Richard Nixon isn't the only Watergate survivor who's back. So are David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. You'd know them anywhere.
Julie is pretty, slender, exquisitely polite and everlastingly earnest. David is lean, bespectacled, a shade thinner on top and everlastingly analytical. It hardly seems that a dozen years ago they were making Richard Nixon's last stand in the White House East Garden, the only accessible family members in the denouement of Watergate.
It may be only coincidence that the Eisenhowers have ventured out of seclusion, to publicize the books each has written, at the same time Nixon has emerged as a rehabilitated elder statesman. Still, something like that happened in 1979 when both the Nixons and the Eisenhowers were living in California, and they all got up one morning, as David tells it, with the same thing in mind: Head East.
"It just felt like the time to come back," he remembers.
Two years earlier, in search of new beginnings, an old-fashioned family life and "total concentration," the Eisenhowers just dropped out, not to heal their wounds, though there were plenty of those, but to try to understand what they'd been through and to "learn" about the Nixon administration.
*"Had to," says David. "Not that it's unpleasant to go out and rub shoulders and see people and so forth, but it takes something out of you. These writing projects require total concentration."
In his case, "the impetus was curiosity, you know, the sense that it's going to be much more fun to learn about this Nixon administration than ever talk about it." It was 14 years ago last week that five burglars broke into Democratic national headquarters, setting off the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to Nixon's resignation. David Eisenhower says he is still fascinated by it all, and does not rule out someday writing a book about the Nixon administration.
*At the moment, though, it's "Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945," the first of an ambitious trilogy, to be published by Random House in September, that is bringing him out of his pedagogic isolation as a lecturer in postwar European politics and American foreign policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Julie's biography of her mother, Pat Nixon, is due out later this year, and though she gladly yields the limelight to David, she, too, showed up at media-targeted events this spring.
Life has not been altogether unkind to the Eisenhowers of Berwyn, Pa. They've been married since 1968. Now on the brink of middle age, wiser for it and unquestionably happier, David, 38, and Julie, 37, have three small physical carbon copies of themselves: children Jennie, 7, Alex, 5, and Melanie, 2. Jennie in particular looks startlingly like her mother did as a child.
Theirs is the life of Suburbia, U.S.A. -- Girl Scouts, dancing and piano lessons, Little League, back-yard practice sessions, friendly neighbors and doting grandparents.
"It's been a happy time," says David, who thinks that's because "it's been purposeful. We're around the house a lot, a day-to-day type thing, and we're closer to our children as a result of it all."
Hardly the objective husband, David says Julie's book is going to be "terrific," because "she has done things with her mother's life nobody has ever done, re-created her times in a way without ascending into obscurity."
Pat Nixon opposed the book for the same reasons David thinks his grandfather, Dwight Eisenhower, would have opposed his. As he explains the viewpoint: " 'You have better things to do than to worry about what I thought about such and such' . . . But my grandfather's career is worthy of the commitment of anybody. It's a fascinating thing, something I couldn't explain to him."
It was at some point during the darkest days of Watergate, when he would mull over what they were going through, that he concluded it wasn't just the Nixon era he needed to know about, but also his grandfather's; there was no way he could pass up the chance to do the book.
He saw it as the opportunity "to combine intensive study of things I was curious about with really understanding this field, with putting out something that may be of value to somebody."
His soliloquy, as he remembers it, went something like this: "I'm a law student, I'm in the wrong field. . . . I have some ability as a writer. I have a subject that I have access to."
He started reading World War II histories, Eisenhower administration material and what he could find on the 1960s and the Nixon administration "just to get the feel" for how an Eisenhower book project might go.
Ike had given the commencement address for David's class of 1966 at Phillips Exeter Academy. Resisting the Vietnam war and the draft was "very much the undercurrent" at the time and "I remember that . . . what he was saying to the students, in effect, was 'Watch out and do as you're told.' "
David's feelings at the time?
"It was inexorable," he says, "that I was going to do what I was going to do about registering for the draft . . . It was kind of, 'Like it or not, is it my place, being 18 years old, to say what I will and won't do?' Once that decision's made, you abide by the verdict."
He says he could have refused to register -- "That would have involved the price of my family, but other people paid that price" -- just as, he says, though not quite so convincingly, he could have publicly opposed his father-in-law's views on the Vietnam war.
"Well, I think it . . . " he begins, then starts again, "Well, it's easy. You just oppose it. That happened in family after family in America. It was a hard decision for a lot of people at great cost. I think you still feel it -- Vietnam's that kind of issue."
