It was 40 years ago today that Richard Nixon climbed into a government-supplied helicopter that was about to carry him into private life. He raised both hands in the famous V-sign, which supposedly symbolized victory, but which marked the most important single personal defeat in the history of the American presidency.
I voted for Nixon in 1968. I had a very good reason for doing this: revenge. If national politics is not based on revenge, then it’s based on nonsense. If you base your commitment to national politics on hope, then you are terminally naïve. But revenge is a perfectly good reason to vote for somebody, if you’re trying to get even with a politician’s enemies.
In 1962, ABC Television ran a program: “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon.” Wikipedia’s article on Howard K. Smith is accurate.
After the 1962 mid-term elections, Smith presented a documentary entitled, “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon” as part of his Howard K. Smith: News and Comment (1962–1963) television series. Smith referred to Nixon’s “last press conference” after his disastrous losing campaign against Democrat Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, Sr., for governor of California. In that exchange, the former vice president famously told reporters that they would not “have Nixon to kick around any more.” Smith included in the broadcast an interview with Nixon’s longstanding nemesis Alger Hiss, a convicted Cold War perjurer.
I decided when I saw Hiss brought in as a character witness against Richard Nixon, that if I ever had an opportunity to vote for Nixon, I would. My motive was simple: to get even with Howard K. Smith. I also vowed that I would never do it again, and I never did.
The Watergate story is one of the most amazing stories in American history. It is amazing for at least two reasons. First, historians have never figured out why somebody on Nixon’s staff ordered the break-in. What in the world did this person have in mind? What did he expect to discover in the Democratic Party National Committee’s headquarters?
But the second aspect of it is, and has remained, the most amazing. We are told that Watergate illustrates the triumph of American democracy, because a sitting President was forced to resign. Nobody ever asks this question: “How did the government know which sections of the infamous Watergate tapes to demand from Nixon and his lawyers?” They were not granted access to all of the tapes. The tapes have never been released. They are still incomplete in terms of public transcripts and access. The government’s lawyers could only request highly specific segments of specific tapes. They knew exactly which sections to subpoena.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)