The Texas Book Festival started with a lively panel at 10 a.m. Saturday in the C-SPAN tent on the thousands of hours of Richard Nixon’s White House recordings.
Former White House counsel John Dean, author of “The Nixon Defense,” a look at the Watergate-era Nixon tapes, joined Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter, authors of “The Nixon Tapes.”
After moderator Robert Draper offered a brief tribute to the late Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, Brinkley called the disgraced president “diabolically pragmatic,” noting that his opening of China was as much about punishing the Soviet Union as anything else. He and Nichter’s book involve a multitude of conversation that did not pertain to Watergate and both men noted Nixon’s “hyper-involvement” in foreign policy.
“Nixon liked hardball, bloodletting politics,” Brinkley added, a trait he shared with his absolutely ruthless aide Chuck Colson. “He was an all-purpose insulted of all peoples of the world,” he said, explaining some of the rather unfortunate invective that would come out of Nixon’s mouth. “Except the Chinese. Go figure.”
Nicheter, who spent a lot of time digitizing the tapes, said that the Nixon archive continues to fascinate because we will never have something like this ever again. “Everything is being picked up,” Nichter said of the taping system.
Dean was the quippiest speaker, recalling that he was once approached by a man who said, “Didn’t you used to be Dick Cheney?”(cue roars of laughter from the assembled.)
He later added that the men in his family start to go deaf in their 70s (Dean is 76), and he needed some grad students to help him go through the hundreds of hours of tapes. “God forbid the last voice I hear is Richard Nixon,” he said.
Dean reiterated the working theory that while Nixon didn’t know of the break-in, attorney general John Mitchell approved of G. Gordon Liddy’s plan. “They (meaning Nixon’s staff) gave him hints,” Dean said. But they didn’t really explain that the White House was deeply involved.
Liddy has sort of portrayed himself as a James Bond figure,” Dean said. “In fact, he’s not quite a Maxwell Smart.”