Tuesday, August 9, 2011

COMMENTARY: Fail to the Chief

Today marks the thirty-seventh anniversary of President Richard Nixon's resignation. I originally watched this speech from my Aunt Marjie's living room in Colorado Springs with my Mom, my grandparents, Aunt Marjie and Uncle IJ.

I wasn't sure what to expect when we heard there'd be a special report. We didn't usually have the television on at Aunt Marjie and Uncle IJ's except for the news.

The sound of this announcement was ominous. President Nixon was going to be speaking to the nation. Trouble had been brewing over Watergate for the past two years. The first we'd heard of anything was in 1972--the break-in of the Democratic Headquarters during the previous presidential election campaign.

Then, we heard that more break-ins had happened at the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. For those of you who don't know, Ellsberg was the Defense Department analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1972. Those papers incriminated a lot of politicians regarding the war in Vietnam.

For those of you who weren't even born yet, here's an excellent chronology of the events from The Washington Post.

I was angry sitting there in that little living room with that great big television set. I didn't support the Vietnam War and I wasn't happy with the direction our country had taken.

It was also the first time I'd felt betrayed by a politician. Yeah, I worked on Nixon's campaign in 1968. I was eleven and my best friend at the time had an aunt with the State Republican Headquarters in Oklahoma. There was free pizza, what can I say? Truthfully, Nixon would not cut it in Today's GOP. He wanted socialized medicine at one time.

We all knew Congress was gathering votes for an impeachment. I knew some of my family did not believe that Nixon himself was guilty. Nobody really knew what the President was going to say.

Here's what Nixon said.


I went outside to the garden to cheer. Yeah, finally. We could stop hearing about the impeachment and move on to have a trial. That would answer the questions about Watergate for good. Nixon would get whatever he deserved. Justice would be served.

Yeah, right. A month later on Sunday morning, Gerald Ford pardoned his former boss. His thoughts on the matter: "It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."

A lot of people said that the country needed to move on after two years of trauma over the Watergate incidents. A lot more people were angry and believed that Ford sold out to Nixon on a pardon deal. Ultimately, even Ford admitted that the decision to pardon Nixon cost him the election to Jimmy Carter.

My husband Tony, who was of the first camp, argued with me about this for literally years. I think he finally gave up when evidence continued to mount post mortem that Nixon was guilty. The fact that I am still tenacious as a bulldog about the argument surely has nothing to do with it.

But, I wonder. If Richard M. Nixon had gotten his just desserts, would those following him to office have been so free with their illegal activities? Think of the Presidential scandals since: Iran Contra under Bush I, Monica Lewinsky under Clinton, and finally "W" with the lies that began the Iraq War.

Admittedly, Nixon would have been in a White Collar facility, but wouldn't his presence there have quelled some of the megalomania that engendered the above incidents? And wouldn't his presence in jail mean to the American people that justice does get served to both the high and the low?

We're never going to know that. But I personally believe that knowing there are consequences to your illegal actions and seeing someone has gotten those consequences served up to them fairly is a good deterrent.

What I didn't know until today was that Gerald Ford carried a piece of paper around in his wallet listing the US Supreme Court decision Burdick v. United States, which stated that the acceptance of a pardon indicated the presumption of guilt.

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