Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • 31 Days
  • Written by Barry Werth
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781400078684
  • Our Price: $17.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - 31 Days

Buy now from Random House

  • 31 Days
  • Written by Barry Werth
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307279842
  • Our Price: $13.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - 31 Days

Buy now from Random House

  • 31 Days
  • Written by Barry Werth
    Read by Robertson Dean
  • Format: Unabridged Audiobook Download | ISBN: 9781415934050
  • Our Price: $22.86
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - 31 Days

Buy now from Random House

  • 31 Days
  • Written by Barry Werth
    Read by J.R. Horne
  • Format: Abridged Audiobook Download | ISBN: 9780739333594
  • Our Price: $14.98
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - 31 Days

31 Days

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook
  • Audiobook

Gerald Ford, the Nixon Pardon and A Government in Crisis

Written by Barry WerthAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Barry Werth


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: April 10, 2007
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-307-27984-2
Published by : Anchor Knopf

Audio Editions

Read by Robertson Dean
On Sale: April 11, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-4159-3405-0
More Info...

Read by J.R. Horne
On Sale: April 11, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-7393-3359-4
More Info...
Visit RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO to learn more about audiobooks.

31 Days Cover

Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - 31 Days
  • Email this page - 31 Days
  • Print this page - 31 Days


In 31 Days, acclaimed historian Barry Werth takes readers inside the White House during the tumultuous days of August 1974, following Richard Nixon's resignation and the swearing-in of America's "accidental president," Gerald Ford. The Watergate scandal had torn the country apart. In a dramatic, day-by-day account of the new administration’s inner workings, Werth shows how Ford, caught between political expedience, the country’s demands for justice, and his own moral compass, struggled valiantly to restore the nation’s tarnished faith in its leadership. With deft and refreshing analysis Werth illuminates how this unprecedented political upheaval produced new fissures and battle lines, as well as new opportunities for political advancement for ambitious young men such as Donald Rumsfeld, who had been Nixon’s ambassador to NATO, and Dick Cheney, already coolly efficient as Rumsfeld’s former deputy. A superbly crafted presidential history with all of the twists and turns of a thriller, 31 Days  sheds new light on the key players and political dilemmas that reverberate in today’s headlines.



Friday, August 9, 1974

"Then you destroy yourself . . ."

On his last morning in power, President Richard Nixon arose in the predawn darkness after just a few hours of sleep. He ordered his favorite breakfast of poached eggs and corned-beef hash served to him, alone, in the Lincoln sitting room, the same room where twenty-two months earlier he had retreated by himself to watch on TV as he and Vice President Spiro Agnew were reelected in one of the greatest landslides in American history. The most inward, solitary, and reclusive of presidents--who paradoxically was determined to ensure that every word he spoke, and that was spoken to him, was recorded for history--Nixon to a rare degree determined exactly what he hoped to do and say in public beforehand, by himself, by filling yellow legal pads with notes, arguments, talking points, and exhortations to himself. In a few hours he would say good-bye to the people whom he most depended upon, and whom he'd most let down, betrayed, disappointed, and infuriated--his top administration, who'd served and defended him through the agonies of Watergate and Vietnam.

As through much of this "impeachment summer," the morning sky was dull and overcast, a soggy heat blanketing the South Lawn and the Ellipse, all but hazing out the Washington Monument less than a half mile away. A fire smoldered in Nixon's sitting room fireplace, one of several throughout the White House as aides tossed potentially troublesome documents into the flames. Already assistants had removed the contents of the president's three historic desks--Woodrow Wilson's, in the Oval Office; Dwight Eisenhower's, in room 175 of the Executive Office Building, which Nixon used as a hideaway; and the smaller Lincoln desk, in the president's sitting room in the residence--and packed them carefully into moving boxes now stacked for removal in the hallways. The office of retired General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Nixon's chief of staff, was cluttered with oversized plastic bags stuffed with shredded files that Haig said were duplicates.

After finishing breakfast, Nixon took a pad from his briefcase, slouched down on the small of his back in an armchair near the hearth, and started writing. Haig, who for the past fifteen months had handled the business of the presidency while Nixon struggled to stay in power, knocked and entered. A tireless regent, whose prideful West Point bearing was never quite concealed by the dark business suits he favored, and whose tenure was circumscribed by a thankless choice between deserting Nixon or going down with him, Haig had defended Nixon even as he concluded that he had to resign and so engineered his abdication. "There is something that will have to be done, Mr. President, and I thought you would rather do it now," he said, apologizing. He took a sheet of thick White House stationery and placed it on the Lincoln desk. Nixon read the single sentence, addressed to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger--I hereby resign the office of President of the United States--and signed it. After Haig left, Nixon returned to his musing, then summoned him back.

