Monday, August 08, 2005

Thirty-One Years Ago Today...

Richard Nixon announced that at noon on the following day, he would resign as President of the United States.

The twin evils of Vietnam and Watergate, the legacies of Lyndon Johnson and Nixon, respectively, have haunted America's politics, the presidency, and our foreign policy ever since. By fits and turns, subsequent Presidents and would-be Presidents have tried to ignore their lessons, enact their lessons, or have drawn wrong conclusions about them. They and the country have lived in what Bob Woodward has rightly described as "the shadow" ever since.

Johnson and Nixon both willfully disregarded the Constitution, taking for granted the credibility that the American people assigned to Presidents. Perhaps our national innocence deserved to go the way of the do-do bird. But the cynicism that these two pathetic "leaders" spawned has been a corrosive on our body politic and our national life ever since. It has, in a way, lowered the expectations of the public of their leaders and even of the leaders of themselves, ironically leading to a widespread acceptance of lying on the part of public officials at every level of government.

Richard Nixon was right to announce his resignation thirty-one years ago today. I only wish that his decent successor, Gerald Ford, hadn't been so unwise as to preemptively pardon Nixon for crimes he may have committed during his time as President. Ford was right that any trials that Nixon might have undergone would have created or deepened divisions in the country; Nixon was a master at creating and exploiting divisions, after all. But at the end of the day, the message would have been clear that nobody, not even Presidents, may abuse their power with impunity.

As it is, we still live in that shadow. Those with influence and power are thought to be given a pass when it comes to our system of justice, althought that's clearly not always the case. And many of those with power think that such "passes" are theirs by right. It's a sad anniversary.

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