The author will surely think it appropriate, perhaps inevitable, that I review this book, for it tells, at around the average level of truth, that I both started Richard Nixon on his public career and helped bring his career to an end.
The beginning was in January of 1942 when he was brought into the Office of Price Administration to work on rubber and tire rationing, tasks then under my direction. (The management of price control and rationing were shortly afterward separated, to the benefit of both.) However, in line with a notable Nixon tradition, I must plead that I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t meet Mr. Nixon either then or later. He tells here that he had earlier tried for the FBI but was turned down not on grounds of character but because of an appropriations cut. So once, under Hoover, the FBI had its appropriations cut.
My contribution to ending Mr. Nixon’s career was in the mid-Sixties when the Kennedy Library asked me for my papers. On leaving OPA, the State and War departments, and from being an ambassador, I did not think to take my official papers, which I supposed belonged to the government and, in any case, were rather bulky. (I’ve since had to go to the Federal Archives on occasion to look things up.) I did send to the Kennedy Library manuscripts of The Affluent Society, The Great Crash, other folk classics, a mass of personal correspondence, and, by accident, our canceled checks, bank statements, marriage license, my naturalization certificate, and our old income tax returns. Taking a tax deduction on old tax returns would have been a major break-through in sophisticated tax avoidance. However, Dave Powers sent these, the checks, and the other detritus back.
On the manuscripts and correspondence, including that with JFK, his wife, Adlai Stevenson, Harriman, Schlesinger, numerous editors, economists, and literary types, Nathan Marsh Pusey, and various government loyalty boards, they allowed me, as it then seemed, a stunning $4,500. This, Mr. Nixon here says, encouraged him to take a deduction of $576,000 on his more official papers, with endlessly damaging results, made worse because the deduction had ceased to be legal and the gift was backdated without his knowledge. He also blames Lyndon Johnson, George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, and others for putting him on this downward path.
I tell the foregoing partly for my own pleasure but also because it reflects a central theme of this book. Mr. Nixon never did anything wrong unless someone else had done something like it first. And all evil disappears if it has a precedent.
As committee work goes, this book is not badly written. And, as in the matter just cited, it bears the undoubted imprint, for better or worse, of Mr. Nixon’s personality. This personality is certainly not without interest. He is imaginative and resourceful, and, if one is to believe in democracy, one must find some qualities to explain and justify his twice serving as vice…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.