Picks and Pans Review: From: the President
05/01/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
edited by Bruce Oudes
Let those who insist that former President Richard Nixon was I not touched with a warm personal style read the memo he sent daughters Tricia and Julie on July 24, 1972: "It occurs to me that from time to time you may be asked for anecdotes....On a personal side, you might mention some of our Christmas parties where I played the piano for group singing, etc., always I by ear.... Another personal note that could be made is that when I come in to dinner at the White House—before dinner I will often make phone calls." The former President informs his daughters that he made these phone calls to "people who I may be sick, who have had hard luck like losing an election or not getting a promotion....These calls never, of course, are publicized because they are personal in nature." The memo is signed, "The President" (some job titles bear repeating).
This is only one of hundreds of examples in this book of the former President's awkwardness, pettiness and nastiness—all examples culled from his personal files. In 1974 he created a "Special File" of personal memoranda (clumsy attempts at Democrat bashing, press manipulation, as well as his wine preferences), which he regarded as sensitive. After a 14-year legal battle, Nixon recently agreed to release more than 3 million pages of that special file. The 640 pages distilled by Oudes, an ex-journalist, will no doubt gladden the hearts of those Nixonphobes who still fume when the only President to resign is spotted in a private box at a ball game. Even superficially banal entries can be provocative. This one stems from apparent wishful thinking about the pacifist leanings of 1972 presidential opponent George McGovern: "July 1, 1971. To: The President. From: Alexander P. Butterfield. Re: Sen. George McGovern's Military Record. We have checked the full military record of Senator George McGovern. According to Colson, there is nothing in the folder that would be of interest to us or to anyone else."
These memos are presented without historical context. Thus, one has to know who McGovern is—which leaves out many younger readers and a few who were old enough to vote in 1972. But this book still contains delicious nips of history: "April 6, 1970. To: Bob Haldeman. From: The President. I would like a quiet check made with regard to the chairs in the Cabinet Room, without saying anything to anybody else. I have a distinct feeling that these chairs, probably because of their style, are pretty uncomfortable. For one thing they do not leave enough leg room beneath the table.... I realize that they represent a substantial investment, but a lot of important decisions will be made around that table and...perhaps we ought to meet the problem immediately and have them quietly rebuilt.... I emphasize 'quietly' because we don't want to give the press a chance to have another 'police hat' incident." (When Nixon redesigned White House guard uniforms, the press compared them with Rumanian comic-opera uniforms.) Cabinet Room chairs: On such details, history turns. (Harper & Row, $22.95)