“Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. But I say to you that it is not America”. Thus the words delivered by Adlai Stevenson in a speech at the Gilmore stadium in Los Angeles.
from the Mitchell Collection
The principal author of the speech was economist and commentator J K Galbraith, whom Stevenson told “Ken, I want you to write the speeches against Nixon. You have no tendency to be fair”. Stevenson did not live to see his speech revisited in the aftermath of August 9, 1974, when Richard Milhous Nixon resigned as the 37th President of the United States, rather than face impeachment.
Nixon addresses the nation, August 9, 1974
After Nixon was re-elected President in a landslide late in 1972, the wheels began to come off the wagon. Vice-President Spiro Agnew was mired in tax evasion allegations, confessed, and resigned the following year. And all the while, the probing of a “dirty tricks” campaign waged by Nixon’s officials caused the waters of scandal to lap closer to the White House.
Nixon had already lost a Vice-President to scandal
What started as an investigation into a break-in at the Democrat offices within the Watergate complex led to the conviction of 48 officials. Nixon claimed he knew nothing about it, memorably snapping “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got”. But Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post were now on the case.
The resignation letter
They had an informant known as “Deep Throat”, who turned out to be Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI, which suggests that Tricky Dicky was too bent even for the spooks’ liking. It was revealed that there were tapes of many of Nixon’s conversations. The tapes were subpoenaed by Special Counsel Archibald Cox. Nixon cited executive privilege and handed over transcripts instead.
Serious: the Mirror's take
But he could not stop the investigations: impeachment hearings began in May 1974, followed by the Supreme Court demanding the release of the tapes the following month. Early August brought news that there was indeed a “smoking gun” tape: by then, it was estimated that Nixon could count on no more than 15 votes in the Senate. He needed 34 to avoid impeachment.
Not serious: Private Eye the previous year
Barry Goldwater prevailed upon Nixon to go. This he did, although no wrongdoing was admitted. It should surprise no-one that two of his successors, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, were former State Governors, and not Washington machine politicians. James MacGregor Burns later asked “How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?”
There are many like Nixon in positions of power today. That should worry us.