My cheerful illustration of Nixon ran with the piece then, as well.
August is usually a slow month for news, so we are spoon fed anniversaries to contemplate, such as Hiroshima's 54th, Woodstock's 30th, and the 25th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation. It seems now we are being asked to reconsider Richard Nixon, again.
Fair enough, let's give the man his due. The entire culture shifted gears the day Nixon threw in the towel. The brilliant strategist, the awkward sleuth, the proud father, and the coldest of warriors had left the building.
August 9, 1974 was a day to hoist one for his enemies, many of whom must have enjoyed his twisting in the wind of Watergate's storm. It was the saddest of days for his staunch supporters, whose numbers were legion. Either way, Richard Nixon's departure from DeeCee left a void that no personality has since filled.
For the first time since his earliest commie-baiting days, in the late '40s, Dick Nixon didn't matter.
With Nixon gone, being anti-establishment promptly went out of style. With the war in Vietnam no longer a front burner issue, streaking replaced the anti-war rally as the most popular gesture of defiance on college campuses. Soon what remained of the causes and accouterments of the '60s was packed into cardboard boxes to be tossed out, or stored in the basement.
Watergate revelations killed off the Nixon administration's chance of instituting national health insurance. Many people have forgotten that his regime was easily more liberal on racial and environmental matters than any before it. His opening to China and efforts toward détente with the Soviets are often cited as evidence of his ability in the realm of foreign affairs.
But at the bottom line, Nixon is remembered chiefly as the president who was driven from office.
Nixon's nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War. Due to his fear of hippies and left-wing campus movements, Nixon came between fathers and sons. To rally support for his prosecution of the Vietnam War, he demagogued and exploited the bitter division between World War II era parents and their Baby Boomer offspring in such a way that many families have never recovered.
Nixon's true legacy is that since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people no longer feel drawn into public service. Since Watergate, for twenty-five years now, the citizens who've gravitated toward politics for a career do not have the intellect or the sense of purpose of their predecessors. We can thank Tricky Dick for that.
Maybe Slick Willie is the best example of what I'm getting at. When you look at the lame roster of talent out there on the political horizon, he really may be the best we've got today. And that's due in great part to the thousands of 40 and 50 year olds who didn't go into politics because of the lingering stench of Nixon's "plumbers" and their dirty work.
So weep not for the sad, crazy Nixon of August, 1974. He did far more harm to America than whatever good he intended.
On top of that, he had 20 years to come clean and clear the air. But he didn't do it. In the two decades of his so-called "rehabilitation," before his death in 1994, Nixon just kept on being Nixon.
Some commentators have suggested that he changed over that period, even mellowed. Don't buy it. The rest of us changed a lot more than he did.
While I acknowledge his guile and I tip my hat to his gall, President Nixon was a man who choked on his own bile.
So spare me the soft-focus view of the Nixon years. I'm here to remind the reader that Richard Nixon is a lesson to us all -- he got what he deserved.