Thursday, May 16, 2013

Very Strange Bedfellows 9

I finished Jules Witcover's Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.

The beginning of the book was good because it described what attracted Richard Nixon to Spiro Agnew.  That reminds me of Stephen King books, many Presidential administrations, or even a number of romantic relationships: you have a cheery and auspicious beginning, but you as an observer have a hunch (or maybe even know) that events will take a down-turn.  The middle of the book was all right.  It had technicalities that were important to the book's topic----such as the legal question of whether a Vice-President could be impeached like the President----but these technicalities didn't particularly interest me.  Moreover, Witcover tended to go over the same topics over and over, such as Nixon's love for John Connally, Spiro Agnew being a loose cannon, Nixon's desire to drop Agnew from the Vice-Presidency, Agnew's popularity, Nixon's insecurities, how Agnew didn't like Nixon communicating to him via an intermediary, and others.  I'm not saying that Witcover was being redundant, for Witcover was discussing different situations that illustrated these topics.  But, after a certain point, the topics started to bore me.

The book ended really strongly, however.  It talked about Agnew's struggles and projects after leaving the Vice-Presidency, and how Agnew was welcomed in Washington, D.C. when he later visited it.  Witcover also discusses the Vice-Presidency.  Agnew was Nixon's Vice-President but did not play a key role in advising President Nixon, plus Nixon did not feel that Agnew would be fit to replace him as President.  After Nixon, there were Presidents who chose experienced people as Vice-Presidents: Gerald Ford selected Nelson Rockefeller, Jimmy Carter picked Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan picked George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush had Dick Cheney (who was actually rumored to be the real guy in power).  But there was an exception: George H.W. Bush picked Dan Quayle.  And yet, Witcover notes, Bush I included Quayle in policy-deliberations more often than Nixon included Agnew.

I'll close this post with a story that I found particularly funny.  On page 360, Witcover narrates the following:

"My last personal encounter with Agnew came shortly afterward, when I spied him at a table with friends, later identified by him as some old Secret Service agents, at a restaurant in a downtown Washington hotel near the Post.  I walked over and, admittedly somewhat mischievously, proposed that I write another book telling his side of the resignation story.  In the book he subsequently wrote himself, he described his reaction: 'I burst out laughing every time I think of that incident.  After dipping his pen in poison to write two books about me, Witcover had the nerve to ask me to help him write another!'  I took that as a 'No.'" 

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