The Barnes & Noble Review
Twenty-five years ago, a president, shoulders bent as if crushed by the burden of his office, gave the victory sign as he boarded a helicopter that took him away from the position he had so desperately tried to hang on to. His term brought to an abrupt end by two brash young reporters for The Washington Post, President Nixon had resigned rather than face impeachment and a trial.
Now one of those reporters traces the influence of this cataclysmic event on the presidencies that followed. Bob Woodward, who has written extensively on the presidencies of Clinton (The Agenda, The Choice), Bush (The Commanders), and Reagan (Veil), as well as on Dan Quayle (Dan Quayle: The Man Who Would Be President) and the Supreme Court (The Brethren), analyzes the long reach of Watergate in Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate. Using his standard you-are-there technique, Woodward paints a detailed study of crucial points in the five administrations in which "the honesty and truthfulness of the presidents and those closest to them were challenged," asking: "Could another president be a criminal? Did presidents talk and plot in private like Nixon? Would another president have to resign?"
The great lessons learned too late in each presidency are the constant analysis of each presidential act, the inquisitorial scrutiny of each president's credibility, the undertone of mistrust that every president must now prove himself against. Woodward views defining events of each presidency through the lens of Watergate:Ford'spardon of Nixon; Carter's aloof personality coupled with his impossible promise that he would (unlike certain of his predecessors) always tell the truth; the Iran-contra investigation during Reagan's administration; George Bush's staunch support of Clarence Thomas and the war with Iraq (not to mention questions surrounding his own involvement with Iran-contra); and Clinton's impeachment. Woodward devotes half the book to the Clinton administration.
How is it that after an event like Watergate, each succeeding presidency is plagued by scandal after scandal? How is it that a president could have been impeached? Why did none of these presidents appear to learn much of consequence from Nixon's political demise? Woodward posits what he calls "the myth of the big-time president" that each president strives for an administration of legendary proportions. In Woodward's words, there is a "longing for someone with heroic energy, someone who can take the air out of a room, who can define an era worth living in." That this is not possible in post-Nixon America is something no one appears to be able to accept. Least of all those who are running for office.
If the White House forms one vertex of a trianglethe other two corners are made up of news outlets and enemies of the Presidentfrom Congressional partisans to White House malcontents..... Despite their disagreements on other mattersthe five Presidents Woodward discusses probably would agree with a sentiment he attributes to Clinton in an anguished conversation with his adviser Dick Morris: "They want their own President they can hang." The New York Times Book Review
Finally, you can stop hearing about it and read the thing: "Bennett next asked
about Lewinsky. 'Not a problem,' the president said. Bennett pressed. Clinton
reminded his attorney that the problems were in the past. 'I'm retired,' he
repeated. 'I'm retired.'"
Shadow states correctly, if hardly revealingly, that Watergate yielded a permanent scandal culture, but more practically it also created the independent-counsel statue and reinvigorated congressional inquiries. With Shadow, Woodward tries to adapt to this situation by morphing into a political analyst, examining how Presidents Ford through Clinton have failed to learn from Watergate. And here's the problem, Bob Woodward is a facts guy, not an analysis guy: His forte is getting the inside story giving high-placed, otherwise uncooperative sources a shoulder to leak on.
But the result in Shadow is a deeply unanalytical analysis really, a standard Woodward you-were-there narrative, offering dramatic private conversations and Beltway intrigues, seasoned with a few drips of Sunday-pundit wisdom so familar by now they probably appear in third-grade textbooks.