"He was haggard and ashen," Haig would recall. "He thanked me for what I had done for him. I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to serve. Nothing of a personal nature was said . . . By now, there was not much that could be said that we did not already understand."

Gripping files and a briefcase, Vice President Gerald Ford stepped into a crowd of reporters in front of the brick split-level house in Alexandria, Virginia, where he'd lived since the early fifties, when he was a young congressman from western Michigan, and which his wife Betty said "kind of grew along with the children." He smiled cautiously--dazed, it seemed, no less than other Americans by the implications of Nixon's announcement during his previous night's prime-time speech from the Oval Office: that he, Nixon, would evacuate the White House for exile at his California compound before noon today. Ford, shortly after, would be sworn in, becoming the "new man on the television set in the living room," as his biographer James Cannon put it.

Now age sixty-one, Ford had never sought the position; he was handed it, more or less, by bipartisan consensus ten months earlier. At the time, he had been a likable legislative blocker and party workhorse--House minority leader--and he'd recently made up his mind to quit politics because he foresaw no hope in the reasonably near future of winning a majority that would elect him speaker. Then Agnew was forced to resign after pleading no contest to a criminal charge of tax evasion, and congressional Democrats assured Nixon that no one but Ford could win confirmation. Facing inflamed Democratic majorities in Congress as Watergate metastasized, Nixon had no alternative. He and Ford had worked together since the late 1940s, when they were junior congressmen in the Chowder and Marching Society, a conservative GOP forum and social club, and Nixon viewed him as someone who did what needed doing--as Seymour Hersh wrote, "who placed loyalty to Nixon and the Republican presidency above his personal ambitions and political well being." Little known outside official Washington, Ford was profoundly aware that he was about to become the only man in history to serve as president without having been elected to national office.

Haig thought the removal of a vice president and president little more than a "silent coup" by Nixon's enemies, and although Ford didn't doubt he had the constitutional authority to govern, others, both right and left, expressed serious concerns about having a president chosen solely by a disgraced predecessor and the warring partisan lawmakers who'd deposed him. Dressed in a medium blue suit and bold, blue and white, "good-guy" striped tie like those favored by bank executives back in Grand Rapids, Ford stood in front of a two-car garage converted into a family playroom and patiently fielded questions about becoming the world's most powerful leader.

"Mr. Vice President, when Harry Truman had the office suddenly thrust upon him, he said he felt that the stars and the moon and the planets had all fallen on him. How do you feel about all that responsibility being dumped on you?"

"I think that's a very apt description." Ford nodded, smiling. "I can tell you better this afternoon after it actually happens."

"Mrs. Ford has hoped you would get out of politics. What is her reaction to the heavy responsibility?"

"Well." He shook his head. "She's just doing her best and we'll wait and see about the other."
Ford climbed into the back of a Cadillac limousine with two advisers. So delicate was the matter of presidential succession, particularly in light of the impeachment proceedings that had forced Nixon to resign and would not simply abate because he stepped aside, and so unpredictable were Nixon's mental state and obsessive suspicion that he might be pushed from power, that Ford's former law partner from Grand Rapids, Philip Buchen, had organized a "secret" outside transition group to plan for the most crucial decisions of the next forty-eight hours, but precious little beyond that. Buchen had arrived at eight that morning accompanied by former Wisconsin congressman John Byrnes, an old Washington ally. As Watergate elevated the choice of a president's men to a matter of utmost national importance, Ford was happy to have his own counsel on how to establish a White House operation independent of Nixon's.

Ford had feared he could forfeit his legitimacy if he appeared at all to want to be president, and like Haig he had lived the last nine months "sitting on a time bomb," trying to support Nixon loyally while not being destroyed himself. Then, during the past two weeks, events in Washington soared to a crescendo in which all three government branches combined to drive Nixon from office. The Supreme Court, ruling 8-0, had ordered the White House to release to federal prosecutors tape recordings, secretly authorized by Nixon, on which the president could clearly be heard telling an aide to order the CIA to interfere with the FBI's probe into the 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters--the infamous Watergate burglary dismissed by Nixon's men as "third-rate." The release of the tapes, indisputable proof that Nixon had lied to the American people, Congress, prosecutors, his staff, and his family, instantly caused his support among Republicans in Congress to evaporate, and three articles of impeachment were adopted by fateful margins. Special Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski, whom Nixon had appointed, believed the tapes "confirmed absolutely" that Nixon was guilty and should have to stand trial. At Nixon's last cabinet meeting three days earlier, Ford had stood up and declared he would have no further comment on the president's problems, as "I am a party of interest."

