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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

"I've Finally Figured Out Haldeman's Secret... He Keeps An Inflatable Woman In His Briefcase."

The Ends of Power By H.R. Haldeman with Joseph DiMona New York Times Book Co., 326 pp., $12.95

By Tom Blanton

REMEMBER OL' FRED D. THOMPSON? No? You don't remember good ol' Frayud, Howard Baker's boy? The minority counsel on the Ervin Committee, you don't remember him?

Well, now that you mention it, wasn't he the one with the glasses?

No, no, no, that was Sam Dash, the majority counsel. You're getting them confused because they both wrote books about Watergate.

I am? They did?

Sure, sure. Sam's was your basic recap, but now Frayud, he went off chasin' the CIA because Sam's side was doing such a fine job of linking the White House and CREEP and the Cubans and all, Frayud wanted to pull a wounded hen act.

Izzat right?

Oh, yeah. But Frayud was entranced by the CIA, too, just like John Ehrlichman, who smelled fried clams every time he huddled with Richard Helms, you know, the CIA director.

Fried clams?

Yeah, illegal seafood. Like Ehrlichman was forever fishing for information the CIA wouldn't give him, so he wrote his book about how the CIA was blackmailing the president. He called it a novel, of course, so he wouldn't get sued, but you never know about those things.

Guess not.

The guy who really did the CIA trip, though, was that guy E. Howard Hunt. He made a living writing airport-bookstand-spy-thrillers when he wasn't burgling to make the world safe for democracy. He wrote a book about Watergate, too, but take away the cloak-and-dagger and all you get is self-service (it's cheaper that way). Just like Magruder and Dean, the two bright young boys who did all they could to stanch the tide just as soon as there wasn't a wave to ride anymore.

Uh huh.

Colson was the shrewd one, though, everybody thought he was crazy but he had the best marketing sense of all of them.

What'd he do?

Colson saw the potential in the religious bookstore market, so he hardly wrote about Watergate at all. Just about how nice it was for Jesus to have sublimated those overpowering urges to stomp his grandmother in the name of the Republican Party.

Mm huh.

Safire was the literary one, though. You remember Bill Safire, the speechwriter, the one who put words in Nixon's mouth?

Uh, he writes for some newspaper now, huh?

The New York Times, ya geek. Who let you in here? Where's your bursar's card?

Uh, I left it back in Dunster House. Literary, huh?

Yeah, right. Safire was the one who compared Nixon to a layer cake: Cut it from the top and you get all the different layers plus icing and Happy Birthday America, but go in from the side on a layer like Watergate and all you get is crumbs.

Let them eat cake--did he say that?

Aw shaddup. You should go read Jimmy Breslin's book, How The Good Guys Finally Won--that's about your speed, real light and entertaining and not too long--only take you a couple of days.

Naw, can't do that--I'm writing my thesis.

But isn't your thesis about Ireland?

Oh, yeah, it's called "The Inherent Dishabille of the Fourteenth Crack from the Left on the Blarney Stone and Its Psychotraumatic Relevance to Tongue Elevation in Elementary Gaelic, Grades 1-3, County Cork."

See, you should read Breslin. He's a foine ruddy Irish lad who latched onto that foine ruddy Irish pol Tip O'Neill to become the Giant Leprechaun who could set the truth free about Watergate.

Mmmm.

And if you read Breslin you won't have to keep referring to those plump who-said-what-to-whom-and-when volumes by the various reporters. Like CarlBobRobertDustin's From the Police Blotter To Fame and Fortune in 14,781 Easy Steps. Or J. Anthony Lukas's Nightmare, his "Help me I think I'm falling in love with you" paean to the scandal that provided him three good years of upper-middle tax-bracket living. Or Teddy White's Breach of Faith, an act of penance for his canonization of Nixon in 1972.

What a waste a time. They could start a Book-A-Month Club just on Watergate.

You really think you're funny, don't you? I was gonna give you the low-down on the new H.R. Haldeman book, but now...

Do you mean H.R. "Bob" Nazi crew-cut Medusa-eyed s.o.b. Berlin Wall Lord High Executioner Haldeman?

You've read the book already!

No, no, calm down. The only time I ever saw the Senatuh Sam Show, H.R. Bob was testifying. Is his book worth reading?

