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Monday, June 04, 2007
Bathroom Reading: Nixon and Kissinger

At one point in Robert Dallek’s account of the Nixon-Kissinger co-presidency - Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power - the leader of the free world is asked by a TV interviewer what he thinks about when he wakes up in the early hours of the morning. He replies with a solemn face that he broods on world peace. He later gigglingly tells a colleague that he wished he could instead have said, “Going to the bathroom.”

The above picture shows then-newly appointed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sitting with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office on Sept. 21, 1973 (source: Washington Post). The iconoclastic Christopher Hitchens takes his own snapshot in a recent Slate review of Dallek’s new book:

It has sometimes been surreptitiously hinted by Kissinger that he acted as a restraining influence on his deluded master and that things might well have been worse if this were not so. This book punctiliously shows that, to the contrary, Kissinger was invariably trying to encourage Nixon’s very worst tendencies. And flattery was the least of it. “We stirred them up a little,” said Nixon self-deprecatingly after one of his more demagogic speeches. Oh no, sir, said his underling:

“It was absolutely spectacular! The thing that’s so interesting about your style of leadership is that you never make little news, it is always big news. … You are a man of tremendous moves.” It was essentially a repeat of what Kissinger often said to buck up and ingratiate himself with Nixon. “Mr. President,” Kissinger told him, “without you this country would be dead.”

Just think of the many good people who are dead as a result of this hideous partnership and also of the crooks and fascists whose lives and careers were prolonged by it. After reading this, I too felt an urgent need to pay a visit to the bathroom, but for the no-less pressing reason that I needed a long and cleansing shower.

Robert Dallek is joined by Columbia University provost Alan Brinkley for a discussion on Nixon and Kissinger tomorrow night, June 5, at the Y.

In case you didn’t know, the 2nd week in June is National Bathroom Reading Week.

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