Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Greene - The Limits of Power

Greene, John Robert. The Limits of Power: The Nixon and Ford Administrations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

This is a useful overview of the Nixon and Ford administration. In combining the two, Greene seeks to somewhat transcend Watergate by offering a more nuanced description of the Presidential style and achievements of the two inherently linked Presidencies. Nixon, of course, expanded executive power like no one before him. Watergate was an outgrowth of the atmosphere of blind loyalty under him. The title refers to the fact that the power of the executive administration reached a peak under Nixon and had to be rolled back during Ford's admin. Nixon had a horrible relationship with Congress. Ford, well-liked throughout Washington and perceived as a regular guy by the public, wasted that political capital with his pardoning of Nixon.

Nixon administration was strongly hierarchical with firm view of Nixon at the top, while Ford sought to organize his administration like a "wheel" with spokes leading to him at the middle. Donald Rumsfeld as chief of staff helped to alleviate some of the flaws in this approach.

Kissinger - Ambitious and spotlight-seeking, Kissinger was actually the first in the administration to arrange for wiretaps of other administration members to seek out a leak. Kissinger's relationship with the media was so strong that he was impervious to the scandals and somewhat resented by Nixon. Greene credits Nixon's Cold War policy - opening relations with Red China and subsequent detente - as Nixon's realism rather than a product of Kissinger's efforts.
H.R. Haldeman - Chief of Staff. Old friend of Nixon's from the 1950s. In the early days of the administration, Nixon sought a close connection with key members of the administration. Quickly, Haldeman, along with Erlichman, stepped into the hierarchy just below Nixon to control access to the chief. Both were charged with carrying out any firings, a part of the job Nixon strongly resisted. It was a Nixon meeting with Haldeman that was missing in the 18.5 minute gap on the Oval Office Tapes
John Erlichman - White House Counsel. Worked on Nixon's campaigns, close friends with Haldeman, but his star rose in Nixon's eyes much later than Haldeman's.
Chuck Colson - Special Council for Nixon. Nixon's political operative, and the main connection between the President and the dirty tricks, plumbers, break in to Ellsberg's psychiatrists, and other abuses of political power.
Spiro Agnew - As VP, useful political tool for Nixon allowing the administration to attack political opponents with verbal tenacity without Nixon himself entering the fray.

Nothing new here, but that is not the point of the book. It's a terrific read, as syntheses go: accessible and nicely-paced. I would assign this book to undergrads for a unit on Nixon.

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