When we last left the John Deans, little Mo Dean was sorting out silk blouses and her book’s royalty cheques while hubby John was doing light housekeeping (dusting, no floors) at Fort Holabird prison. Just a simple American couple making the best of what nature—theirs and their country’s—could provide. Mrs. Dean, readers will recall, gave us her view of political corruption in Mo: A Woman ’s View Of Watergate (1975) which explained the moral decay of the Nixon administration in terms of Ambassador Walter Annenberg’s eagerness to pinch her bottom and the simply dreadful outfits Nixonites wore. Now, with four months and four days of prison behind him, ex-Presidential counsel John Wesley Dean III has come out with his own version of what shredding and stonewalling in Washington was all about. His book Blind Ambition, though a riveting read and much more to the point than his wife’s account, is unlikely to cause any icy moments in their breakfast nook. When it comes to intellectual and moral myopia, husband and wife are ideally matched.
Dean examines his three-year stint aslegal counsel to President Nixon and details his own role in formulating the Watergate ethic. He was no subordinate, content
merely to borrow the swagger stick. Though Dean’s attempt to expand and control domestic intelligence failed, his suggestion that Nixon should start keeping a list “on lots of people who are emerging as less than our friends” took hold nicely. He vetoed setting fire to the Brookings Institution, but did wangle the institution’s tax records from IRS. Burlesques fill the book; Dean and assistant Fred Fielding putting on filched surgical rubber gloves to examine the contents of Howard Hunt’s safe; President Nixon carefully placing his feet on his desk in order to leave historical heelmarks only to discover an enthusiastic General Services Administration carefully sanding them off; H. R. (Bob) Haldeman reigning over his Tickler, a bureaucratic monster of go-fers and memos monitoring staff and demanding “action.” It was Harvard Business School with real bullets.
But such power for such petty ends. The mighty forces of U.S. Federal Agencies drawn up by the White House to conceal a corner-store burglary! What Dean’s inside account confirms is that the final insult of the Nixon injury—whatever the media puff and hype—remains the Mickey Mouse scope of its wickedness. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean and Nixon turn out to be little grey men with the ambitions of small-time private eyes promulgating intricate plans to harass Scanlan’s Monthly or steal the psychiatric records of a Daniel Ellsberg. No grand political design this, no blueprint for a new America, even of the wrong kind. Indeed, no one in the book ever mentions a single political idea.
As for Dean himself, well, he still clings to the soothing thought that it was all somebody else’s fault. Though mea culpas punctuate his book, Dean evidently believes that the environment of political ambitions is responsible for criminal activities rather than a person’s own morality. Writing on the Republican National Convention in Rolling Stone last month, Dean put it more clearly: “I saw this young fella who works in the White House. I spotted his lapel pin—they all wear them. He looked about 32, the safe Brooks Brothers look ... me five years ago. 1 knew exactly what he was doing, and what he was thinking ... I wanted to tell him it’s all bullshit..Like Mo Dean, her husband also reduces Watergate to a question of wardrobe. But saints can wear button-down shirts. It wasn’t the Brooks Brothers suits, Mr. Dean, but the men inside who made Watergate possible. BARBARA AMIEL
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