REVIEWSrnWatergate: ThernContinuing Storyrnby fames HillrnNixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990rnby Stephen E. AmbrosernNew York: Simon & Schuster;rn667 pp., $27.50rnOne of the problems with treatingrnan event like Watergate as historyrnis that, for most of us, it isn’t. Thern”third-rate” burglary that became a constitutionalrncrisis leading to the only resignationrnof a sitting President in our historyrnmay be two decades old, but it isrnstill ver)’ much with us.rnIn last fall’s campaign, we saw justrnhow much. Bill Clinton hammeredrnawav at George Bush for his handlingrnof the economy, but Democrats inrnCongress, hedging their bets even asrntheir man took a phenomenal lead inrnthe polls, started prepanng for the possibilityrnof a second Bush presidency byrnlooking for skeletons in Mr. Bush’s closet.rnThus we had “Irangatc” and “Iraqgate”rn—two somewhat related attemptsrnto tie the President to arms-for-hostagernswaps during the Reagan administrationrnand to charge him with coddling Sad-rnLIBERAL ARTSrnPITY PATERrnThe Indiana Court of Appeals recentlyrnreversed a lower court orderrnrequiring an unemployed father whornwas delinquent with liis child-supportrnpayments to stand on the countyrncourthouse lawn holding a signrnreading “Need Job to Support Children.”rnAccording to the I’ennesseanrnlast November, the appeals court arguedrnthat the lower court’s ruling wasrnunreasonable and inappropriate becausernit would have exposed the father,rnone Clarence William Epley III,rnto public humiliation. The man hasrnsince found a job.rndam Hussein in the time leading up tornthe Iraqi dictator’s invasion of Kuwait.rnThe politics of the matter should havernbeen obvious; Congress was positioningrnMr. Bush for a legislative mugging duringrna second term. Those shrill chargesrnof a “cover-up” and hyperbolic claimsrnof a “smoking gun” may have soundedrnlike nonsense in the heat of a campaign,rnbut they were really shots across Mr.rnBush’s bow. The message was clear:rnwin, and we will hound vou unmcrcifulU”rnusing the full force of the lawrnthrough four more years. (One isrntempted, in fact, to ask whether this wasrnthe reason George Bush ran such a horriblerneairrpaign.)rnCongress got even more than it bargainedrnfor vhen Richard Nixon resignedrnin that long-ago summer of 1974: it gotrnstatutory control of the presidency.rnOnce it had it, along with tbc court-orderedrnpower to perpetuate Democraticrncontrol of the legislature through the decennialrnprocess of shifting legislative districtsrn(thus assuring incumbents ofrnsomething akin to academic tenure), itrnhad a lock-hard grip on our democracy.rnAll this has largely been lost on the pressrn(which still thinks it had a collective rolernin Witergate) and other institutions thatrnmonitor government, although therntcrirr-limit juggernaut seems to indicaternthat the people are at least aware of whatrnis going on.rnBut more on this later. Getting backrnto Watergate as history, wc sec that,rneven though the event is still so much arnpart of our present, there is no mistakingrnthat it is also a part of our past. Many ofrnits key figures have faded into obscurity;rnsome, including Sam Ervin, John Sirica,rnand John Mitchell, are dead. Thernone person who is still very much withrnus is Richard M. Nixon. One of thernmost complex men ever to hold thernpresidency, he seems even more complexrnin his long exile. Nixon has enjoyedrnthe triumph so well expressed on automobilernbumper-stickers—”hive longrnenough to be a nuisance to your kids”—rnbut his “kids,” the American people hernso wanted to go’ern paternalistieall}’ afterrnthey returned him to the WhiternHouse with one of the largest landslidesrnin American histor’, still know littlernabout him.rnStephen E. Ambrose, wrapping up hisrnmultivolumc biography of the 37th Presidentrnwith Ruin and Recovery, attemptsrnto close this gap, but mostly fails. ProfessorrnAmbrose, vyho admits that he beganrnhis project with hostility towardrnNixon, largely fails to present thernvyarmer, wiser man that he has grown tornadmire: the elder statesman who can stillrnget an audience yvith foreign leaders, offerrnhis advice to Presidents (even if thevrndon’t take it), and produce thoughtfulrnbooks on the American condition.rnThe failure may not be entirely ProfessorrnAmbrose’s fault. That he presentsrnprecious little about Nixon’s recoveryrnmay be due in part to the former President’srnlust for privacy and to his determinationrnto write his own record ratherrnthan defer to others. Nevertheless, yvernmust go through 400 pages before wernstart to read about Nixon in exile, andrnmuch of this information is familiar tornthose who have followed the President’srncareer.rnThe other problem, of course, is Watergaternitself, by far the defining and allconsumingrnevent of Richard Nixon’srnlong and largely productive life. ButrnWatergate is even more familiar to readersrnthan Nixon’s trips to China. By reasonrnof the nature of the crisis, the tapes,rnand the number of books written byrnWatergate participants, Americans haverna very thorough picture, although possiblyrnnot an understanding, of Nixon’srnday-l)y-day free-fall into disgrace. It mayrnstill be neccssarv for the biographer torneocr this ground, but the amount ofrnattention Ambrose devotes to it seemsrnexcessive.rnBut enough of this. Stephen Ambrosernhas, perhaps unwittingly, identifiedrna sea change in American politics,rnand that is the takeover of the presidencyrnthat Congress achieved with Watergate.rnIt is preposterous to think anybodrn’s prcsidenc}’ can function in thernstraitjackct with which Congress hasrntried to contain it. Yet our obsessionrnwith the concept of America as a nationrnof laws has made us generally blind tornthis reality. While I have no sympathyrnfor Richard Nixon and find it impossiblernto excuse the lawless behavior that producedrnsuch a simpleton break-in andrnimbeeilic coer-up, it seems clear to mernthat we must eventually understand thatrnWatergate did not make things better—rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn