The Year Nixon Fell Apart

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tags: Nixon



This article has been excerpted from Richard Nixon: The Lifewhich will be published this week by Doubleday.

We know what happened in the spring of 1972: Five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, were caught and arrested, and triggered the slow-dripping scandal that became known as Watergate.

But a full understanding of President Richard Nixon wouldn’t be possible without the events that came before Watergate, when the stress of the presidency—the anti-Vietnam demonstrations, the secret bombing and invasion of Cambodia, the deaths of four student protesters at Kent State, became too much. He was agitated, drinking, paranoid about the press—and in one memorable pre-dawn excursion, exited the White House without his aides, driven by a mix of memory and pain, to try and connect with demonstrators on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. When his frantic staff at last caught up with him, he treated them to breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel.

This chapter of the Nixon presidency is the story of how his tragic flaws caught up with him, of how he cracked in the crucible of the presidency. With foreign and domestic crises tearing the country apart, the always-distrustful, unstable, insecure president started going after his enemies. 

The flag-draped caskets kept coming home. Opponents of the Vietnam War organized huge, nation-wide demonstrations in the fall of 1969—the Moratorium and the Mobilization—leaving Nixon’s White House in a state of siege.

Then, in March 1970, the pro-Western leaders of the Cambodian military staged a coup, overthrowing the neutralist Prince Sihanouk and prompting the North Vietnamese and the homegrown Communist Khmer Rouge to march upon Phnom Penh. Events drew Nixon into crisis mode. That spring would produce some of the most emotionally charged and dramatic moments of his presidency. 

He was finding enemies everywhere: among liberals, the bureaucracy, on Capitol Hill and in the press. “We can have peace. We can have prosperity. We can have all the blacks screwing the whites,” and still not get credit from the liberal establishment, he would complain, in comments captured on his secret White House taping system. His orders sometimes sounded like the mutterings of a paranoid. “The press is the enemy,” he would tell his staff, and ordered aides to comb through the microfilm at the D.C. public library and compile every article bycolumnist Drew Pearson, dating back to 1946, that mentioned his name.  ...




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