Brinkley and Nichter (The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972, 2014, etc.) conclude their project of publishing highlights from Richard Nixon’s infamous tapes with this volume from the last year of recording.
“They’ve killed me. Get rid of the old son of a bitch—people don’t want him anyway.” Thus spoke Nixon at the end of a bitter year, though it was better than the one that followed. “They” were the Washington press corps, the intelligentsia, the liberal establishment—everyone who stood in Nixon’s way, which, by 1973, was just about everyone. This volume finds Nixon often exulting publicly thanks to the emerging success of his rapprochement and trip to China, the winding down of the Vietnam War, and growing détente with the Soviet Union. Some of the most affecting conversations on these tapes take place between Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev and their interpreters, groping toward friendship. Yet, in the private moments the tapes record, Nixon is also constantly worried about his enemies and, more so, his friends: “Nixon’s greatest downfall,” write Brinkley and Nichter, “was his lack of trust in subordinates.” The unfolding Watergate hearings, which would find Nixon’s counsel John Dean folding before investigators and would result in the near-sacrificial firing of some of his closest aides, occupied much of Nixon’s time and attention, even as he chalked up real accomplishments. Brinkley and Nichter preserve Nixon at his best and worst. About the only serious criticism to bring against the enterprise is the simple wish that they had annotated more, since as the events recede, fewer readers will be able to immediately identify what Nixon means when he refers to the bombings of Haiphong and interventions in Cambodia. Even without extensive commentary, however, this volume is endlessly fascinating, constantly raising questions about what might have been—and sometimes proving Nixon right, especially on the matter of trust.
Essential for students of late-20th-century American history and the Nixon presidency.