Over the past few years we have, it seems, been marking one big anniversary after another. Last year it was 50 years since JFK's assassination. This year we've already marked the 40th anniversary of the passing of civil rights legislation. Now we recall the resignation of Richard Nixon. This resignation also marked the end of a decade of hell America had gone through beginning with the tragedy of Kennedy's assassination in November, 1963. Once JFK was dead, from a historical perspective, it wasn't long before Vietnam heated up and boiled over into yet another nightmarish tragedy seemingly impossible to wake up from. Civil rights melted away into mass civil disobedience. People were angry at a war that made no sense, and blacks raged over second class treatment and police brutality, or so it seemed.
Looking back, it appeared America had veered out of control. Nixon's contribution to these endless tragedies could have easily been prevented. It was his well known paranoia and anger at his enemies-be they real or imagined, which got him into a needless scandal which brought down his administration. Richard Nixon could have virtually sat out the 1972 campaign, and won. George McGovern was a good man, but a horrid campaigner. Instead, Nixon through actual words, orders and inference, made it known that by cheating, tricks, or criminal act, he wanted his enemies destroyed and wanted a campaign victory with a huge margin. Some of Nixon's orders actually went farther than some of the Watergate related adventures. They included more break-ins, the opening of people's mail, and other acts that even J Edgar Hoover had to turn down. Richard Nixon managed to have accomplished some good deeds while in office. The beginning of the Environmental Protection Agency and further protection of land and our natural resources. Revenue sharing was a good idea (giving money back to states) and opening relations with China was more than an overdue act. But his paranoia and hatred won the day and ended his presidency.
I never cared for Nixon. he was almost impossible to relate to, and I always felt he almost won the presidency by default. With the Kennedy's murdered, our country deeply overwhelmed by a senseless war, and the rule of law and order breaking down, day by day, we lingered in a leadership vacuum. There he was, in a 1968 campaign against another man who was tough to relate to (Hubert Humphrey) and one also tied too closely to the Vietnam war. So Nixon won in 1968, a year of incredible division and polarization, and Nixon had finally attained his big chance, and he blew it. He would give America yet another unfinished presidency. JFK was killed in 1963, about 1000 days into his first term. LBJ was driven from office by a war he was determined to win, but couldn't. Nixon by his own hand, defeated himself in the end, and the third presidency since 1963 was aborted.
It's impossible to say what would have happened in Vietnam had Nixon managed to stay in office, but Americans were worn down by, what was then, America's longest war. The peace agreement Nixon and Kissinger put together was never that strong, and the only real way to "protect" South Vietnam would have been to keep troops there-something America was fed up with by 1974. South Vietnamese troops were just too weak, and was a major reason we should have never become involved there. The war wasn't his fault though, and he probably got the best deal he could-even though it was a deal which could've been had in 1969. Look at how many troops were killed in that interim (1969-1973), and it's heartbreaking.
In the final analysis, both LBJ and Nixon were both dysfunctional characters in many ways. They both felt overshadowed by JFK, but two Presidents who did accomplish much, yet dragged America through intense anguish along the way. Both were paranoid. LBJ was always looking over his shoulder at Bobby Kennedy because he felt that many who supported Bobby, felt Johnson was just keeping the seat warm while Bobby Kennedy was waiting to take back the White House. Both Johnson and Nixon were no great orators like JFK and basically had no charisma. Like all men, they had their flaws which were magnified once they were in office. Listen to more Nixon tapes and you'll hear an anti-semite who hated many because of their race, religion or cultural background. The only thing one can look back on with some level of nostalgia, is that in those days, despite the animosity, political parties could and did work together to pass needed legislation. Even Nixon back then was willing to negotiate with Teddy Kennedy on a universal health care plan, which Kennedy declined as not inclusive enough-something Teddy came to regret.
When you remember the old days of America from 1963 through 1974, it's a wonder we made it through as well as we did. Three unfinished presidencies in a row; several assassinations of key leaders; a needless war which swallowed up our nation and began a divide which-in essence- is still with us today; a cultural revolution which changed America-forever-for better or worse. Nixon was a victim of his own paranoia, so we shouldn't shed any tears for him. In the end though, there was a final irony and that came at his death in 1994-twenty years after his resignation. Nixon died in 1994. A few months after his death Jackie Kennedy died. Not too many people dwell on this minor footnote, but its interesting to think about. At his death, all living presidents at that time came to Nixon's funeral and there was this rare good feeling of him, both in words and in many people's memories. In just a few short months, it was as if, all this good will vanished to be replaced by the more redeeming memories of "Camelot" when Jackie Kennedy died from cancer. Even in death, Nixon was, once again, to be overshadowed by the Kennedy's. It was one last-quirky twist of fate which would bedevil Richard Nixon-even in death.