Exactly forty years ago Richard Milhous Nixon announced that he would be resigning the Presidency of the United States of America “effective noon tomorrow”. No flowery preamble or obfuscation, just that curt and typically self-righteous, I’m outta here, suckers.
Nixon’s many misdeeds (and Watergate was just the latest in a career-long pattern of arrogance, pettiness, and dishonesty) may seem quaint by 21st century political standards, but for those of us whose lives had been wrenched by the criminal and ultimately pointless war he prosecuted in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and the near-civil war his administration fomented at home, the announcement was cause for great rejoicing and the lighting up of many celebratory doobs.
But whatever one may think about Tricky Dick in retrospect, (and let’s face it, most of us remember him mainly for his legendary punch line: “I’m not a crook”) let us not forget that this is a man who managed epic political comebacks—from utter and humiliating defeat—not one, but three times in the long career he inflicted upon us all.
– First with his “Checkers” speech after the 1952 Presidential campaign was nearly derailed because of his financial improprieties.
-Then after his humiliating defeat by Pat Brown for Governor of California when he famously sniffed, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because gentlemen, this is my last press conference”.
– And yet again after losing the Presidency to JFK—utterly alienating the Republican Party hierarchy in the process—when he reemerged to stoke enough bigwig egos and kiss enough political ass win the office eight years later.
Arguably, even after resigning in disgrace, he fashioned himself as something of an elder statesman, managing a best selling memoir and several well-regarded books in addition to advising (quietly, of course,) both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush on matters of foreign policy. When he finally left us for good (and I do mean “good”), it seemed something of an afterthought—as though he absolutely knew his zombie legacy would return again and again to haunt us all and eat our brains in the night.
So despite the lasting enmity I hold for what he did to my country at large and my generation in specific—and for just being an obnoxious prick in general, I was inclined to listen when he said, “A man is not finished when he is defeated. A man is finished when he quits.”
Given all that’s been thrown at America in the intervening years, those who’ve survived Nixon and his legacy know there is a certain redemptive grace in these words. Typical of his sneaky, occult intent, that grace isn’t readily apparent (and when grasped seems ironic in the extreme), but I think we can all afford to set aside a small space in our hearts to appreciate the sentiment.
I know I certainly have.