Crossing the Potomac into Washington, Ford studied the transition group's four-page memo on how to run the White House:

We share your view that there should be no chief of staff at the outset. However, there should be someone who could rapidly and efficiently organize the new staff organization, but who will not be perceived or be eager to be chief of staff.

With a looping left hand Ford wrote, "Rumsfeld." At forty-four, Donald Rumsfeld had been part of Nixon's inner circle, a hard-charging administrator with a much-noted talent for impressing presidents and escaping political cul-de-sacs. The Illinois Republican had known Ford since they served together in the House, where Rumsfeld was one of the chief architects of Ford's rise to leadership. Brash and informal, and with barely concealed presidential ambitions of his own, Rumsfeld had conveniently been out of Washington during the unraveling of Watergate, serving as ambassador to NATO in Europe, but he had grown eager to return and continue his ascent. The job of top presidential aide, while powerful, was a staff position--not the sort of career plum that ambitious politicians like Rumsfeld ordinarily coveted.

Haig, the memo continued, should be asked to stay on to help with the transition but "should not be expected, asked, or be given the option to become your chief of staff." Ford wrote, "OK."

Under the startling intensity of the television lights in the White House East Room--America's gold-curtained, chandeliered "grand ballroom"--hundreds of cabinet and subcabinet members, prominent Republican lawmakers, staffers, and their spouses stood packed together and loudly applauded one last time for their leader. When Pat Nixon had heard shortly before that her husband's personal good-bye to those who'd followed him through the public hell of his second term would be televised, she'd been furious, but Nixon insisted. A crafter of historical moments, he saw one last opportunity to explain himself. "We owe it to our supporters," he told her. "We owe it to the people."

The president's face was drenched in sweat and his red-rimmed eyes fought back tears as he started to speak--the "nightmare end of a long dream," he wrote. His lips trembled and his head sagged into his hunched shoulders. Yet even after weeks and months living in what CBS newsman Howard K. Smith called the "meat grinder" of his undoing, he seemed utterly in command, the dominant political figure of his age delivering a final encore to those who, despite everything, still looked up to him and credited him with greatness. Kissinger, sitting in the front row, remembered Nixon's speech as an "elegy of anguish . . . Having devoted so much of his effort to self control all his life, Nixon seemed impelled to put on display the passions and dreams he had publicly suppressed for so long . . . It was almost too much to have to witness."

Wearing glasses in public for the first time, Nixon seemed to ramble, leaping from statements of gratitude to self-analysis to resentment, but he also managed to deliver a stirring and exquisite eulogy for his years in public life, a string of encomiums and lessons from a lonely virtuoso who saw himself as one of the select few whose vision could shape the fate of nations: a Churchill, a Mao. For him the "moment of truth" was when he sat alone with legal pads, and so what he said now, even as it revealed what he couldn't control, also displayed an adroit self-awareness. He thanked those who had served him and the country during the past five and a half years, jabbed once or twice at the press, defended his administration's scruples ("Mistakes, yes. But for personal gain, never!"), invoked his dead parents ("I remember my old man, I think they would have called him a sort of a little man, a common man . . . Nobody will ever write a book, probably, about my mother; my mother was a saint"), made a few Freudian slips ("This country needs good farmers, good businessmen, good . . . plumbers"), quoted Teddy Roosevelt on loss and redemption, neglected to mention Pat, who was standing and grimacing defiantly behind him, and vowed to survive. "We think that when we suffer a defeat that all is ended. Not true. It is only a beginning, always . . ."

"Greatness comes not when things go always good for you," Nixon said, "but the greatness comes and you are really tested when you take some knocks, some disappointment, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain."

"Always remember," he advised, "others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."

