Friday, June 16, 2017

"Alexander Butterfield, day after day, would hear Nixon say, 'We’re going to nail those sons of bitches.'”

David Remnick on Alexander Butterfield:

He quickly discovered that Nixon was a fantastically weird and solitary man—rude, unthoughtful, broiling with resentment against the Eastern élites who had somehow wounded him, be it in his imagination or in fact. Butterfield had to manage Nixon’s relations with everyone from his Cabinet members to his wife, Pat, who on vacations resided separately from the President. Butterfield carried out Nixon’s most peculiar orders, whether they involved barring a senior economic adviser from a White House faith service or making sure that Henry Kissinger was no longer seated at state dinners next to the most attractive woman at the occasion. (Nixon, who barely acknowledged, much less touched, his own wife in public, resented Kissinger’s public, and well-cultivated, image as a Washington sex symbol.)

Butterfield experienced what all aides do, eventually, if they have the constant access; he was witness to the unguarded and, in Nixon’s case, the most unattractive behavior of a powerful man. Incident after incident revealed Nixon’s distaste for his fellow human beings, his racism and anti-Semitism, his overpowering personal suspicions, and his sad longings. Nixon, the most anti-social of men, needed a briefing memo just to make it through the pleasantries of a staff birthday party. One evening, Butterfield recounts to Woodward, he sat across from Nixon on a night trip back to the White House from Camp David on Marine One, and watched as Nixon, in one of the more discomfiting passages in the literature of sexual misbehavior, kept patting the bare legs of one of his secretaries, Beverly Kaye:

"And he’s carrying on this small talk, but still patting her. Because I can see now, Nixon being Nixon, he doesn’t quite know how to stop. You know, to stop is an action in itself. So he’s pat, pat, patting her. And looking at her. And feeling—I can see he’s feeling more distressed all the time now about the situation he’s got himself into. So he keeps trying to make this small talk, and I can see him saying [to himself], you know, when the small talk is over, what the hell am I going to do? . . . She’s petrified. She’s never had this happen before. The president of the United States is patting her bare legs."

For how long? Woodward asks.

“It seems like half the way to Washington but I’d say a long time, minutes.”

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