Nearing resignation or impeachment, whichever came first. Photo by Boston Globe/Getty Images
With overnight crowds outside the White House chanting, "Jail to the Chief!", Richard 'I Am Not A Crook I Just Act Like One' Nixon resigned his beleaguered presidency 44 years ago today in the name of hastening "the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America." Caught in a sordid Watergate scandal that today has an unmistakable whiff of the more things change, essentially admitting to the impeachable charge of obstruction of justice, and with not enough Congressional approval to save him - no GOP House majority, wishful thinkers take note - a sober Nixon announced in a live TV broadcast the night of August 8, 1974 he would resign at noon the next day.
"The first essential," he said, "is to begin healing the wounds of this Nation, to put the bitterness and divisions of the recent past behind us, and to rediscover those shared ideals that lie at the heart of our strength and unity." Revisiting the speech in this crudest of eras, most startling is the relative gravitas of a guy who was a deeply disturbing, destructive creep, thus reminding us how low we've sunk; for those pining for history to repeat itself this once, Andy Borowitz suggests, "Imagine this, only without the complete sentences." Nixon reportedly slept briefly - at 4 a.m. his watch stopped - and the next day gave a more typically maudlin speech to staff, a rambling "binge of free association" notable for its "sheer shamelessness...for pathos and bathos" and a remarkable lack of self-awareness. "Oh my God, he's beginning to break down," thought his former counsel. "The man is unraveling right before us."
If that's not hauntingly resonant enough for you these days, consider The Guardian's blistering editorial from that day. Calling Nixon "a duck with two lame feet," the writers argue that "the uncertainty and confusion in the capital of the Western world" had rendered both allies and others unable "to make intelligent predictions about policies." With proof Nixon both knew about the Watergate cover-up and ordered it, "even his defense lawyer was speaking of the President’s impossible position. Despite "rearguard holding action (after) rearguard holding action.. sufficient truth has been extracted to demonstrate that Richard Nixon is not fit to be the leader of the Western World."
Most appalling, they go on, is the glimpse Watergate afforded into the Nixon White House: "That the man who is in charge of the US nuclear arsenal was surrounded by men without scruples or political integrity was already well known. What was not known...was the width of their amorality, the cheap quality of their advice, (their) total disregard for law," and their enabling of someone able"to use the institutions of government for his own political ends." Their colossus conclusion: "Mr. Nixon has destroyed the faith of the people, the officials, Congress and his own Republican Party." From Twitter: "The brooding, the paranoia, trouble with a special counsel, lying, declaring the media the enemy. Thank God those days are over."