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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

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Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power - Robert Dallek

Caveats: I was in third grade when Richard Nixon died and remember that my class got to go to the school library to watch a video I interpreted as being mainly about his Cocker Spaniel, Checkers.* Other than seeing the movie Dick starring teenage Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst** when I was in high-school, it's safe to say that my knowledge of our 37th president remained pretty limited. As a result, reading Partners in Power, at times, felt like seeing the "behind the music" for a band I never knew. However, with some careful cross-referencing and good ol' Google by my side, I was able to enjoy the incredible, in-depth view Robert Dallek provides of Nixon, Kissenger and their time together in the White House.

Not that it was really on the table, but after reading this book I am more sure than ever that I do not want to be President. I also think it's a position that was pretty ill-suited to meet Richard Nixon's need not only to rise to a position of power but to be validated by others once there. I don't have the sort of knee-jerk desire to boo and hiss at the mention of Nixon that I might had I lived through his administration. That's not to say that he comes off as particularly likable. Nixon's "cultural anti-Semitism," and persistent beliefs that he was being persecuted by the liberal, intellectual, Northeastern elite are attributes I find beyond unappealing (I, personally, want people who know more about stuff than I do to make decisions about said "stuff"). He certainly displays little tact in describing his reticence to let Kissinger take part in early decisions regarding the Middle East.

His [Kissinger's] people were crucified over there. Jesus Christ! Five- six million of them popped into big ovens!

Kissinger is certainly not always a charismatic character, but his more off-putting attributes at least seem to be more justified.

Kissinger took refuge in his intellectual superiority... Intellectual arrogance born of Kissinger's uncommon brainpower partly explains his capacity to overcome his own weakness and ward off attacks from hostile critics.

Nixon's overwhelming need to receive credit for foreign policy while he was in office is persistent throughout his rise and fall and underlies much of his conflict with Kissinger. Kissinger describes this as "the monomaniacal obsession of the Nixon White House with public relations" (p.329). Indeed, at times the need for positive PR in combination with a free press (which I am totallyfor by the way) could seem almost like unfair disadvantages when dealing with Communist regimes "unencumbered" by consequences of public reaction. (Again, I'm big into free speech, but I see how having a reactive audience could make it hard to play poker...)

This book was slow but fascinating reading for me due to my lack of familiarity with the times. I certainly don't fault Dallek for this. This book would have been unwieldy and epic if he had tried to fully delve into the world events addressed by the eponymous dynamic duo. As Kissinger described, there is something timeless and tragic about the arc of Nixon's story knowing from the beginning how he will meet his end:

"It was like one of those Greek things where a man is told his fate," Henry told Hugh Sidey, "and fulfills it anyway, knowing exactly what is going to happen to him."

Turns out it wasn't all puppies and rainbows in the Nixon White House. However, there was definitely one task that Kissinger and any presidential dog-walker have in common... (I'll leave that one up to you to figure out)

* My presidential pet obsession was kind of a thing- I received an 8x10 glossy photo of the Bush's English Springer Spaniel puppies from the Office of the President after I was devastated to learn that "Mrs. Bush was out walking them" when I asked to meet Millie and her brood while touring the White House on a family vacation.

** Especially exciting as the two leading ladies became presidential dog-walkers (pretty much my dream job at the time)