In this best seller, veteran Washington Post reporter Woodward traces the impact that President Nixon's Watergate scandal has had on his five successors. Woodward presents an introduction, and then reader James Naughton takes over in a youthful voice somewhat similar to the author's own. Woodward's argument is that the fallout from the Watergate scandal has changed the political climate in Washington and affected both incumbents and candidates in various ways. Gerald Ford, for example, found his incumbency tarred by the pardon he issued Nixon, and many believe he lost the election for that reason; Jimmy Carter felt compelled to say that he would never lie to the American people and was embarrassed when he could not sustain the fiction; Ronald Reagan was unaffected until the Iran-contra scandal broke; George Bush seemed unaware that the media could turn on him once Desert Storm was behind him and could not handle the results; and Bill Clinton entered scandal after scandal and made many of the same errors of dissimulation that Nixon did and barely survived, being only the second president in history to be impeached. The common thread throughout these years was, in part, the altered attitude of the press, which at one time overlooked behaviors that now are the targets of aggressive investigative reporting. Presidential privacy in particular has faded with the times, and Woodward describes its continued erosion. Students of modern politics should find this presentation engaging. The author's persona is so authoritative and his knowledge of the subjects so deep that the listener learns a great deal. For public library and undergraduate collections.--Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
His theme consists of Presidential lapses....The lesson is that if you expect kindly treatment at Mr. Woodward's hands, be forthcoming in interviews....[The book comprises] Washington anecdotes, opinions and persiflage....When the material is not recooked, it tends toward gossip...
The New York Times
If Shadow is lacking in juicy tidbits [, as some have said,] then the standard of revelation has become so high that no Washington reporter can hope to succeed....Parts of Shadow are flat-out riveting....[It is] a pleasure for anyone taken with modern politics.
Barker...deftly charts the crosscurrents that move silently beneath the surface of family life, including those that bind it to earlier generations, while paying tribute to the power of secrets and the nature of memory.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 40
Gerald Ford had been traveling from California to Colorado when impeachment was voted but saw the gathering on the White House South Lawn on television. He was offended. It looked like a pep rally. It was another Clinton stunt. Ford liked Clinton personally but was wary of him. In the summer of 1993, Clinton and Ford had spent several days together in Colorado on vacation. They played golf one day with Jack Nicklaus. Clinton claimed he shot something like an 80.
Ford was shocked. Golf was a matter of honor, even for old duffers, and Clinton had repeatedly taken second shots called mulligans.
Nicklaus leaned over to Ford and whispered in disgust, "Eighty with fifty floating mulligans."
Both Ford and Jimmy Carter had agreed to speak jointly on impeachment because the issue had so many consequences for the presidency. Carter had faxed a draft statement. Ford and his staff had gone to work. After six drafts, the two ex-presidents sent a statement to the op-ed page of The New York Times.
Clinton read it on Monday, December 21.
"A Time to Heal Our Nation," by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Citing the Nixon pardon and Carter's grant of amnesty for those who had avoided the Vietnam draft, they called for reconciliation -- Senate censure without a trial. They proposed a bipartisan resolution that would require Clinton to acknowledge publicly that "he did not tell the truth under oath." They wanted an agreement that his acknowledgment could not "be used in any future criminal trial."
On Wednesday afternoon, December 30, Clinton called Ford.
Ford repeated his position. The Republicans were committed and would need a significant concession to keep the Senate trial from going forward. For censure to be feasible and practical at this point, Bill, you'll have to concede perjury.
I can't do that, Clinton said. He was firm. Those were hard, impossible terms. He made a presentation that mirrored his grand jury argument. He believed he had not lied. His lawyers supported him. He said he had told the painful truth to the grand jury -- the only issue in the impeachment charge of perjury now.
If nothing else, Clinton was articulate and smooth. But Ford said he couldn't agree.
Their proposal provides for immunity from prosecution, Ford reminded Clinton. Bill, he said, Congress could provide for immunity.
"They can't do that," Clinton said. His lawyers had researched the matter. Prosecution of an individual was an executive branch function that the Congress could not determine or prohibit.
"Bill," Ford said, "the Congress has pretty broad jurisdiction, and I've seen them do things before where the experts said they couldn't. And I happen to believe very strongly that this is an area where the Congress could affirmatively act to give you immunity."
Clinton didn't want immunity.
So it looks like a Senate trial, Ford said. A long, drawn-out trial would be a disaster.
Jerry, Clinton said, why not call Trent Lott and remind him of the advantages of a short trial.
Ford promised that he would do just that.
He reached Lott and reported that Clinton was not going to concede perjury. "Therefore I'm stepping back from doing anything," Ford told him. But he advised Lott to keep the trial short. The party could not afford to be defined as the party of impeachment.
Copyright © 1999 by Bob Woodward