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An Office In Tatters


By Chris Oakley


based on "Smoke on the Potomac" by the same author



From the July 12th, 1975 Washington Post:


To call this a dark hour in our nation’s history hardly even pretends to scratch the surface of the disgrace that has been inflicted on its highest office. Yesterday on live television, millions of Americans were forced to witness the nightmarish spectacle of their commander-in-chief being hauled out of the White House like a raving lunatic after he was found guilty by Congress of obstructing justice and abusing the authority of the Presidency. Ever since the Watergate Hotel fire of 1971, it seems as if disaster and scandal have followed Richard Nixon everywhere he goes; one shudders to contemplate how much worse the stain on our nation’s honor might be today if Nixon had succeeded in carrying out his long- defunct plot to break into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate.

In fact, after winning re-election to the presidency in 1972 it seems as if Nixon has gone out of his way to spit on that sacred trust. His use of illegal surveillance to undermine political opponents, his demonization of those who even mildly criticized his policies, his violation of international law in bombing neutral Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War, his botched handling of US intervention in the 1973 Arab- Israeli conflict, his insensitive remarks concerning the students killed in last June’s UCLA campus riots, and his incessant stonewalling of the Congressional committee investigating his misuse of the Oval Office all speak volumes about the now-former chief executive’s character-- or more accurately, lack thereof. His corrupt actions and cynical mindset throughout his time as President, combined with his deranged behavior yesterday as FBI and Secret Service agents were escorting him to the van that would take him to prison, have not only cast dishonor on the presidency at home but inflicted untold damage on our nation’s prestige abroad.

Until now it was thought Warren Harding, on whose watch the Teapot Dome scandal unfolded, or Ulysses S. Grant, whose own presidential tenure was ripe with influence peddling, represented the height of corruption in the White House. Sadly, however, Richard Nixon, has managed to surpass the crooked standards set by both those administrations; Gerald Ford’s decision to resign as vice-president last October now seems less like the abandonment of a political ally and more like the understandable reaction of a good man placed in a bad and increasingly untenable situation. Indeed, it’s somewhat amazing Ford managed to stick it out as long as he did.

A man with Ford’s distinguished record-- first as a Michigan Congressman, then as minority leader in the House of Representatives, and finally as Vice-President of the United States --deserves a better fate than to be made to serve as a glorified bagman for Nixon. When Ford succeeded Spiro T. Agnew as VP following Agnew’s own resignation in 1973 Ford was asked to do one distasteful thing after another in Nixon’s defense, and these things gradually placed a burden on Ford’s conscience that eventually became too heavy for him to carry; when Nixon tried to persuade Ford to commit perjury in his testimony before the Congressional probe into Nixon’s illicit activities, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Ford. It would have been a greater shock to the American people if Ford hadn’t resigned.

While we can’t claim to know the mind of every single person who voted for Richard Nixon in 1972, or 1968 for that matter, it’s probably safe to say that many a "Nixon’s the One" campaign button or poster has now been thrown in the trash or hidden in the attic. Even those who were Nixon’s most vocal defenders in the past are now bending over backwards to distance themselves from the former President. With the possible exception of his wife and family, it’s very difficult if not impossible today to find anybody who’s got a single kind word to say about Richard M. Nixon.

New President William Simon, who had the thankless task of serving as Nixon’s vice-president when Gerald Ford resigned and was Secretary of the Treasury before that, is now confronted with the daunting task of trying to restore unity to a nation which has been torn apart by six and a half years of corruption, venal behavior, and outright paranoia from the most dishonest administration to ever occupy the White House. He must also try to mend America’s seriously tarnished reputation overseas, a reputation that has endured severe blows not only from the Nixon impeachment trial but also from the collapse of South Vietnam, Nixon’s mishandling of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and the Mayaguez tragedy of two months ago. Last but not least, President Simon must somehow rebuild the bridges between the White House and Congress that were largely burned by his predecessor over the past two and a half years.

The America whose highest office Simon inherited just 24 hours ago is a nation deep in the throes of what may well be its most serious crisis since the Depression of the 1930s. By any measuring stick you might care to use, this country is in grave trouble, and our very future may well rest on the answer to the question of whether or not Simon can lift America out of that trouble.


The End


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