The Making of the President
Us and Them: How the Press Covered the 1972 Election
Campaign ‘72: The Managers Speak
The Boys on the Bus
Right From the Start
The Long Shot: George McGovern Runs for President
The “Whitiad,” now into its second decade, gets worse stanza by stanza. The race this time is between Professor McGovern (“the underthrust of his learning could carry his conversation to the uplands of history”) and Old Pro Nixon (“then his mind locked into tight reasoning”). The author seems to mistake them, in mid-interview, for Plato and Aristotle. Most people did not catch on to White until his 1968 volume. It was one thing to attend the enthronement in 1960 and describe at length the Emperor’s nonexistent coronation robes. People wanted to be fooled by Kennedy, and White was just the first in a long line of celebrants (Schlesinger, Sorensen, Salinger, just to dip into one part of the alphabet). But not even Nixon’s voters considered him majestic. When White managed to squeeze out a modicum of awe for this President, he blew his act.
There was no excuse for not seeing through him earlier. Murray Kempton described his method in a long review of the first volume, mocking the pretense that John F. Kennedy was a learned sage. White, he argued, must work to a “rule that there is something improper about disliking a politician.” He spent the campaign “reeling before the limitless endowments” of each aide he came across. But Kempton knew why the White tactic worked in 1960: “The Democratic Party is the opiate of the literate.” Somehow it seemed more decent to burble over Kennedy’s campaign wizards than to tell us about Ehrlichman’s humane skills or Haldeman’s genius for detail. (Ehrlichman, to paraphrase Kempton, is as humane as the next man—the next man, in this case, being sometimes Colson and sometimes Hunt.) The dingiest sorts of things just dazzle White: “What was interesting about Richard Nixon was the education life had given him—an education as engrossing as the Education of Henry Adams.” (Adams’s point was that life had not given him an education—much less an Education.)
Mr. White has been given something of a free ride on sympathy this time, since Watergate was undoing the great mandate he felt called to solemnize. The sympathy is misplaced. Watergate saved White from disaster. If Nixon comes off well even in the revised and Watergated version of this book, what would we have read if White were not forced to hedge a bit? It would have been the Second Coming.
Despite the chapter on Watergate, White conducts his old civics lessons without having learned a thing. In a set piece on campaign financing, he can say—after ITT and the dairy funds—that “only at a local level, of state and municipal politics, is hard money delivered for purchased favors.” He nags at the press for not taking Nixon’s “New Revolution” seriously, and misses the more important point, that Nixon did not take it seriously. White almost guesses at a news item that broke after his book was set—he imagines what “a wholly imaginary enemies list” would look like …
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