Nixon neither confessed to nor apologized for his role in Watergate. But he had disclosed "that amazing, mammoth insight," as his counsel Leonard Garment put it, that it was his hatred of his enemies at home, not theirs of him, that had finished him. Many were in tears; others reeled with fresh fascination at the strange, complex figure before them, and the shining tableau of the loving family that he had brought to grief--Pat, daughters Julie and Tricia, and sons-in-law David Eisenhower and Ed Cox. Kissinger, a Bavarian-born Jew whose family had fled the Nazis when he was a teenager, believed the tragedy originated in Nixon's straitened youth, with his pious, distracted mother and hard-bitten, taciturn father. "Can you imagine what this man would have been had somebody loved him?" wondered Kissinger, a former Harvard professor whom Nixon had appointed both national security adviser and secretary of state, making him the world's most powerful foreign policy adviser and diplomat.

Others could be excused, as they joined the procession out to the South Lawn, where Nixon would depart by presidential helicopter, for worrying less about Nixon and more about themselves. Besides those who held elected office, Nixon was crucial to their hopes and ambitions. Yet in two hours Ford would control the government and the party. What was more, the "presidential timetable," especially for Republicans, had been upended. Under the constitutional arrangement that enabled Nixon to choose Ford, Ford now would nominate his own vice president. But because Ford had told the Senate during his confirmation hearings that he wouldn't run for president in 1976, an incumbent vice president would become the heir apparent for the party's nomination. A lifelong climb to the top politically was a combat version of the children's game Chutes and Ladders, normally taking decades. The GOP game board suddenly was rife with new battle lines and angles of attack--and accelerating opportunities.

From the Hardcover edition.
Barry Werth|Author Q&A

About Barry Werth

Barry Werth - 31 Days

Photo © Ellen Augarten

Barry Werth is the author of Banquet at Delmonico's, 31 Days, The Scarlet Professor, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Damages, and The Billion-Dollar Molecule. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Author Q&A


Your previous books have addressed such topics as medical malpractice (Damages), pharmaceutical companies (The Billion Dollar Molecule), and a prominent morals scandal (The Scarlet Professor). Why did you decide to turn to political history for your next book? What drew you, in particular, to the thirty-one tumultuous days after Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford was sworn in as president?

I like to follow my nose. As a reporter, I’m compelled by stories that I think are important and original. I also want depth, drama, complexity, and–this is key–narratives that illuminate a larger world. When I wrote about malpractice, I followed one family through the torments of a having a brain-damaged child as a way of looking at the collision of law, medicine, and money in our society. When I wrote about a start-up drug company, I got to explore intimate interplay of Wall Street and the country’s biomedical labs.

On the summer night in 1974 that Nixon announced he was resigning, my girlfriend and I left our apartment and wound up celebrating amidst a cheering, snake-dancing throng of 2,000 people in Harvard Square, a few blocks from where George W. Bush was living while he attended business school. It was an intense time politically, and I always felt that if I could find a story from that period as a fulcrum, I’d have a terrific book. Then, decades later, after we’d invaded Iraq, I knew I had to do something political. I didn’t think I had the luxury of sitting on the sidelines while America took this dangerous turn. Inevitably, I think, I was drawn back to the period right after Vietnam and Watergate, which seemed, given our current problems, as if it might help explain some of what was happening now and offer some telling lessons for the future.

I was drawn specifically to the story of the transfer of power from Nixon to Ford because it’s fascinating, moving, historically rich material and because no one else had done a book about it.

How did you go about doing research for this book?

A very wise editor, Dick Todd, once told me: “Chronology is your friend.” Knowing from the start that all the action would be contained in the single month after Nixon resigned, I attempted to find out everything I could about what happened during those thirty-one days, not just in the White House, but in Congress, in the courts, out in the country, and in San Clemente, where Nixon was holed up in exile. I bought several shelves of used books from Amazon, and little by little I was able to reconstruct the month to a point where I began to see, day-by-day and sometimes scene-by-scene, how developments unfolded. And so I had the global shape of the book in my head before I started contacting sources, libraries, and archives, and well before I actually started traveling.

The story really came to life for me at the Ford Library, in Ann Arbor, where I spent a week working with documents and, especially, viewing hundreds of old newscasts. Part of the reason I became so animated while sitting in front of a TV was that the press itself was such a powerful force in the Watergate and Vietnam stories, although mainly I think it was the images themselves, which at the time I had found so riveting.

For the next six months I traveled to Washington, New York and several other places to speak with as many of the principal players as I could. Given the age and general unavailability of these people, this proved to be difficult, but in the end I believe I was able to account for what all of them were doing, saying and trying to do during that month.

There have been numerous books on the Nixon administration, but very few on the Ford administration. Why do you think little attention has been paid, until now, to the Ford administration?

I believe there are two reasons, chiefly.

