Defined by Disgrace the Good That Richard Nixon Accomplished Will Be Overshadowed by Watergate

By LeLoup, Lance T. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 24, 1994 | Go to article overview

Defined by Disgrace the Good That Richard Nixon Accomplished Will Be Overshadowed by Watergate


LeLoup, Lance T., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The most complex of all the presidents is gone. Richard M. Nixon was a brooding, defiant leader who stood tall on the world's stage before exiting in disgrace. Loved by some, passionately hated by others, he evoked strong feelings from Americans of all ages.

As an undergraduate at Georgetown University in January 1969, I watched his inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue as riot police chased demonstrators who threw bottles and heckled Nixon. Five and a half years later, on Aug. 9,1974, I saw his final hours on television, a grim Nixon making his famous double-victory sign as he boarded the helicopter to leave the White Rouse for good.

Those years in between helped shape the political consciousness of a generation and a nation. His life and career, through its successes, and failures, reveal both dramatic changes and enduring truths about American constitutional government. Whatever the ambiguities of his record and his character, his downfall remains clear, the first American president to resign in the face of certain impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate.

Article I. In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice.

Nixon was a man who wanted to be president. His rise was meteoric: congressman at 33, senator at 37, vice president at 39, two-term vice president at 43 and presidential nominee at 47. Yet these achievements were not without costs to his psyche and reputation.

His own writings describe a deep personal struggle to choose the right course in the crises he confronted. Still he was mistrusted by many who remembered his red-baiting tactics in his 1950 Senate race against Helen Gahagan Douglas, and he could not escape the derisive nickname, "Tricky Dick."

His political career was inexorably linked to the mass media, in particular the developing medium of television. The legendary "Checkers" speech salvaged his vice presidential spot on the Eisenhower ticket in 1952, but he believed the televised debates with John F. Kennedy in 1960 cost him the presidency. Defeated in his 1962 California gubernatorial race, his bitter parting shot to the press that they wouldn't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore seemed to be the denouement of his political career.

Article II: Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath, repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice.

His rejuvenation and comeback was unparalleled in American politics. By early 1968, his tireless work for Republican candidates in the backwaters and big cities had left him a presidential frontrunner. The militant anti-communist but consummate pragmatist now argued that communism was not monolithic and his place was in the moderate center of the nation's political spectrum.

In the tumult and tragedy of 1968, he emerged a winner, elevating a new breed of media consultants who succeeded in selling Nixon despite his image liabilities. Four years later, he crushed the liberal George McGovern in a landslide, capturing the votes if not the hearts of a large majority of Americans.

A penchant for secrecy and fear of defeat during the campaign, however, led Nixon to pursue a disastrous cover-up of a "third-rate burglary" of the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex.

Article III: In his conduct of the Office Of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives.

In what was a potentially dangerous period of drift in the United States through 1973 and 1974, the increasingly incapacitated Nixon presidency unraveled over Watergate.

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