In his compelling book “31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today,” Barry Werth sheds new light on the four weeks after President Richard M. Nixon resigned and departed from the White House in 1974, and the ongoing effects of that period. After Nixon’s departure when Gerald Ford reluctantly assumed presidency, the country was reeling from Watergate scandal. President Ford desperately needed to prove himself by stabilizing the nation, deciding whether his disgraced predecessor would be pardoned, and establishing his own administration. All in all, Werth’s book highlights the burden of the demanding tasks that Ford had to undertake, the most burdensome of all was to “establish a "legitimate government" insulated from the taint of the Nixon years–a difficult challenge at best” (Werth 21). Some of the principal players in the British administration rose to power, most prominently Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
When Ford had come into office back then, he barely had any foreign policy or national security experience. Ford turned his back on the earlier approach of politics based on power by playing a role in the implementation of conservative policies. Ford also took on Henry A. Kissinger, who was the secretary of state at the time and was the man behind Nixon’s strategy to ease strained relations in times of political crisis. Although Werth does draw parallels between the Ford and Bush administration, he does not discuss the subject in detail, apart from a few commends in the concluding pages. Indeed, any reader who wants to find out about the early years of the careers of Cheney and Rumsfeld should read Werth’s book.
Many of the facts and ideas in “31 Days” seem to have been borrowed from the writings of Nixon and Ford, and even books by Bob Woodward, Richard Reeves, Walter Isaacson, and others as reference to a considerable degree. However, ultimately the book ends up openly chronicling the things that President Ford did on a daily basis during the first month he served as the president of the United States. It seems that Werth borrowed this technique from recent books on American Presidents such as Kennedy, Nixon, and Regan written by Richard Reeve. The book also reveals that there were “two sparring, mutually distrustful staffs” (Werth) that Ford was trying to manage, not only his own but Nixon’s as well. At the same time, Ford was making an endeavor to continue and stabilize the nation, and attempting to drag his administration away from the filth and mess of the Watergate scandal.
It is already apparent that Ford had to face overwhelming challenges when he arrived at the White House, such as addressing the question of amnesty for draft evaders, demolishing inflation to the ground, and restoring public trust in his government. In “31 Days,” Werth actually appreciates Ford for taking on these challenges. Perhaps the most demanding task for Ford was to decide whether he should pardon Nixon. If he did not pardon Nixon, the nation would continue to be haunted by the Watergate scandal for months or even years to come if Nixon went to trial. On the other hand, if he did pardon Nixon, while so many members of his administration faced trial, Ford would be blamed for making a secret deal with his predecessor and not allotting justice equally.
Many earlier commentators have depicted Ford as a solid, outspoken man, a bit naïve maybe, but straightforward and well meaning, and Werth depicts him just the same. Additionally, Werth suggests that Ford had “an overpowering inner need to put the past behind” (Werth). Moreover, discussions were going on to “urge Ford to pardon Nixon-for the good of the country” (Werth 309), and he ultimately did. However, the cost of Ford’s decision turned out to be very severe. His decision was criticized by many historians and journalists, even though their views ultimately changed. Ford lost most of his popularity, both conservatives and liberals savaged him; and his gradually diminish influence gave the Republican right the perfect opportunity to emerge. Senator Henry M. Jackson and Ronald Regan also attacked Ford for not being strong enough on communism.
The Ford administration also appointed a “Team B” “to examine the same data [on the Soviet Union] the CIA was using and come up with their own findings” (Werth 341) in order to pacify hardliners. Many of the conclusions that Team B came to portrayed the Soviet Union for its obsession about expansionism. However, later these conclusions were disputed as exaggerations and overstatements. Two and a half decades later, Mr. Rumsfeld appointed another Team B-like group to screen through raw intelligence. It emphasized on evidence that would connect Al Qaeda to Iraq and make the case that Saddam was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. The findings of the group had been intended to be used for challenging conventional intelligence estimates so that the case for war against Iraq could be established.
Even though a majority of “31 Days” is about the past, but the parallels between the 1947 drama and the controversies of today are suggested by Werth, and how Rumsfeld and Cheney’s experiences in the Watergate scandal shaped their future political careers, he manages to connect the book to present. However, Werth’s book has an oddly rash feel, and although the book is subtitled: “The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today,” Werth does not succeed in fully delivering on the premise of the subtitle. No doubt, by the time the readers will be done reading this book, they will be disappointed in realizing that Werth did not expand his time frame to thoroughly examine the Ford administration. Instead, Werth’s book is more of a brief epilogue with the most significant developments of the Ford administration stuffed into it.
However, what Werth succeeds in doing in “31 Days” is that he provides readers with a captivating narrative account of the first weeks after Ford became president. Moreover, he provides some exciting glimpses of major players in Ford’s administration during their initial years in Washington. Barry Werth’s book is important for two particular reasons. Firstly, his book has historical implications, and secondly, it highlights connections between the Ford and the Bush administration. By the time readers have finished reading Wreth’s book; they will look at Ford with a new perspective and will be impressed. Werth’s clarifies that Ford’s decision was not a continuation of the Watergate scandal; his decision was bold and essential in order to heal the nation. Moreover, according to Werth, Ford’s tender-hearted, quietly religious nature was genuinely reflected in his decision.
Nixon’s departure from the White House and Ford assuming presidency was a short crucial moment in the history of the United States, and Barry Werth’s “31 Days” presents a microscopic view of it. Werth skillfully addresses some critical political questions in his book, questions such as the limits of presidential power, the role of media, whether government is above the law, questions that shook the country in 1974 and till today, these questions remain somewhat unanswered.
Werth, Barry. 31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today. 1st ed. Nan A. Talese, 2006. Print.