Well, it won't be after I tell you the five good stories in it. The first one is the headline, the inflatable woman. The second one is Haldeman's explanation of how Mike Wallace came to pay him $25,000 to go on 60 Minutes and stonewall in 1975: It seems that Wallace saw Haldeman leaning out of a hotel window towards Pennsylvania Ave muttering that, "Nixon was the weirdest man ever to live in the White House."

What's so startling about that? C'mon, tell me the other stories.

Well, Haldeman explains that Nixon needed Kissinger because "dealing with the State Department is like watching an elephant become pregnant. Everything's done on a very high level, there's a lot of commotion, and it takes 22 months for anything to happen."

Say, ol' H.R. Bob sure can turn a phrase, huh?

No, no, he was quoting Franklin Roosevelt there, and it's about the best quote in the book. There was the one about the Great Governmental Re-Organization of 1972 in which Nixon laid down only one limitation on the hirings: "No Goddamn Harvard men, you understand! Under no condition!"

So that's why my father was turned down in '72.

No, kiddo, that was because of his war crimes. But let me tell you about the Secretary of Transportation. Remember Claude Brinegar?

That's like asking me to remember the Alamo, where Rusty Calley killed all those Arabs.

It's like this: They had to look for ethnic balance, right? Up to the Transportation post they just went for the best people, right?

Yeah, John Connally, Caspar Weinberger, Robert Bork.

Right, but they needed a Catholic, so Fred Malek, who surfaced here as a fellow at the Institute of Politics in '75, got all enthused about Claude Brinegar, the president of Union Oil of California, young and Catholic and from the West Coast, Malek said. According to Haldeman, Nixon wasn't so sure. "His name doesn't sound Catholic to me." But Malek assured him that "he's Irish too." So after two weeks in office, Brinegar, the Irish Catholic appointee, revealed that he was a German Presbyterian.

That doesn't exactly sound like ol' Bob was leaping to the defense of the Nixon administration.

Well, you gotta realize he's saving that part for another book, a full memoir of the splendor of the Nixon years, in which Watergate'll be a minor episode. Haldeman says duty called him to straighten out Watergate after the Nixon/Frost interviews, which incidentally cast him and Ehrlichman as the villains Nixon was just trying to protect out of a sense of humanity. Ol' Bob's revisionist history runs like this: "I believed in tough campaigning too, but even from my hardline standpoint, Nixon went too far at times. But political strategy wasn't my province, only the mechanics."

Right.

We can thank ol' Bob for keeping Nixon's aberrant behavior from destroying the nation: "Nixon said, 'There are ways to do it. Goddamnit, sneak in in the middle of the night...' (A perfect example of classic Nixonian rhetorical overkill.) I said, 'We sure shouldn't take the risk of getting us blown out of the water before the election.' (A perfect example of classic Haldeman effort to defuse another potential bomb)," Haldeman writes. Some other time, maybe, huh, Bob?

Gee thanks, Bob. We'll look for you in ol' Roustaboula, San Francisco, Honolulu/You gonna have to leave us now, we know/But we'll see you in the sky above, in the tall grass and in the ones we love/You gonna make us lonesome when you go.

Don't go composing eulogies yet, this book just came out last week. And it's got some folks in a dither, like Ehrlichman, who blasted Haldeman in Time magazine for representing his tennis serve as a "lash," and describing his neck cords as "straining." No such luck, says Ehrlichman, and what really got to him was Haldeman's use of the Woodward/Bernstein method of reconstructing quotes from memory, lines I never quoth, says Ehrlichman.

He should be happy they spelled his name right.

He should be happy he's not in prison any more, unlike the South Africans and Chileans Nixon/Kissinger helped put away, not to mention the Vietnamese and Cambodians they put away for keeps.

Watch out now--keep your Crimson radichic out of this piece.

Yeah, like Haldeman, the second most powerful man in the country, kept out any ideas of a better society from his job. Like he says, all he was there for was "simply to enable the President to function most effectively." Haldeman and Ehrlichman were advance men; their only vision of society came from managing campaigns and advertising accounts. Haldeman's biggie at J. Walter Thompson was Black Flag--he didn't mind anybody eradicating people who were pestering Nixon.

You're still here.

Hey, I just started, and I'm getting my kicks in while they're down.

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