The Magazine

Big Bad John

Nixon's attorney general deserves his reputation.

May 26, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 35 • By ROBERT D. NOVAK
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Even more disturbing is the account of his relationship with Martha Mitchell, described by Rosen as "a sick, mean, and ignorant woman, roiling with vanity and insecurity, demeaning to people who she considered beneath her, and prone .  .  . to violent bursts of alcoholism." The author writes that her "initial attraction" to Mitchell in what started as "an extramarital affair" could be found in "adultery's usual draws: sex, excitement, illicit adventure." But after their marriage had collapsed, Mitchell explained why his eight-year prison sentence was not so severe: "They could have sentenced me to spend the rest of my life with Martha."

That heartless remark about a troubled woman whom he had treated with patience was the tough-guy façade that put Richard Nixon, Rosen writes, "in awe of Mitchell." When Mitchell said that "this country is going so far right you are not even going to recognize it," and advised Nixon not to address black publishers because "you can buy these monkeys anyway," he was feeding Nixon's worst prejudices--not saving the president from his baser instincts, as The Strong Man implies.

James Rosen tries to make the point that John Mitchell "somehow" stood "fundamentally apart from the criminality of the Nixon administration," but he does not really make that case, even while producing an engrossing account of a flawed regime whose secrets do not fail to shock us almost four decades later.

Robert D. Novak, syndicated columnist and Fox News analyst, is the author, most recently, of The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington.