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?