Nixon Resigned 44 Years Ago Today. We're Just Saying, DONALD.
The day Richard Nixon resigned, Yr Dok Zoom was a bit over 12 years old, and while I was a fairly bright kid, I was by no means a sophisticated consumer of news media. That morning, when a special bulletin saying Nixon was expected to resign later that day came on the TV, my first reaction was to run to the phone and call our little town's one radio station, because they offered a ten dollar prize to anyone who offered a news tip they used on the air. I was so disappointed when the guy on the phone said they'd just gotten the same bulletin from a wire service. Kids and their crazy ideas of how the world works! I bet it came on a teletype machine. They used to have teletypes back then.
Another thing they used to have back then was Republican members of Congress who were capable of being shocked by a Republican president's complete disregard for the law. Let's not get overly nostalgic -- plenty of hardcore Nixon supporters were happy to make excuses and blame the Watergate scandal on the Democrats or the liberal press or maybe communists, which seemed at least plausible to my very Catholic, very Republican mother -- who had in 1972 voted not for Nixon, but for certified loon John G. Schmitz, a John Birch Society guy who ran as the nominee of George Wallace's American Independence Party and was the father of Mary Kay Letourneau, that Lifetime Movie come to life teacher who married her elementary school kid. My mom liked the hourlong ad Schmitz ran the week before the election accusing Nixon of going soft on the reds for going to China.
But there were, as we say, Republicans, including Barry Holy Shit Goldwater, willing to tell the President that not only were there enough votes in the House to impeach him, but almost certainly enough votes in the Senate to convict him of high crimes and misdemeanors, which he certainly had to already know himself, since he too had a teletype machine. But that come-to-Jesus meeting the Republicans held with him made the difference, because he'd surrounded himself with so many Yes Men who echoed his own delusions that he needed some outsiders to point him in at least the general direction of reality. It may have taken some doing, since the portrait of Abraham Lincoln he had late-night drunken chats with had reassured him he could prevail against anything if he fought to the very last. It was probably easier for Republicans to deliver harsh truths when they didn't have a majority in either house, honestly.
So Nixon decided he was all out of tricks ("Tricky Dick" was still considered a pretty creative insult in the sixth grade), and he gave an embarrassingly bathetic private farewell speech to his staff* telling them (again) of his humble origins, and reminding them his father was "sort of a little man, common man," and yet "he was a great man, because he did his job, and every job counts up to the hilt." And his mother -- well, his mother was a saint, who'd seen two of her sons die of tuberculosis, and there was a whole lot of saintliness and death in his family. In a blog post on the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation, four years ago, editor and writer Larry Wallace notes how brilliantly Nixon connected with his staff and family:
It was at this point in the speech that friend and former counsel Leonard Garment thought to himself, "Oh, my God, he's beginning to break down. A binge of free association. Money, father, mother, brothers, death. The man is unraveling right before us. He will be the first person to go over the edge on live television." David Eisenhower, too, thought his father-in-law was about to crack. He stood beside him along with Nixon's two daughters, Julie and Tricia, and Tricia's husband, Ed Cox. And of course, as ever, there was Pat. Except that Nixon would not mention Pat even once during the speech.
Americans only found that out much later, of course. On that hot afternoon in Oregon, the main thing I was feeling was a sense that this really was historic, and also a keen awareness that the longer it took Nixon to resign, the less time we'd have at the Douglas County Fair that evening, and I'd have to see a cousin's dumb 4-H pig before I could go on any rides and could you please get this over with, Mr. Nixon. Which he did, eventually, on live TV:
Then Jerry Ford became president and Doonesbury imagined a huge wall being taken down outside the White House, but then Ford pardoned Nixon to spare the nation any more agony and we got Jimmy Carter and we moved to Arizona just after the Bicentennial, but I wasn't a hip enough teenager to start watching "Saturday Night Live" until 1978, so I missed the whole first season. Devo was the first musical guest I saw, and they kind of freaked me out.
Oh, yeah, and if you haven't read Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, you're in for a hell of a treat. It's a brilliant examination of how we got from there to here. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer any map for where we go now that we have a president and a Republican Congress who are utterly immune to shame or even basic decency. At least it's a reminder that this dumb country has survived a petty, mendacious prick of a president before.
And now it's your Open Thread.
* Update/correction: I obviously misremembered things -- Nixon's teary awful farewell to White House staff was the next morning, after the resignation on TV. Wonkette regrets the error.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.