Playing With Fire

(by Lawrence O’Donnell) (2017)

Our favourite book on the incredible 1968 Presidential election remains the superb and impartial work by visiting British journalists, An American Melodrama. But this work by leftie Lawrence is a terrific read, once you learn to shut-out the partisan noise swirling about every chapter.  There’s nothing new here except the charge of treason by Nixon over the Anna Chennault affair, which O’Donnell mines from a book by the almost equally, but less noisily, partial John A. Farrell.

[For his Book Richard Nixon: The Life, Farrell has read Haldeman’s notes of conversations with Tricky Dick and implies that RMN committed treason, or at least breached the 1799 Logan Act that relevantly states: Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

During the pointy end of the campaign, Nixon feared that President Johnson, who had decided not to run for re-election, might try to ‘throw’ the poll by forcing compromise peace talks on South Vietnam (to include the Vietcong, a condition to which South Vietnam’s President Thieu would likely never agree. Farrell’s evidence for Nixon’s involvement comprises 2 notes of Haldeman after discussions with RN: “Keep Anna Chennault working on SVN” and “Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do.”]

That O’Donnell convicts Nixon of a major indictable offence based on this material reveals a lot about his ‘practical euro-socialist’ world view, but the book is nevertheless an entertaining, thrilling read, confidently and competently covering the charismatic and almost mythical cast of characters crossing 1968’s stage…Nixon, LBJ, RFK, Martin Luther King Jnr, Gene McCarthy, Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, George Wallace, Mayor Richard Daley, et al.  And he features the hilarious on-air stoushes between conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jnr and Gore Vidal (to and about whom Buckley, losing his temper, warned and stated: “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered…let Myra Breckenridge go back to his pornography and stop making any allusions of Nazism…”)


Thought bubbles: LBJ: “Traitor.” Pat: “NOW can we get some help around the house?” Ted Agnew “I hope my safe’s locked back in Maryland.” HHH: “One more day might have done it…”


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