Today and tomorrow, August 8 and 9, mark the glorious fortieth anniversary of the end of the Nixon regime, so it's appropriate to look back, post some memories, and maybe think about the significance of the time.

Having watched it in real time I know that my memories and thoughts have changed over the last forty years. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday my reaction the day I woke up and the news of the break-in broke. “Now they'll never vote to re-elect him” was literally my first thought. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Even looking back it's striking how completely this one story dominated the national attention throughout the summer of 1973, when I would get home from my summer job as a letter carrier to watch the hearings, and into the run-up to impeachment in the summer of 1974. I'll share a few of my observations and maybe you, our readers, will have some thoughts of your own to share.

==> One thing that the revelations of subsequent years have shown us is that Nixon may not have been worse than we thought at the time, but he was definitely worse than we knew. I'm talking, of course, about the fact that had been suspected but has since been confirmed that Nixon betrayed his country by trying to prevent an “October surprise” that would throw the election to Humphrey in 1968. To avoid this Nixon carried on secret communications with the government of South Vietnam urging them not to make any deals, but to hold out until he got into office when he would get them a better deal than they would get from the outgoing Johnson administration.  Think of the tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese whose deaths are directly attributable to this one action on Nixon's part.

==>Nixon and so many of the men–yes, they were all men– around him were lawyers. Not knowing any lawyers at the time I didn't really understand why it seemed so shocking that it was lawyers saying the things we hear on the tapes and making these decisions, but having spent thirty-five of those intervening years practicing law I now see just how shocking it was. Even if you don't attribute any particular virtue to lawyers, how could they not have considered the legal consequences and criminal liability as they sat in the Oval Office planning payoffs of a million dollars to convince potential witnesses to clam up or lie in order to protect the presidency? If nothing else, this level of criminality, in which the President, the Attorney General, and all of his top aides were in it up to their elbows proves that Nixon was uniquely corrupt in the ranks of American presidents.

==>Finally, the “where were you?” moment. We knew the resignation was coming, but I didn't get to see either of his last two speeches on television. The announcement of his resignation was on the evening of August 8, and while he was making his resignation speech I was at Pine Knob outside of Detroit at a Joni Mitchell concert. We knew the time was coming, and someone a few rows in front of us had a portable television, but we didn't see anything. Still, the crowd roared with one voice when Joni came onstage after a warmup set of dental music from her backup band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, and announced “The president has resigned!” 

What about you? Where were you and what do you remember? 


6 thoughts on “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Open Thread

  1. riding in a car with my parents home from Newport RI when something came on the radio about the President resigning. We pulled over at a Holiday Inn in South Kingstown and watched it in the lounge. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was 16. The bar had a handful of other patrons, mostly middle age men, they looked like  salemen out for a 3 martini lunch. The TV was on with the news and the men at the bar were laughing and drinking. I remember my Dad asking them if they could be quieter and allow others in the bar to hear the tv. A bunch of particularly drunk patrons yelled something incoherently at my father and I remember being shock that someone would yell at my Dad especially in front of my Mom. My mother was pretty upset with resignation, and was quietly crying, I guess she thougt the country was coming apart at the seems.

    Neither my parents were Nixon lovers, far from it, they were the parents of 7 children, ages 7-17. My Mom then asked the men to be quiet and one of they gave a savage response. My father, a WW2 vet and a war hero, had enough and we left the bar. He never raised his voice and escorted us out of the bar. We drove home, no one said a word and the radio was off. We had had enough, it had been a long year for America and it wasn’t remotely over.

  2. We lived in Montreal through most of the unwinding of the Watergate scandal, but moved to Berlin in January of ’75.  

    All of my impressions from that time were of trying to explain the whole mess to  interested but dispassionate foreigners.  Nixon and his cohorts were such an embarrassment, following so immediately on the heels of Viet Nam.

    As you say, we thought of Nixon as the archetype of dishonesty; but we really had no idea of the broader implications of general corruption in government.

    I didn’t know that about the “October surprise;” but I do remember that that was the story told about Reagan’s manipulation of the Iranian hostage situation to keep Carter from ending it before the election.

  3. I had to run off to an appointment and wanted to add this.

    I remember the summer of the H2Ogate hearings, it was on daily and was like following the OJ trial, with wall to wall coverage, details dripping out slowly. Some very powerful stuff, like John Dean’s appearance.

    One event that I remember was the “Saturday Night Massacre” when Archibold Cox was fired. That was a pivotal time. Even those that were in Nixon’s corner could not deny his duplicity. The dominos started tumbling afterwards.

    And in the aftermath, the country was a mess. Carter was elected as a result and people were very happy. But the country suffered horribly under his watch economically. Inflation went crazy, no jobs and I was in college at the time. I never had fun in those years, no money and no jobs, it seemed much worst for young people at that time. I think they called it a “malaise ” at the time, I called it the time of nothing. And things were crap until Carter left office.

  4. I was 14, and a newspaper carrier for the Times Argus.  I was on vacation with my family in Cape Cod at the time.  We did not have a TV in the house we were renting, but somebody we knew nearby did.  She let us watch Nixon’s speech the night before while she went to another event. A staunch Republican, I don’t think she wanted to watch it anyway.  I had been going to the local store every day to pick up a New York Times, but on the 8th, I got up extra early to make sure it wouldn’t be sold out.  We listened to his “goodbye” speech on the radio, and I remember thinking “did he really just say plumbers?”  The night before, I felt sorry for him for about ten minutes, then I recovered.  

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