Friday, August 8 marked the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s resignation announcement. He resigned the next day.
I saw and remember that speech.
As a college student in a hurry to get out, I was taking summer classes at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (the real Miami, not that latter-day interloper in Florida). Living off-campus in a sweltering second-floor dump posing as an apartment, I headed over many evenings to the one male dorm which remained open for its cooler temps, beckoning piano, and working TV.
Most evenings, I was typically the only person in the dorm’s common area. Not that night. Perhaps twenty students were there. The heckling and hollering in which I eagerly participated was fierce.
I thought back to Nixon’s reelection in 1972. After Nixon crushed George McGovern, perhaps a dozen bitter, unhinged Miami students paraded around campus, screaming at the top of their lungs in anger at the outcome well into the wee hours of the morning. I went past them during a late-evening jog, thankful that I could probably outrun them if they set their sights on me.
Wherever they were almost two years later, they must have been beside themselves with glee. My perspective was relief that just desserts had been delivered to a man who had betrayed his nation.
Though not a particular fan of Tricky Dick — a take which my late mother later shared, when she informed me that 1972 was the only time she couldn’t bring herself to cast a presidential vote — I nonetheless understood that this clearly shady guy was far better than what we would have had to endure with McGovern.
I was also fully aware that the press had been at war with the onetime ardent anti-communist Nixon for over a quarter-century, going back to his exposure of Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy and his 1952 Checkers speech.
They thought he was gone for good after two stinging electoral defeats. The first was his “loss” in the 1960 presidential contest to John F. Kennedy; Nixon bowed out gracefully on election night rather than spend months pursuing clear electoral improprieties which arguably erroneously swung the election to JFK. The second was the California governor’s race in 1962, after which he declared, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more.”
The press and the left thought they had marginalized conservatism and even the Republican Party forever when Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964. They were furious that Dick Nixon could get past them — recall that until the advent of cable TV and talk radio, roughly a dozen media entities had virtually ironclad control over deciding what was news in the U.S. — and rise from the ashes of political oblivion to the presidency in 1968. They were absolutely beside themselves when he trounced McGovern four years later.