Historians, young and old, can't get enough of trying to understand the mind of President Richard Nixon. He is perhaps the most complicated and then loathed figure to ever occupy the Oval Office.
Combine that with his vice president, the later admitted bribe-taker Spiro Agnew, and you have even more to study about these bewildering politicians.
You get both men up close in a new book by Jules Witcover aptly titled Very Strange Bedfellows. It is wrapped up neatly in page after pagepettiness, deception, crass maneuvering, and the uncontained ambition of two men we will never see the like of again. The American people should hope so anyway.
(Full disclosure: Witcover and I have been friends for more than 30 years. I admire his work as a reporter, newspaper columnist, and author of more than a dozen books.)
By using White House tapes, diaries of the players' face-to-face interviews with scores of principals, and his own knowledge of the era, Witcover's narrative tells us:
Agnew wound up pleading no contest, resigned from office, and was replaced by Gerald Ford. Agnew looked to rich Hollywood pals like Frank Sinatra to keep him afloat until his death.
Nixon, of course, resigned in disgrace in 1974 as an unindicted coconspirator in the Watergate scandal. As the crimes were unraveling, Nixon delivered those marvelous words in a press conference in Orlando: "I am not a crook."
It turned out that not only was he one but so was his surprise choice for veep in 1968a former moderate Republican largely unknown outside Maryland, where he was elected governor largely because the Democratic choice was a racist.
Those aforementioned historians will not be generous to this pair. In fact, they will wonder what American voters were thinking when they elected them twice.