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From Barnes & NobleThe 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.