By James Rosen at The National Interest…
â€œI DID not understand then, nor do I now, why we did what we did,â€ writes Patrick J. Buchanan towards the end of Nixonâ€™s White House Wars, the second of two volumes chronicling the decade he spent with the thirty-seventh president as a speechwriter, political adviser and confidant.
In this instance, Buchanan was referencing a tactical blunder committed during Watergate, the denouement of the Nixon presidency. But the authorâ€”a pugnacious visionary who believed conservatives could recast the electoral map by peeling off key constituencies of Franklin D. Rooseveltâ€™s New Deal coalitionâ€”could just as easily have been summarizing Richard Nixonâ€™s five and a half years in the Oval Office, which repeatedly found Buchanan baffled by the steady leftward drift of a president he knew to be instinctually conservative. â€œWhy we were doing this,â€ the author complains ninety-three pages earlier, about something else, â€œI did not know.â€
Time and again, as Nixon and his men deliberated the conduct of the Vietnam War and the threats posed by the radical Left, school desegregation and affirmative-action programs, Supreme Court nominations and Great Society funding, Buchanan struggled to understand why the Nixon he knew intimately from 1965 onward, the wily politician whose worldview aligned so squarely with the â€œSilent Majorityâ€ of Americansâ€”a phrase Buchanan himself had coinedâ€”had embraced the policy prescriptions of his political opponents.
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â€œWhy did the conservatives, who had so influenced the policy positions that Nixon had adopted during his comeback, fail to play a comparable role in the transition and the administration?â€ Buchanan asks. At one point, he even plaintively wonders whether the president and his key aidesâ€”principally, Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichmanâ€”entertained an â€œinherent suicidal tendency or death wish.â€
This lamentation, exposing the inner workings of the â€œtroubled marriageâ€ between Richard Nixon and conservatism and drawing on a thousand memoranda Buchanan exchanged with the president, many previously unpublished, provides the chief value of Buchananâ€™s book. Witty and well documented, rich with insights into Nixon, the nation and a cast of colorful charactersâ€”from Henry Kissinger to Hunter S. Thompson, Ronald Reagan to Coretta Scott Kingâ€”White House Wars succeeds simultaneously as history and autobiography, polemic and portraiture, elegy and entertainment. In this and the first installment of his Nixon memoirs, The Greatest Comeback, which chronicled Nixonâ€™s wilderness years and capturing of the presidency in 1968, Buchanan has made an indispensable contribution to the literature of Cold War America.
BUCHANANâ€™S CONFLICT endures to this day. His dismay over Nixonâ€™s liberal domestic policy is tempered by a reflexive impulse to defend the man, both because he had all the right enemiesâ€”virtually all of academia, the news media, and the civil- and foreign-service bureaucraciesâ€”and because Nixon was subjected, across three decades on the national stage, to an unrelenting double standard. (Case in point: the same New York Times that in 1962 denounced publication of Cuban Missile Crisis secrets, to preserve â€œthe integrity of the National Security Council,â€ could, by 1971, when Nixon and Kissinger were running the NSC, spend three months grooming the Pentagon Papers for publication.) Thus, Buchanan today can praise Nixonâ€™s â€œwillingness to set aside political differences and past battles and cross party lines to select the best to serve the nationâ€ while deploring the fact that â€œthere was not an ideological conservative among Nixonâ€™s West Wing assistants or Cabinet officers.â€
The nadir of Buchananâ€™s disaffection was Nixonâ€™s historic trip to China in February 1972. Traveling on Air Force One back from Shanghai, Buchanan read the communiquÃ© drafted, on the U.S. side, by Kissinger, and instantly became â€œangry, disgusted, and ashamed.â€ â€œI was ill,â€ he writes, over the â€œsellout of Taiwan.â€ There in the aisle a shouting match ensued. â€œBullshit!â€ Buchanan screamed at the national security adviser…
Read much more at: The National Interest…