8824 NE Russell St.
Portland OR 97220

Black Lamb

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Black Lamb was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Published monthly. (more)

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The making of me

June 1st, 2003

BY LAURIE WIMMER WHELAN

Staring at a text of Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, my friend pronounced, “Anyone with Zbigniew Brzezinski on her bookshelf is an official political geek.”

booksleft1He doesn’t know the half of it. I actually read the damn thing.

It all began in the second-most-recent era of miniskirts and platform shoes. My own green velvet mini and brown and lavender neck-breakers are all that I recall of sartorial experimentation, but my memories of political adventure are, some twenty-eight years later, vivid.

I owe it all to my brother, Kenny. Inexplicably, his 1975 Christmas gift to me was a copy of All the President’s Men. One might imagine that a high-schooler’s consciousness would be too tender for riveting accounts of beltway skullduggery. Not so, as it turned out. Now a professional political junkie, I see that this book was the catalyst of my career.

Ken was an insatiable prankster; I was an obsessive and too-sober student. While he made mirth of every moment, I tended to suck the joy out of life with my studious intensity. He thought this book, with its fast-paced whodunit plot line, might lighten me up a bit.

You may remember this intricate account of two Washington Post reporters’ exhaustive quest for the evil truths of Nixon’s elaborate re-election and cover-up activities. The tremors that deflowered a nation’s political innocence awoke this teenager’s political interest. A student journalist, I opened the pages to study investigative technique. Bernstein and Woodward’s intoxicating lead-chasing took me far beyond the world of reportage, however, and into the universe of political intrigue.

You civilians who somehow missed this astonishing story, or who turn up your collective proboscises at nonfiction, might consider finding a well-worn copy and giving the tale a go, just this once. Titillating in its revelation of the profane and cynical world of the Nixon White House, this is as much a story of persistence and integrity battling treachery and obfuscation as it was commercial fodder for the movie-going masses. In it, the meticulous scholar will find scrupulously footnoted research. The recreational fiction fan would be fascinated by the intrigue and plot twists. After all, it gave us the ultimate mystery: the still-secret identity of “Deep Throat,” which has become a focus of latter-day twentieth-century conjecture. As for character development, a literary genius could not manufacture a more splendid complement of antagonists. Who are these seedy souls, whose actions transformed the Watergate from a piece of real estate to an era in contemporary political history?

Consider E. Howard Hunt. He is the quintessential minor literary villain, an erstwhile CIA operative who burgled the Potomac offices of the Democratic National Committee. Explore the psyche of Nixon lawyer John Dean, who ultimately turned State’s evidence against his co-operatives. Shift uncomfortably in your favorite reading chair as you learn about G. Gordon Liddy — a dangerously psychopathic savant, too close to the levers of power for this child’s comfort. Never forget Donald Segretti, a bit player and prankster who charmed us with the invective ploy “ratfucking”. Another of the long list of characters is presidential mouthpiece Ron Zeigler, who sanitized the filthy truth of criminal conspiracy from the bowels of our King Richard’s castle.

There were heroes, too, of course. Ben Bradlee, Post editor and Doubting Thomas, demanded three-party collaboration of every snooped-up detail. Senator Sam Ervin, Judge John Sirica, and the famous reporters themselves — all delivered America from the hands of a nearly missed tragedy of epic oligarchy and deceit. That’s the stuff of literature. Indeed, as non-fiction goes, All the President’s Men masquerades as a great American novel. Utterly captivated I was, at seventeen, and forever smitten with the world of power politics. As Nixon resigned in infamy and his crew — Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, Mitchell, and the others — headed to prison, I set my course on a life in the body politic that they, in their wake, left a little wiser if scarred. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Wimmer Whelan | Link to this Entry

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