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Dave Wood's Book Report, Aug. 23, 2006

Remember John Dean of Watergate fame? He's back in the news with his latest book, "Conservatives without Conscience" (Viking, $25.95). The title rung a bell but not too clearly, but I jumped in, anyway.

The story behind the book told in the preface is just as interesting as the main body of the book, in which Dean, a conservative, decries the neocons' betrayal of the conservative movement.

It all began years back, according to Dean, when a group of neocons conspired to discredit Dean and his wife Maureen for helping to do in President Richard Nixon.The character assassination was to take the form of a book in which was described Dean's complicity with the Democratic party and his wife's connection with a prostitution ring. The book, so loaded with falsehoods that both "60 Minutes" and Time magazine backed off on stories they were going to do, nevertheless made the New York Times bestseller list.

The Deans, still conservative, felt betrayed. John Dean called his old friend from childhood, Sen. Barry Goldwater, who shared Dean's disappointment in what was happening in the conservative movement. Goldwater, after all, had written a book years ago that was a bestseller, "The Conscience of a Conservative."

THAT'S IT, thought I. That's where Dean got his new title.

Initially the plan was for Goldwater and Dean to collaborate on a book about the new conservatives, the guys with no conscience. But Goldwater fell ill and died, but not before he had opened his papers about conservatism to Dean, who took the job on himself.

The main body of the book describes classical conservatism, discusses how its characteristics made it possible for the neocons to move in. And then it provides examples of how civility has deserted the movement and made way for the likes of Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Pat Robertson.

Liberals, of course, are going to like this book. But so are classical conservatives for its expose of what has happened to a once honorable movement, in which a senator like Goldwater could be a good pal of Vice-president Hubert Humphrey or when the same could be said for William F. Buckley Jr. and Sen. George McGovern.

We're not perfect up here in God's Country, either, as is amply pointed out in "Legacy of Violence," by John D. Bessler (University of Minnesota Press, $18.95). Subtitled "Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota," the book is carefully researched by Bessler, a Minneapolis attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Bessler covers lynchings from the mass execution in 19th century Mankato to the Duluth lynchings of three black circus workers in the 1920s.

But before Wisconsinites look down their noses at folks from across the St. Croix, they should remember that our own valley had its share of mayhem, including the lynching of an Ojibwe by a mob that included the St. Croix County district attorney.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune who no resides in River Falls, Wis.