Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Parting Words

I spent the long weekend reading another long Nixon book, J. Anthony Lukas' Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years. I think I'm finally done with my little study of the Nixon administration, not because a book hasn't been published for each day he spent in the Oval Office, but because the facts are the facts, I've now studied them from all angles, and it's just time to move on. So, these will be my last words on Richard Nixon, or at least my last words until October 20, the 35th anniversary of the Saturday Night Massacre.

Through this book, I learned that not only was Nixon a little crazy, but his aides needed a good civics lesson. Halderman and Mitchell in particular seemed to lack an understanding of the line between use and abuse of power. They all just egged each other on. If Nixon hadn't been taping his conversations the whole thing would have stopped short of the Presidency; those tapes were the only evidence that he was aware of the break-in and cover-up. And if Nixon hadn't been worried about money, he wouldn't have been taping conversations. Apparently it was his intent to donate the tapes to the National Archive or a library somewhere in order to have several years worth of tax deductions.

Why have I been so fascinated with all this? As the 10-year anniversary of his death approaches, I've been thinking of my father. He was completely fascinated with and absorbed by Watergate. Not only did he insist I watch the Senate hearings, and that I not only watch but bring out my tape recorder and record for him Nixon's resignation the next year, but he also tried to convince me and my mother to picket the White House with "Impeach the President" signs when we went to DC to visit a family friend the summer of 1973. I was nine years old and the whole thing was not only meaningless but boring. Watergate was something that interrupted my morning television, nothing more.

He had always hated Nixon, and I think that he experienced the scandal as vindication, proof that he was right about that man and about Republicans in general. Reagan never got his goat the way Nixon did, so he was shockingly sanguine about Iran-Contra. In a way I'm sorry he missed out on the W administration, although I suspect the past eight years might have killed him if the heart disease hadn't gotten there first.

Politics was one of the few things my father and I could talk about. He was a mechanical engineer, and I had no interest in the workings of combustion engines or printing presses. He had no interest in modern American poetry or literary theory. By the time I was old enough to care about politics Watergate was a thing of the past. By learning more about it now I've felt closer to him, even as I realize that the memory of his voice and of his presence is moving farther and farther from my grasp. To care now about the events of 1973 is in a way to care about my childhood and to feel the presence of both my parents, glued to the black and white TV in the family room of their suburban house while dinner cooks.

Just before leaving the White House for the last time, Nixon addressed his family and supporters. "We think that when someone dear to us dies, we think that when we lose an election, we think that when we suffer a defeat, that all is ended," he said. "Not true. It is only a beginning, always."


Diane said...

That parting quote may well be the most profound thing Nixon ever said.

It reminds me of my favorite Robert Frost quote - "Everything I know about life can be summed up in three words. It goes on." Apparently, even for Tricky Dick.

Elucidator said...

Another candidate for most profound (or for the "too little too late award") is from that same parting speech. He said, "Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself." I'm going to miss my little study of Tricky Dick...