Watergate Comes Back to Haunt Nixon Again

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It's the politics of personal destruction, revisionist style, thanks to Anthony Summers and his new book, "The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon," in which Summers claims that Nixon not only botched that burglary but beat his wife, saw a therapist and took mood-altering prescription drugs.

Feel enriched yet?

Richard Nixon's Watergate may have ushered in the investigative age of journalism, but he's not the one who took it on board the Monkey Business, or under the Oval Office desk. Watergate was the professional scandal of a deeply flawed man, a paranoid, insecure, power-abusing man — but the fact that his abuses were for professional gain, not personal satisfaction has always lent the scandal (and the man) a certain ugly dignity that Monicagate never lent Bill Clinton.

Whether or not Nixon drew a distinction between professional power and personal gratification — whether or not any president really does — there is a line. It's the same line between Kennedy's mob-aided theft of the Chicago vote and Kennedy's mob-aided orgies in the White House swimming pool. Before 1972, neither line got crossed much by investigating reporters. Nixon changed all that for the professional kind of peccadillo — the mutation happened later.

Now the mutation has happened to Nixon. Summers, who's also churned out Marilyn Monroe and J. Edgar Hoover bios with similarly sensational tidbits, has kicked up a little firestorm among former Nixon aides with a very unflattering presidential biography of that highly unflatterable president. Some allegations we've heard — that Nixon's mental state eventually became so fragile that his orders to U.S. military commanders had to be approved by his Defense Secretary, James Schlesinger, or by Henry Kissinger.

Others are new — that Nixon took Dilantin, a mood-altering anticonvulsant commonly prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy, and that he struck his wife, Pat, after a failed 1962 bid for governor of California. After that one, Nixon promised we wouldn't have him to "kick around any more." Now Tricky Dick's former cronies are accusing Summers of kicking Nixon right in his long-interred bones — and below the belt to boot.

Stephen Bull, a former special assistant to Nixon, scoffed at the Summers' allegations Monday. "If you were to ask someone to come up with the most ridiculous charges against Richard Nixon, and there have been a bundle of them over the years, these two would top the list," Bull said. "These are just totally inconceivable to me."

"Inconceivable" might be a stretch — the man saw a psychotherapist on and off, and was known for his temper — "irrelevant" is much better. Even Summers says so. The author, having included the little details that titillate reviewers and sell books in this memoir-addled age, wants everybody to focus on the professional stuff. Really.

"Of far greater importance to me in the historical sense is the evidence, for example, that in 1968 — in order to get himself elected — Nixon sabotaged Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam peace initiative," Summers told CNN. "Now that's important."

Well, yes. The kind of thing that bespeaks a serious powerlust and a lack of scruples that should be seriously troubling in a democracy.

But to be honest, that sort of thing just doesn't make headlines anymore.