The opening lyrics of James Taylor’s song, “Line ‘Em Up” conjure the following scene of 40 years ago, August 9:
I remember Richard Nixon back in ’74
And the final scene at the White House door
And the staff lined up to say good-bye
Tiny tear in his shifty little eye.
He said nobody knows me
These little people were good to me
Oh I’m gonna shake some hands.
Those who remember that day of a President’s resignation from office, and felt either triumph or relief or sadness, probably remember watching the televised Watergate hearings during the summer of 1973. I was fortunate to have a summer job that year that allowed me to have a television on as I did housekeeping chores. This was talking heads TV, but riveting, reality talking heads. Who knew what, when? Who authorized cover-up money?
And the revelation that there were audiotapes in the Oval Office that had recorded these sordid deeds was game-changing.
The sordid deeds began with a break-in of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate office complex in June, 1972. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” the saying goes. Nixon and his minions wove a very tangled web attempting a cover-up of the break-in, and events were set in motion that led to possible impeachment for Nixon.
The Final Days by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein chronicles that tumultuous time period in great detail. In trying to read the book chapter by chapter, I started getting lost in the minutiae of Oval Office meetings, corrected and uncorrected transcripts of tapes, the money trail, and who authorized what. But skipping around in the book, I came across colorful character sketches of players, major and minor — Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State), Ron Zieglar (press secretary), Leonard Garment (Nixon’s defense attorney), Pat Nixon as she became more reclusive, and beleaguered, paranoid Nixon, himself, allegedly wandering the White House corridors, talking to himself.
Principal players in the drama are fading into history or have passed away. In June of this year, Howard Baker (“What did the President know and when did he know it?”), ranking minority member of the Watergate committee, passed away. In May, Jeb Magruder died, deputy director of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, mockingly known as CREEP.
History was made, the transition was smooth. After a short farewell speech in the White House, President and Pat Nixon walked to a waiting helicopter, followed by Vice-President Gerald and Betty Ford who waved them good-bye. Good ‘ol non-controversial Gerald Ford. No drama, no paranoia, no rambling denials. Noncontroversial, that is, until President Ford pardoned Nixon. But that’s another story.