It has been 40 years since the date that Richard M. Nixon became the only U.S. president to voluntarily leave office – resigning the term that should have run through January 1977 so as to reduce the chance of criminal prosecution.
Because for those whose memories are too short (or who believe nothing occurred prior to Bill Clinton), the mood of the nation toward “Watergate” was ugly enough that Nixon likely would have been impeached by the House of Representatives, then convicted by the Senate.
HE BEAT THE partisans who were out for blood (and who would have loved nothing more than the sight of Nixon serving time in a federal correctional facility), then was spared the possibility of prosecution when – a month later – he was pardoned for anything he might have done by his successor.
But the passage of time, along with the ideologue atmosphere we now live in, makes me wonder if anybody comprehends what we went through back then.
I’ll be the first to admit not fully understanding the happenings back when they occurred. Although I was only 8 years old (6 back when the actual burglary at the Watergate building in Washington actually occurred).
My memory of 40 years ago today was the encyclopedia salesman who showed up at our home that night and made his pitch to my parents – with one of his selling points being that the book was so up-to-date that it included mention of Gerald R. Ford as our new president – which actually didn’t occur until the following day.
I ALSO HAVE memories of going to college (mid-1980s) with people who considered themselves politically-aware who were taught that the whole “Watergate” affair was little more than a plot by “liberals” to discredit a worthy president – with the actual actions not amounting to much!
Since then, we have had many more generations of young people come along. I wonder how many of them think of Cynthia (“Miranda” from “Sex and the City”) or Trot (of the Boston Red Sox) first when they hear the name “Nixon.”
And as for “Milhous,” wasn’t that Bart Simpson’s animated friend?
I wonder how many people are reading all the 40-year anniversary pieces about Nixon’s resignation and are viewing it as more evidence of old farts who can’t move on with their lives. Perhaps they think a real story with lingering interest is whether or not Tupac Shakur is really dead?
IF THEY THINK of Gordon Liddy at all, he’s that bald guy who goes around saying things like President Barack Obama is an “illegal alien born in Kenya” (he really said that on MSNBC). Not as the one-time FBI agent who wound up doing the most prison time of anyone for his Watergate involvement.
The simple fact is that “Watergate” (as in the burglary and attempt to install an illegal wiretap at the Democratic National Headquarters located back then in the Watergate building in southwestern D.C.) was a stupid incident that should have been a one-day story – if not for the fact that the Nixon administration’s reaction to the embarrassment they would have felt for being involved in such an act was to plot the cover-up – with the president personally getting involved.
It created an administration that believed it could break the law for its own benefit.
For those who go about these days screeching “Impeachment” in connection with Obama and who rant about his talk of executive orders to get certain things done (seriously, I have a distant cousin who at a recent family gathering couldn’t shut up about all the “illegal executive orders” that Obama was allegedly issuing), it’s not even close.
NOT JUST BECAUSE the Obama talk is a reaction to the refusal of Republican partisans in Congress to do anything. The difference between wanting to admit refugee children from Latin American nations into the United States and wanting illegal wiretaps so as to listen in on the political opposition is just so grand.
As for Nixon himself, I’ll be the first to concede great actions such as the normalization of relations with China and creation of federal regulations in areas such as the environment – actions that the ideologues would love to dismantle, if given the chance.
But he’s also the man whose “Southern Strategy” of the 1968 campaign cycle (so soon after the Civil Rights Act of 1964) made it clear that some political people were more than willing to work with the segregationists of old.
And as for the break-in that resulted in Nixon’s televised resignation speech 40 years ago today (Chicago Cubs fans probably think it more important that 26 years ago, they tried to play the first night game at Wrigley Field, only to have it cancelled due to inclement weather), the pettiness of the act shows that the nation probably did need to get beyond the “Nixon years” sooner, rather than later.