Congratulations Mr. Shepard on your new book, The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down! Can you give us an overview of your book and tell us why you wrote it now?
The real Watergate scandal was the trashing of our Constitution and Bill of Rights in the successful effort to realign political power, to drive President Nixon from office, and to imprison his top aides.
I only recently came across proof of massive wrongdoing because key prosecutors took their government files with them – a cover-up of sorts – and I’m the first to appreciate these newly released papers.
What three takeaways would you like readers to leave with after reading your book?
First, there were flagrant due process violations in the Watergate trials that resulted in criminal convictions of President Nixon’s top three aides: John Mitchell, Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. These are hopelessly tainted verdicts and should not be allowed to stand.
Second, at a time of intense political turmoil, judges and prosecutors broke their oaths of office and engaged in political vendettas. It happened against Republicans, but could as easily have targeted Democrats. In exceptionally troubled times, our Bill of Rights failed to protect the accused. Why and how that occurred should trouble all Americans, not just conservatives.
Third, once Watergate’s hype has been put to rest, we should take another look at the Nixon presidency and all that was accomplished. He came into office in very trying times, but turned out to be one of our great presidents.
When doing your research, what was the most shocking thing you discovered?
I don’t know which is the more shocking: that Watergate judges were getting together in secret with prosecutors to affect the outcome of the trial – or that the lead prosecutor was memorializing their agreements in his confidential files.
How do you believe history will ultimately judge Richard Nixon, the good and the bad?
Each President must play the hand that he’s been dealt — and Nixon was not dealt an enviable hand. Elected in reaction to political turmoil from the most unpopular war in American history, there were 535,000 U.S soldiers in Vietnam when he took office – and Democrats were quick to blame him for their war. He was the first President since Zachary Taylor without a majority in Congress.
It’s difficult to lead under such circumstances, but Nixon did an enviable job of working with that Congress to achieve unparalleled reforms, including ending the draft, granting the 18-year old vote, integrating the Southern schools, quadrupling the number of women as political appointees, restoring the rights of Native Americans, responding to the first energy crisis, and enacting environmental protections.
In foreign affairs, Nixon had no equal. It was the golden age of diplomacy. He lead the Opening to China, negotiated Soviet détente, saved Israel in the Yom Kippur War, wooed Egypt out of the Soviet orbit, and ended the Vietnam War.
Another major accomplishment was reigning in the outlandish decisions of Earl Warren’s Supreme Court, principally though the appointment of William Rehnquist. In the four decades between Roe v Wade and the recent decision on gay marriage, the Court did not legislate decisions impacting the personal beliefs of vast numbers of Americans. This absence can be credited to President Nixon.
He was certainly the most conservative Republican who could have been elected in that era. Remember, Nixon’s principal rival was New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, but also a member of the liberal Eastern establishment.
That said, there’s a loathing for Richard Nixon perpetuated by liberal elites that began in response to his exposure of their hero, Alger Hiss – and they’ve never forgiven him for it. Nixon was a very complex and controversial president. Like most Americans, he did not come from family wealth, and did not have the advantages of an Ivy League education. Yet, he reached the pinnacle of success in American politics.
His insights and accomplishments dominated our political thinking in the second half of the Twentieth Century. History will judge President Nixon far more kindly than liberals would like. He wasn’t one of them; he was one of us.
Tell us a little more about yourself personally!
What books, authors, or conservative-themed books, influenced your political philosophy and outlook on life?
I’m among the most conservative people I know, which results from growing up in Orange County in the 1950s. Mine is a natural conservatism. I don’t need The New York Times to tell me how to think. I know from my own experience whether something makes sense or not.
You remember Ayn Rand; her books made a big impression. As for today, I like Charles Murray, his Bell Curve, Coming Apart, and By the People. His approach makes sense and I can relate to his points of how things could be made better.