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Book Nook: The Nixon Defense - What He Knew and When He Knew It, by John Dean


On August 9, 1974 Richard M. Nixon resigned from the office of President of the United States. It was that, or be impeached. Nixon flew off to California in disgrace.

I had been fascinated with Dick Nixon long before that. Perhaps it was his notorious Checkers speech during the 1950’s that first got my attention? There was just something about him. In 1960 when he ran against John F. Kennedy and lost we had the black and white images of Dick Nixon debating JFK on television. Nixon had a five o’clock shadow and he seemed to be perspiring profusely. Meanwhile Kennedy was calm.

At my parochial grade school we had a popular chant that year. It went: “Kennedy, Kennedy, he’s our man. Nixon belongs in a garbage can.” We would taunt the few admitted Nixon adherents with our sing song slogan. My awareness of politics was growing.

When we were in high school the Watergate break-in and the scandal that ensued brought Nixon’s administration all the way down. It began slowly and soon we had another more incisive slogan. It went like this: “Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Dean, it follows a pattern, do you see what I mean?” We loved that one.

Watching the Watergate hearings was another great entertainment. What drama. Truly amazing stuff. That would never happen now. The networks were broadcasting hours of live coverage. It was like watching the unfolding of a Greek tragedy.

I collect Nixon memorabilia. I have piles of campaign buttons. Bumper stickers. Nixon jewelry. I have stacks of books about him and a box of Nixon candy cigars from the 1960 campaign. I have a board game from 1970 called “Who Can Beat Nixon.”

In 1972 Senator George McGovern, the Democratic nominee was utterly vanquished in that election by the incumbent, Dick Nixon. It was a landslide reelection after Nixon’s squeaker of a victory in 1968 against Hubert Humphrey. Nixon was on a roll. But it would not last. Watergate was already smoldering and the eventual inferno of that scandal reduced Nixon’s presidency to ashes.

I interviewed George McGovern a couple of times before he died. We talked about Nixon. Those conversations became some favorite items in my Nixon collection. During the second interview Senator McGovern described what it felt like when he decided to attend the funeral for Pat Nixon, the former First Lady. There were some people at the funeral who were clearly unhappy that McGovern had decided to pay his respects. Nixon however was touched and told Senator McGovern how much he appreciated that gesture.

I figured my McGovern interviews would remain my most prized Nixonian memorabilia. But then John Dean decided to write a new book about Watergate. Dean was Nixon’s White House lawyer and he became deeply involved in Nixon’s failed coverup of the Watergate affair, the break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee which had been orchestrated by some of Nixon’s inner circle without the president’s knowledge before the fact. Once Nixon found out about it he tried desperately to conceal the facts surrounding the event. This might not have been the key to his downfall except for one crucial bit of evidence. Nixon had made secret tape recordings of his conversations with Dean and the rest of his inner circle. Near the end Nixon asked his Chief of Staff, H.R. Bob Haldeman to destroy the tapes. It never happened. The rest is history.

John Dean’s magnificent retelling of the story is “The Nixon Defense - What He Knew and When He Knew It.” I have talked to John Dean about it. Twice. This is the podcast of my second interview with John for the paperback release of "The Nixon Defense."

My interviews with John Dean are now the most treasured pieces in my Nixon collection…

This is an adaptation of a blog post that I originally wrote for the Cox Ohio newspapers. This was my final blog post for Cox. The Book Nook blog was discontinued after this post but you can still peruse the blog archive on-line.

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Vick Mickunas introduced the Book Nook author interview program for WYSO in 1994. Over the years he has produced more than 1500 interviews with writers, musicians, poets, politicians, and celebrities. Listen to the Book Nook with Vick Mickunas for intimate conversations about books with the writers who create them.  Vick Mickunas reviews books for the Dayton Daily News and the Springfield News Sun.