Exactly 40 years ago this weekend, President Richard Nixon resigned and Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in. The events that ended Nixon’s term as the 37th president and began Ford’s 38th presidential administration took place on Aug. 8 and 9, 1974.
More than half of today’s Americans hadn’t been born yet. But for those alive back then and old enough to understand the historic significance of a president resigning in anticipation of impeachment, no one will forget the two-year drama that led up to Nixon’s forced departure.
Whichever side of the date line you may be on, don’t miss the new HBO drama “Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words,” released earlier this week to coincide with the 40th anniversary. Based on 2,658 hours of 3,700 hours of recently declassified conversations taped within the Oval Office and vintage news footage, the documentary touches all the bases: Nixon’s dark, vulgar, racist diatribes; China, Moscow, Vietnam; the Pentagon Papers; the Kennedys; and finally, Watergate. Also included is Nixon’s brief but touching conversation with daughter Julie about a possible family dinner at Trader Vic’s. Nixon encouraged Julie to check with her mother Pat before making reservations.
One of the many “Nixon by Nixon” highlights is his adversarial relationship with the press. Over and again, Nixon condemns them: “Never forget, the press is the enemy.” Others Nixon perceived as enemies include professors and the “establishment.”
Film researcher Ken Hughes said that Nixon hated the press because he feared it would expose his secrets. Nixon wanted to project a heroic and visionary image, but suspected that because of his antagonistic relationship with the press, he would be portrayed otherwise and Americans would eventually distrust him.
Hundreds of books have been written and documentaries filmed about Nixon. Even those who think they know all there is to know about Nixon and the Watergate era should watch “Nixon by Nixon.” After all, it dominated the news cycle even after Nixon left office.
President Ford’s subsequent “full, free and absolute” pardon of Nixon one month after he took office outraged many Americans — especially those in the media — who wanted Nixon, tried, convicted and jailed.
Except that presidents no longer tape their private conversations, not that much has changed on Capitol Hill since Nixon. The wars are different, but the partisan divide is as deep as ever. Republicans are suspicious of President Obama’s handling, or refusal to handle, the Veterans’ Affairs scandal; IRS emails, Benghazi and various executive orders leave many wondering. The congressional approval rating, 16 percent, is the lowest in history during a mid-term election year.
In an interview after he left office, Nixon, who fought the tapes’ public release, revealed that before going into politics, he considered a career as a professional pianist.
“Sometimes I rather regret it,” Nixon said, referring to his eventual choice.
One thing that Nixon critics and admirers agree on is that he was one of America’s most complex, fascinating presidents. That Nixon’s story remains so compelling four decades after he resigned proves how absorbing his years in office were.
Joe Guzzardi voted for Richard Nixon in 1960, 1968, and 1972. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.