*As an adolescent, he says, it had never occurred to him to choose a military career. From Exeter, he went directly to Amherst. "I found later I disappointed everybody by not going to the military academy."
*By 1970, when the draft lottery was instituted and David, like others his age, faced the luck of the draw, his number came up 30. Published reports of the day told how his grandfather once had urged him to go into the Navy, rather than the Army, unless he was deciding on a military career. He had already applied to Naval Officers' Candidate School. He never saw action as a lieutenant j.g. aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Albany, though a number of his classmates wound up in Vietnam. He was discharged in May 1973, the same month the Senate Watergate hearings got under way.
It's not a period in his life he dwells upon, anymore than Watergate is an issue he debates, though that summer saw the start of his writing career -- as a baseball columnist for the now defunct Philadelphia Bulletin.
Whether for reasons Pat Nixon teasingly predicted to reporters -- that her son-in-law would never make it in journalism because he was "too conservative" -- or because his grandfather had earlier urged him to study law as a stabilizing influence, David entered law school at George Washington University that fall.
Then, with the Watergate drama unfolding, he and Julie abandoned the $125,000 Bethesda house longtime Nixon friend Bebe Rebozo had provided them for an apartment at Columbia Plaza, closer to the White House as well as to GWU.
As Nixon's bunker mentality took hold, the public saw less and less of Pat Nixon and Tricia Nixon Cox and more and more of Julie Nixon Eisenhower. She was a fighter whose spunk even her father's critics could not help but admire.
Her zenith came in Richard Nixon's final spring as president, when she and David faced a searching, sometimes hostile press in the East Garden. David calls it "an astonishing day -- and an astonishing time" and remembers, proudly, that Julie had played her role to perfection, combative at times, imploring at others, but always in dead earnest.
"She couldn't have handled it better. That's exactly what she should have done," he says.
Through all that, they liked Washington, liked its pace. They had always liked it. Not even the 1960 election, when neither the Nixons nor the Eisenhowers had been reconciled to the outcome, had succeeded in making them feel totally shut out.
"There was always the feeling ," David says, "that we ought to be in the middle of this. Washington was an exciting place."
By 1977, when David had finished law school, he and Julie thought they might be "city people" and moved to New York. But he did not go into law.
"I could see myself going into a firm and looking over my shoulder at something else, or being drawn out, or allowing myself to become the center of attention for a short while, then losing out professionally long range.I did not think I would be effective," he says.
"Remember, everybody was writing books," he continues. "We both found what we were interested in was learning about the period; we weren't interested in debriefing. As soon as you take that stuff and say you're going to write a history, it's completely different."
*So began the California interlude, and the realization that writing wasn't just a pipe dream but an ambition that could be fulfilled. Just knowing the principal assured David of that. Or, principals, in his case.
It's a unique position to be in, and it raises the inevitable questions about politics and whether that's the next career.
*"I think it's something we'd both like to do," David says. "Julie's capable of it, and I think we'd both enjoy it.
"We also know enough about politics to know we've got to have a good reason for coming here to Washington . In other words, it's not just wanting to do something. Wanting to do a book isn't enough. You've got to have to do it."
He says he thinks Richard Nixon would be all for it, too, "the way my grandfather would have liked me going into West Point."
"It was Mr. Nixon's chosen field and, for either one of us, I think he would be delighted to sort of see it rounded by a member of the family," he says. If Nixon had it to do all over, he would go into politics again too, David says. "I don't think he'd shy away from it."
David Eisenhower doesn't claim to be objective in anything he writes about a grandfather or a father-in-law who were presidents. Whatever he writes "will be what it is," just, he says, as the books by John F. Kennedy's supporters are what they are.
"They're either convincing or they're not," he says. "They're convincing depending on whether the author draws you into the subject, whether it makes sense on a day-to-day thing, how it addresses preconceptions."
And there are a lot of those about the Eisenhowers and Nixons, political families intermingled through Julie and David Eisenhower.
While their outlooks were far from identical, what impresses David is how alike the two men were -- "both given nothing, sort of 'out-of-nowhere' separated by 20 years . . . but with this self-made theme in common."
That'swhy, back in 1968 when Ike withheld his endorsement of Nixon, maintaining what his grandson calls his "Olympian neutrality," and David was traveling around the country with the Nixon campaign, "I remember thinking many nights, it sure would be nice if all this came together."
One could argue that, in some ways, it finally has