Friday, August 8, 2014

"The Greatest Comeback" by Pat Buchanan: A Review

Today is the fortieth anniversary of former President Richard Nixon's resignation following the infamous Watergate scandal. As such, I am wanting to publish the following review of the book The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority by Pat Buchanan. Though the book does not deal with Watergate (Buchanan hints at a future book that deals with it), it provides an insightful look at Nixon from his first resignation from the public square to his inauguration as President.

About Nixon, this must be said: While his judgment on people was not infallible, when ti came to talent he wanted the best. And he was not put off if the best had not wanted him. Once elected, he would bring a Kennedy Democrat, Pat Moynihan, into the White House to head the domestic policy sop, Henry Kissinger of Harvard, Rockefeller's man for years, to head the NSC, and John Connally, LBJ's protege and the governor who delivered Texas for Humphrey in 1968, as Secretary of the Treasury. The selection of these men testifies to the truth that Nixon was no ideologue, no true believer. He had instincts one could call conservative, but reflexive reactions that were liberal. He wanted to leave his mark and become a man of history, and believed that, given the chance,  he could make his mark in foreign policy. He once told me about picking a national security adviser, "I don't want someone I have to teach. I want someone who can teach me." (115-116)

One thing I have learned in my own personal study of history is that one's legacy might be defined by a certain moment or decision, but that alone does not define the man. Take the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer for example. Though he is best known for an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler's life that eventually led to his own execution, this is not who Bonhoeffer was. Bonhoeffer was largely a pacifist who wanted to see a healthy church thrive and cheap grace abolished.

Or take former President Richard Nixon. Though most known for how he left office, it would be careless to allow his resignation, and the scandal that led up to it, to define who he was as a man. Flawed, yes. But he was more than Watergate.

In his book The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority Pat Buchanan chronicles from a first-person perspective how the man best known for Watergate resurrected his political career when it seemed impossible. Those who know Presidential history will be be aware that former vice-President Richard M. Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy in one of the closest Presidential elections in American history in 1960. After losing to Kennedy, Nixon ran for governor of California undoubtedly to sure up his resume for another run in 1964. Surprisingly, though, he lost the race and sealed his own political career when he famously announced to the media that he was leaving politics.

Yet somehow, a few years later, Nixon managed to win his parties nomination and become the 37th President of the United States. How did he do that? It is undoubtedly one of the greatest political comebacks in American history. In this book, Buchanan, a former Presidential candidate himself, tells the fascinating story.

How Nixon managed to win the Presidency when it seemed impossible is actually straightforward. After years in Congress, eight years in the White House, and then through a series of very public defeats, Nixon, personally obsessed with policy and politics, became a political genius. One example of this is seen after the 1966 midterm elections that benefited the Republicans immensely. Buchanan suggests that Nixon deserves most of the credit for the Republican gains. Shortly thereafter, the major news magazines highlighted the leading Republican Presidential contenders. The names included George Romney (father of the most recent GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney), Ronald Reagan, and Nelson Rockerfeller. Nixon was barely mentioned in the article.

And that is exactly the way Nixon wanted it.

Romney was the frontrunner going into the primaries and between 1966 and 1968, Nixon stayed out of the public's eye hoping that Romney would be pummeled by the media. Strangely enough, the man who hated the media for ruining his career (and they would do the same following Watergate), relied on the media to revive it.

The full story is chronicled here and it is a fascinating one. Anyone who enjoys politics, history, and Presidential history will want to read Buchanan's work. It is difficult to find a book on Nixon that is not solely about Watergate. I am grateful that Buchanan reminds us that, though flawed, the former President had a great political mind that performed one of the greatest comebacks in history.

The book ends with the election of President Nixon to his first term. In the epilogue, Buchanan highlights some of the great successes of Nixon's first term. If Nixon had left office after four years, he would be remembered as one of the great presidents of the 20th century. But then Watergate happen and Buchanan suggests that story will be chronicled in a future volume.

This book was provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of this review at no cost.

For more biographies on the Presidents
President Barack Obama - "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama: A Review
President George W. Bush - "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
President Bill Clinton - "The Natural" by Joe Klein: A Review 
President Ronald Reagan - "Ronald Reagan" by Dinesh D'Souza 
President Gerald Ford - "Gerald R. Ford" by Douglas Brinkley: A Review
President Richard Nixon - "The Greatest Comeback" by Pat Buchanan: A Review
President John F. Kennedy - "Killing Kennedy" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard: A Review
President Dwight D. Eisenhower - "Ike: An American Hero" by Michael Korda: A Review
President Abraham Lincoln - "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage"
"The Preacher and the Presidents" by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy: A Review

American Experience Documentaries:
Woodrow Wilson: An American Experience
Dwight Eisenhower: An American Experience
Richard Nixon: American Experience
Jimmy Carter: An American Experience
Ronald Reagan: An American Experience
HW Bush: An American Experience  
Clinton: An American Experience
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