Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tricky Dick: Gone But Not Forgotten

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew swept to an easy victory in November of 1972 as they were re-elected President and Vice-President of the United States.  It was more than a victory, it was an electoral landslide of epic proportions.  The Republican team, Nixon and Agnew, won every state in the nation with the exceptions of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  The electoral count was 520-17, and Nixon and his running mate prevailed with over 60% of the popular vote.

(That was the first election in which I was old enough to vote - and I cast my vote proudly for George McGovern and R. Sargent Shriver.)

Nixon and Agnew were sworn into office for their second terms on January 20, 1973.    At the time of their inauguration, Richard Nixon was fighting a political brush fire over his likely personal involvement in a botched burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters during the election - an affair referred to by the name of the building in which the headquarters was located:  Watergate.   His fate was still in the stars, but there was a sense that somewhere a noose was tightening.

Spiro Agnew entered his second term with fairly positive prospects for an extended political life - perhaps even a crack at the presidency - a virtual certainty if those pesky reporters at the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, somehow managed to bring down Nixon.  But quicker than one can say "nattering nabobs of negativism," he became the focus of the unrelenting press when it was reported that Spiro Agnew, as governor of Maryland, had accepted cash kickbacks from state contractors.  On October 10th, less than nine months after his inauguration, Agnew entered a plea in a Maryland court where he neither admitted nor denied the allegations - and he resigned the vice-presidency that day - only the second vice-president ever to do so.

The Agnew resignation allowed Richard Nixon to nominate his replacement - by virtue of the 25th Amendment which had been ratified six years earlier.  Nixon named Congressman Gerald Ford to the position, and he was quickly confirmed by Congress.

Vice President Ford had barely unpacked into his new office when the Watergate story began heating up and boiling over.    Thanks to extremely hard-nosed reporting by Woodward, Bernstein, and others, as well as an assist from a confidential informant known to the public as "Deep Throat" (FBI second-in-command, Mark Felt), and Nixon's personal recordings of daily life int he Oval Office, the presidency of Richard Nixon began to quickly unravel.    His high crimes and misdemeanors were debated in the House of Representatives, and that body voted to impeach the President.  Nixon resigned rather than face a trial in the Senate where he was almost certain to be removed from office.

Nixon's resignation from the presidency occurred on August 9th, 1974 - forty years ago today.  It represents what was and still is the lowest point in the history of the Presidency of the United States.

The Nixon story has been told, dissected, analyzed, and retold ad infinitum.  He was truly a tragic character of Shakespearean proportions.  Nixon was a paranoid who feared his enemies - and even maintained a list of enemies which eventually became public during the Watergate investigations.  Everybody was out to get him.  Nixon's paranoia and lust for power were key antecedents to the Watergate break-in.

Nixon was a cunning politician who understood the American psyche and played on the aspirations and fears of his countrymen.   The fact that he and Spiro Agnew did so well in the election of 1972 was no fluke.  Nixon portrayed himself as the hardworking every-man, the American ideal. The Nixon campaign was also able to instill a fear of his opponent, George McGovern, among the general public and paint him as a dangerous radical.   Those dirty pot-smoking hippies who wiped their asses on the American flag were McGovernites!

George McGovern was a gentleman - with a conscience.  Richard Nixon was shameless.

But also, to a certain degree, Nixon was a statesman who was concerned with his legacy.  It was Nixon who opened ties with China and legitimized the existence of the world's third most powerful country - and it was Nixon who finally, after four years in office, began the peace process that ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Richard Nixon wanted to be remembered as a great President.  It must have broken his heart to have to resign in disgrace, a statesman destroyed and consumed by his inner demons.

The thought back then was that the Republican Party could sink no lower - but, of course, it has.

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