The Bookworm

“Nixon’s Gamble” by Ray Locker (Lyons Press), 352 pages, $29.95

You can’t fool me.

I see what you did there. I’m watching you; you can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know all the tricks. Yep, I see right through you, but if you say those things often, always remember — as in “Nixon’s Gamble” by Ray Locker — some things aren’t always transparent.

In the summer of 1975, Richard Nixon was “bitter and combative” as he testified under oath at a grand jury hearing for a Navy yeoman accused of leaking secrets to the media. Nixon knew that the yeoman was innocent, and he said so — also admitting that his “entire White House ... was based on secrecy.”

It certainly was no secret that Nixon was focused and determined throughout his career. He’d started out in law, served in World War II, then entered politics at the behest of a group of businessmen, ultimately gaining a reputation as a “dirty campaigner” who knew how to collect political allies and who would do anything to win.

By 1968, he was ready to win the presidency and accomplish a set of goals.

Says Locker, Nixon wanted to restore relations with China, “thaw the Cold War” with Russia and end the Vietnam War, but he’d have to use precision; each piece depended on the timing of the others. Nixon knew that those who fully understood what he was about to do and how he’d do it would try to stop him.

He’d already sabotaged President Johnson’s attempts to end the Vietnam War. Hours after he was inaugurated, Nixon then effectively shut the Oval Office doors, limiting official contact with several Cabinet members. This forced many in his administration to communicate almost entirely with him through his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, who was also kept partially ignorant of Nixon’s full plan.

But Nixon wasn’t satisfied. He created a Special Investigations Unit, whose members dubbed themselves “The Plumbers” because their mission was “to stop leaks.” Their efforts eventually extended to break-ins; one, coincidentally, was at the Watergate Hotel.

I had several thoughts as I was reading “Nixon’s Gamble,” the strongest of which is how stunned I was at the author’s investigation results.

Even those who think they know Nixon’s career will be astounded with what Locker found in his research. This is one of those books that reads like a spy novel sometimes, albeit one that we know is horribly ill-fated and one that will set your jaw into your lap quite often — both for the audacity that Nixon possessed, and for the legacy that his “gamble” left, even now.

But did it work? Locker, in his final pages, writes of the aftermath of Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and Ford’s pardon, but he quietly leaves readers to decide on the end results.

Bear in mind that there were many players in this historical arc and that can get overwhelming. Still, if you’re a Boomer who remembers, a history buff or a new political watcher, “Nixon’s Gamble” hits the jackpot.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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