When I first saw the cover of the book, After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon, I thought, what an interesting subject. My aunt, Lou Ann Francis, worked in the White House then and I visited her in 1973 as storm clouds around President Nixon were gathering. I was a wiseacre teenager with little sense of the world past Hemphill Street, but I found it very dramatic.
Two years later I found myself working a summer job in the White House Mail Room in the aftermath of Watergate as the executive branch pulled itself together under Gerald Ford. So the book already had my interest for personal reasons. Even more so when I saw who wrote it: Kasey S. Pipes, a partner and co-founder of Corley Pipes, a government relations firm with offices here and in Washington, D.C. Pipes and I share some Fort Worth connections. His grandparents and my parents were good friends and he went to school in Abilene with my niece.
Pipes had previously written a well-received 2007 biography of Dwight Eisenhower, Ike’s Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality, which became an Amazon.com national bestseller.
Pipes’ latest book was published July 23. I attended a book event with Pipes at the Fort Worth Club and spoke with him afterwards.
There have been a lot – libraries, even – of books about Nixon and Watergate, but very little about his life after office. Pipes explained why he sees that part as important.
“There've been pieces of it that have been told but no one has ever covered the 20-year period of what happened to Richard Nixon from the aftermath of Watergate in 1974 until his death in April of 1994,” he said. “Nixon is a Shakespearian figure whose virtues and vices mirror our own. All of us experience triumph, all of us experience tragedy, but none of us have ever experienced anything like the professional setback that he did.
“In a sense it's a universal story about how you move forward when you've lost everything. Where you turn when your friends have gone and what in the world do you do when your whole world has come undone? This is a story of ruin but also recovery, a tale of disaster met with defiance and a reminder that no matter how far someone has regressed, there's always hope for redemption.”
There are also very practical reasons why no one has tackled this subject before. Nixon was a private citizen then. He didn’t have to share any papers or data from that time. His family controls them. And, families, well … Families are families. Pipes had to do a little negotiating to be granted access. But possibly because he did such a fair job with Eisenhower in that book and Nixon’s daughter Julie is married to Eisenhower’s grandson David, he was granted access to what, for a historian, amounts to finding El Dorado.
Despite the 10 years he spent working on the book, Pipes remains excited talking about it. Here are a few of the nuggets he uncovered and expands on in the book.
Nixon changed foreign policy in some significant ways after leaving office. That is particularly true in President Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on the IMF treaty.
“Nixon was way more involved and effective than we realized. He realized that SDI (the strategic defense initiative, commonly known as Star Wars) was a great piece of strategy, that the threat of SDI would help force Gorbachev to the negotiating table,” he said.
“When Gorbachev refuses to meet with Reagan unless the U.S. gives up SDI here's what I found in the archives. Nixon writes a letter to Bud McFarlane (a Reagan adviser) in March of 1984 and this is what he says: ‘I feel very strongly that the president could pull off a real coup by formally offering to mutually share with the Soviet Union the results of our research on SDI. This would undercut Gorbachev's negotiating position.’ And guess what? That's exactly what Reagan did. He publicly offered to share the technology and was able to box Gorbachev into a situation where he had no choice but to come to the negotiating table.”
While Nixon didn’t have as close an association with President George H.W. Bush, he did have an impact during a key moment in the relationship between the U.S. and China, Pipes said.
“Nixon went to China shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre. He met with Chinese leadership including Deng Xiaoping and he had blunt brutal language sent to Deng Xiaoping that one more episode like that will be the ‘death of the relationship between our two countries.’
“Here's the man that opened the door to China, going to China and saying, ‘You better knock it off. We're going to not ever see that again’ And it helped diffuse a terrible political crisis with President Bush, who was faced with calls for abandoning most favored nation status with China, putting sanctions on China, all kinds of things, had China kept acting up. Instead, this one quiet act that no one knew about helped diffuse the situation.”
There’s more in the book. Nixon became an unlikely, but much appreciated, adviser to President Bill Clinton, for instance.
Support your local authors, I say somewhat selfishly. Check the book out.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.
After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon
Kasey S. Pipes
Regency History, $29.99