On August 9, 1974, after two years of investigation, scandal, cover-up and tumult, President Richard Nixon became the first chief executive in the United States to resign from office. He did so after the failed cover-up of the Watergate affair, in which members of the Nixon campaign broke into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel in Washington, DC in 1972.
To many people, most I gather, the resignation of President Nixon was a cause of relief, exasperation and even joy.
I however, take no joy in this event.
I report it and teach it because it was necessary for Nixon to resign to save what was left of the integrity of the office of President. He was a man of many personal demons, most of which manifested itself in the Oval Office through a culture of surveillance, deception and paranoia. It is very clear to me, as it was to even his fellow Republicans in Congress, that Nixon brought this on himself and had to go.
Yet what pains me most is what could have been.
To many moderate conservatives like myself, we saw in Nixon a pragmatic internationalist that we could model ourselves. His belief in a limited government, yet one that protected basic rights and ensured an opportunity for all, is one we can all get behind–he even supported a health care bill that was even more far-reaching than Obama’s!
On the international stage–where he shined–Nixon saw the clear need for rational, open discussion with leaders on the opposite side of the Cold War, such as Leonid Brezhnev and Mao tse-tung. Even though he did stumble–as the escalation of the war in Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia suggests–he did keep a blueprint for our withdrawal that culminated in finally leaving Vietnam in 1973. The Republicanism of his generation was a far cry from the free-spending cowboy antics of Dubya, and a more nuanced version of Reaganism.
I’m a Republican because of Richard Nixon, not because of Ronald Reagan. I still believe in those ideals–even though the man behind them was so flawed as to self-destruct and almost take the executive branch with him.
This is why I take no joy, no cheer in his downfall.
Attached is the excerpt from his August 8, 1974 speech, thanks to the Miller Centerof Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.