebitis, he will never even testify- he'd die first. But the fact that jtc has managed to manipúlate himself into a protected position should make us all the more determined to bring him to justice in our words and books and hearts, dnd to lay the responsibility for the misery and tragedy of his years in office where it belongs -on his shoulders. Nixon is not just Watergate, after all, he is also the annihilation of the Black Panthers, the savage attacks on the free press, the bombing of ( 'ambodia, the persecution of members of the Communist Party, the political trials of countless radicáis and the dead students at Kent State, among other things. Rathei and (iates write that there are "people who will never forgive" Richard Nixon, and they're right, Nixon's the one, and nobody should forget it nor forgive it. You don 't forgive a dangerous madman you put him away where he can never hurt anyone again; him, his palace guard, and the sick mentalities they all sport. This is a good book, and important in shedding liglit on the men who made up the Nixon administration. But as you read it, remember the one who, even now, stands and waits.