Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ambrose's Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 4

For my blog post today about Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990, I'll quote something that Ambrose says on page 130:

"In his memoirs, Nixon wrote of the March 21 tape: 'I had not finally ordered any payments be made to defendants, and I had ruled out clemency.'  In fact, he had twelve times ordered Dean to get the blackmail money to Hunt, which was done the next morning."

Nixon's discussion of the March 21 meeting starts on page 312 of volume 2 of his memoirs.  In Nixon's account, he was seriously considering the possibility of getting money to E. Howard Hunt, whom he considered to be a time-bomb who could go after others in the Administration.

But, to be honest, I don't want to get into the nuances of Nixon's account versus what others say.  It would take a lot of time, and I'm just not interested enough in Watergate to devote that time.  But I still thought that what Ambrose said on page 130 was interesting because it's a good example of his approach: Ambrose tries to fact-check Nixon.  In my opinion,trying to get a handle on Nixon's side of the story is difficult, because, once it seems that there's a coherent narrative in terms of his account, Nixon says something that throws that narrative into a loop. 

Ambrose makes the point that Nixon was able to cherry-pick from what was on the tapes.  Nixon could find a place on the tapes where he said that a cover-up would be wrong.  Nixon could act outraged on the tapes over learning about something, when the tapes indicated that he learned about it before----sometimes not long before.  Ambrose says that Nixon does some acting on these tapes: Nixon remembered at times that he was being recorded, and so he spoke accordingly.  I'm not sure what to say about that.  Maybe Nixon did not remember things.  I mean, if he was trying to make himself look innocent on the tapes (or less culpable), wasn't that a futile endeavor, since there was enough material on the tapes that could damage him?  Or was Nixon trying to obscure matters by conveying the message that there was nuance----by tossing into his conversation here and there some reservations about trying to cover things up?

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