First is the contrast of the two presidents and the two presidencies. Psychologically and historically, Nixon is more fascinating, but Vietnam and Watergate were profoundly traumatic events for the nation, and Ford’s goal was a return to order and tranquility — to ratchet down the volume. With Ford’s short-term rule and low-key persona, you can’t really compare the two administrations for drama.

The other point is that the seventies in general, and the mid-seventies in particular, have been widely dismissed, until recently, as “a kidney-stone of a decade” (in the words of one Doonesbury character). Given where we are today, mired in events that remind us increasingly of Watergate and Vietnam, I think it makes good sense to pay close attention to what happened right after those two traumas, as the country tried to recover and move ahead.

Why do you call 31 DAYS the “crisis that gave us the government we have today”?

Well, the simple answer is that the Bush administration’s beliefs about America and its mission in the world were born in the lessons that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and other neocons took home from the end of the Nixon years and the early days of Gerald Ford’s presidency. Also, the struggle now playing out in Washington over presidential power had its origins in the tumultuous month that I write about, which starts with Nixon’s resignation and ends with Ford’s decision to pardon him. We’re seeing history repeat–and negate–itself at the same time. It would be fascinating if it weren’t tragic.

Why was that month so crucial?

These were deeply traumatic times in America. We had lost the war in Vietnam, and though the final communist takeover remained a few months away, the wounds were visceral. Watergate had sparked the worst constitutional crisis since the Civil War. And America was reeling from its first energy crisis, which signaled the end of the great thirty-year boom after World War II. The country was back on its heels. If you take today’s situation–Iraq, Katrina, a besieged White House, mounting dangers in the Arab and Muslim world, and a growing alarm over the direction the country has taken since 9/11–and look a year or so into the future, you’ll get some idea of what we were facing back then.

Thrust, literally, into the middle of all this was Gerald Ford–unelected, unprepared, and having to contend against Nixon’s holdover staff with only a small cadre of his own people. Nixon’s departure left a vacuum, and every Republican with aspirations for power vaulted in. In the end, the people who prevailed were Rumsfeld, Cheney, and George H.W. Bush.

How do you mean?

I’ll give you an example. We now forget that the big story in the weeks after Nixon left was Ford’s choice for Vice-President. Every top Republican from Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan to Elliot Richardson and Howard Baker campaigned, for the most part quietly, for consideration. At the time Bush (the father) was the Republican Party chairman, having been rescued and brought to Washington by Nixon after he lost twice for the Senate in Texas. Rumsfeld was in Europe as Ambassador to NATO, a junior member of Nixon’s inner circle. And Cheney, a mid-tier investment consultant at age thirty-three, had been Rumsfeld’s deputy when he worked in the White House.

As Ford made his decision, Bush campaigned most publicly and aggressively of any potential nominee. Rumsfeld, back in the White House temporarily to run Ford’s transition team, meanwhile positioned himself as a dark horse, with he and Cheney whispering to reporters that he was in contention. Both Bush and Rumsfeld–somewhat incredibly, given their lack of qualifications–made it onto Ford’s short list. And while the job went to Nelson Rockefeller, the pair emerged at the end of the month as the sole Nixonites with a future claim to national office–and not incidentally, as each other’s chief rival. In fact, it appears it was Rumsfeld who doomed Bush’s selection, by leaking a story to Newsweek that connected Bush to Watergate finance abuses. Two weeks after Ford pardoned Nixon, Rumsfeld became Ford’s chief of staff and Cheney became Rumsfeld’s deputy, the second most powerful person on Ford’s staff.

So what were the lessons that Rumsfeld and Cheney drew during their time in the Ford White House?

There are two chiefly, both involving the uses of power. Many Americans concluded from the disaster in Vietnam that the country had overreached badly and that it needed to learn the limits of its power. But that wasn’t the lesson that Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the neocons learned. They concluded that America had gone wobbly and that American power had grown provocatively weak.

The other lesson had to do with presidential power. Much has been said lately about the parallels between the Nixon White House and the current administration. Nixon went to extraordinary lengths to concentrate power in as small a circle as possible. He made foreign policy a secretive two-man operation–him and Henry Kissinger–marginalizing Congress, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs to the point that the Pentagon actually spied on him. He believed, literally, he was above the law. “When the President does it,” he famously said, “that means that it’s not illegal.” Watergate was a swamp, but its key components were illegal surveillance, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power, all results of a failing and misguided war.

Eventually this all came crashing down, and by the time Ford came into office, Nixon’s so-called “imperial presidency” had been reined in sharply by Congress and the courts.

