The World

The Nixon Memoirs, or: And The Villain Still Pursues Us

Walter Stewart May 15 1978
The World

The Nixon Memoirs, or: And The Villain Still Pursues Us

Walter Stewart May 15 1978

The Nixon Memoirs, or: And The Villain Still Pursues Us

Walter Stewart

When I was a kid in London, Ontario, we used to slope off to the Patricia Theatre, come Saturday afternoon, to take in a double feature, with a serial thrown in free. The serial was usually something drippy, with Tarzan or Tex Ritter, and the 15 minutes’ running time was spent by us cool cats in jeering, throwing things, and driving the Patricia’s ancient staff of ushers—who needed no encouragement in this line—to drink. But one serial stopped us cold. The Village of the Walking Dead. I think it was called. It featured a gaggle of zombies who specialized in walking around with eyes blank and arms outstretched. They came lurching out of their caskets at sundown, and set off for a brisk evening of biting girls in the neck, and you couldn’t make them lie down again, no matter what. When I hit puberty, and the charms of the Patricia began to fade, I thought I would never again know the combination of dread, suspense, horror and disbelief that those zombies aroused in me. I was wrong; the Nixon memoirs are on the loose.

In any newsstand in Canada or the United States, it is hardly possible to drop a quarter without hitting an excerpt from the memoirs in some newspaper or magazine. So, even if you refuse to shell out for the book, following the sage advice of that Washington lobby whose motto is “Don’t buy books by crooks,” there is no escape. Nixon is everywhere, sighing, moaning, lifting his leaden arms, peering through his lifeless eyes, refusing to lie down. His motives are clearer than the zombies. I never could figure out why they behaved that way. But the ex-president is transparent; he is out of his California casket in search of gold and expiation. However, like the spooks, he is careless, lumbering and deficient in understanding.

In describing the fatal blunder he made in not destroying the

White House tapes, for example, he shows not the slightest embarrassment or remorse for bugging everyone who came into contact with him. His error, as he sees it. lay in not destroying the evidence, and the only-reason he didn’t do that was because he wanted to use the tapes against his erstwhile pals: “1 was prepared to believe that others would turn against me. just as John Dean had done, and in that case, the tapes would give me at least some protection.” That protection would not work openly, of course, or the whole secret would be out; Nixon is talking about backroom blackmail.

When the “smoking gun” tape of June 23. 1972, was played in public, it showed that Nixon had lied from beginning to end; he recognizes the difficulty: “This was the tape on which Bob Haldeman and 1 discussed having the CIA limit the FBI investigation for political reasons rather than the national security reasons I had given in my public statements”—but he sees this as a political problem, never a moral one. For Nixon, the only crime was getting caught. He still hasn't the foggiest notion why.

beyond the workings of a perverse fate, he was driven from office. Given the slightest encouragement, he would throw off his shroud and shuffle back to Washington, and if that doesn’t make any reader’s blood run cold, then that reader is zombieproof.

There is more to the memoirs, of course. There are cloying descriptions, whining excuses, self-justifying explanations, dubious anecdotes and a lot of personal puffery, the whole composed in some of the clumsiest prose ever to assault the eye and ear of man. In the end, however, Richard Nixon’s memoirs have nothing more of substance to say than the living dead I remember from my youth. Their heavy statement, I recall, was, “Boo!”