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Bungled burglary fells presidency

Overzealous staff brings Nixon down

By Drew Gallagher

For The Free Lance-Star

I WAS 2 YEARS OLD  when  Watergate broke in 1972, so I am of a generation that did not fully appreciate the implications of the botched break-in, but am of an era so pervaded by Watergate that for every new controversy pundits and columnists simply add “gate” to the end of some key word and they’ve crafted a cute and concise title for said controversy.

Watergate as a cultural touchstone has easily surpassed its importance in the political spectrum, and that is underscored in Thomas Mallon’s new novel “Watergate.”

Now, that is not to minimize the historical significance of Watergate, given that in its wake Richard Nixon became the first and only President to resign from the White House.  But, as Mallon shows, the convergence of events that led to Nixon’s downfall was almost farcical and had to confound Nixon while he was carving out a pretty good second term and achieving some great successes abroad.

“As he took possession of the globe and posed for pictures with Knap, Nixon felt his anger rise against the sick, disproportionate thinking of the crowd that was giving him this gift.  The actual globe could fall apart at any time, but moments ago this throng in front of him had no doubt whistled and hollered for the Post boys, all for saving the world from what was—truthfully—a third-rate burglary.”

History and hindsight have shown that there was no need for Nixon to bug the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate.  His path to a second term was almost assured when underlings, at the suggestion and under the leadership of G. Gordon Liddy, broke into the Democratic headquarters with as much stealth as a bull in the LibertyTown gallery, and the presidency started to unravel like recorded tapes from a spool.

What makes Mallon’s fictional take on the events so interesting is that he is able to impart a perspective of 40 years and cast the individual players in what he perceives as the probable reality of the time.  In the pages of “Watergate,” the mythic players become human and often comic or, in Nixon’s case, tragicomic.

“Watergate” is an expansive fictional look at Watergate, but more precisely a look at the events that followed and how they affected the players after the bungled break-in.

Watergate shaped a great many lives and helped shape the fate of our country.    But as Mallon’s novel shows us, sometimes it is best to not invest in these matters too fully, and not take them quite so seriously.  After all, Jerry Ford might end up being the result.

Drew Gallagher  is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.


By  Thomas Mallon

(Pantheon, $26.95, 448 pp.)


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