Now, as becomes clearer by the day, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who for five years have constituted THE power center in the White House on national defense, have made taking back executive power and using it unilaterally a thirty-year joint mission.

Did Ford draw the same lessons as Rumsfeld and Cheney?

Not at all, at least not at the beginning. Ford envisioned a kind of national unity government after Watergate and Vietnam, where Americans pulled together after a divisive and traumatic decade, putting aside their differences to heal the country’s wounds and work for the common good. He was very canny about this. In his first address to the country he asked Americans to vote for conservatives, liberals, Republicans or Democrats, so long as the candidates were willing to keep down federal spending and fight inflation. He chose Rockefeller for Vice President, knowing it would leave the right sputtering, and on his first presidential trip he went to the toughest audience he could find, the annual VFW convention, to announce that he wanted to offer a limited amnesty for Vietnam draft resisters and deserters. As David Brinkley put it, he “sought out friends to work with, not enemies to punish.”

Most offensive to Rumsfeld and Cheney was the fact that Ford retained Kissinger, whose so-called “realism” in foreign policy meant that Ford would continue Nixon’s efforts to preserve the balance of power between countries based on an understanding of their national self-interests. To the neocons, accommodating the Soviets was defeatism, not realism.

What changed Ford’s direction?

The Nixon pardon. On his 31st day as president, with his approval rating at seventy percent, Ford announced on a Sunday morning, without preparing the country, that he was pardoning Nixon. In just three weeks, Nixon’s chief of staff, attorney general, and top domestic advisor were about to be tried for obstructing justice–probably the most important criminal trial in the country’s history–and Ford’s decision to let Nixon go free on the eve of the trial looked instantly like the last, cynical act of the cover-up. His popularity, like his presidency, went downhill, and stayed there.

With the stroke of a pen Ford made himself vulnerable to a challenge by the right, which after the Rockefeller appointment became galvanized around Ronald Reagan. During his term, it was up to Rumsfeld and Cheney–who a year later, at age 34, became the youngest White House chief of staff in history after Rumsfeld became secretary of defense–to confront this threat.

And what did Rumsfeld and Cheney end up doing?

Much the same as they’ve done in the current Bush White House. They sought to get rid of the restraints on the Oval Office, especially its ability to do whatever they considered necessary for national defense. They opposed realism as soft-headed and liberal. They attacked standing alliances, treaties, and diplomacy as inimical to the country’s interests. They favored a more unilateral, preemptive foreign policy. They steamrolled their opponents and brought neocon ideologues like Paul Wolfowitz into power.

You mentioned that history was now repeating–and negating–itself at the same time. How so?

Let me start with the second issue first. We tend to forget that even as Nixon’s presidency was in free-fall, US influence and prestige in the Arab and Muslim world was at its height. Kissinger negotiated the first agreements between Israel and its neighbors, and despite the Arab oil embargo, every regime in the Middle East recognized the United States as the preeminent power in the region. Now, of course, with Iraq, America is reviled across that part of the world, and we are regarded, short of a nuclear attack, as powerless to stop Iran militarily from developing nuclear weapons. Terror is growing, even as we become more dependent on the region for its oil. We seem to be getting weaker and less secure while radical Islam is surging, threatening to overtake the Middle East government by government.

As for history repeating itself, less than midway through Bush’s second term, we now have an increasingly unpopular Republican president saddled with a war that goes from bad to worse, and with White House scandals involving intelligence leaks and unlawful surveillance. We also have a hamstrung leader, who has tried to put himself above the law, facing mounting challenges from within his own party, with rising speculation that his vice president will not last the term. It’s not hard to imagine impeachment proceedings against Bush if the Democrats win either house of congress in the fall, with Cheney stepping down ostensibly for health reasons and an appointed vice-president appearing in the wings.

At which point the historical parallels with the summer of 1974 would become, I think, not just staggering but chilling.

From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards


“Describes a time with eerie parallels to our own…What connects 31 Days to the present is . . . how political figures such as [Donald] Rumsfeld and . . . Richard Cheney were shaped by their experiences in Watergate Washington” —USA Today “Compelling. . . . [A] gripping narrative account of Ford’s first weeks in office. . . . A period in which some of the key players in the Bush administration rose to power and established their mastery of intra-administration battles, a period that . . . serves as a bookend to our own.”The New York Times“Never has the Ford administration seemed so gripping.” —The Atlantic Monthly


WINNER 2006 AudioFile Earphones Award

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: