This month there will be many statements issued, many articles written, many books published in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the resignation of Richard M. Nixon from the Presidency. There will the typical attacks on Nixon’s character, retrospectives on the man and his career, most asking the question of how and why a man who achieved his greatest dream in life would throw it all away. And there will even be those who come out of the woodwork to defend the disgraced ex-President.
Most people who know me know I sympathize with the latter group, a staunch defender of the man from Yorba Linda and the great work he accomplished in spite of having his career in elected office cut short. But I think most commentators will get it wrong. They know the history and the facts for the most part, but forty years after the Nixon resignation and twenty years after his death they still fail to grasp the man.
You see the real story of Watergate is that of a profoundly insecure man succumbing to the pressures around; who, despite outward appearances, was never sure of his true value and worth to his friends, family, party and nation. Nixon was a deeply troubled man who nonetheless, through sheer force of will, powered himself to the greatest heights in American politics. He used his demons to drive and motivate himself. And they in turn eventually overwhelmed him.
Yes, Nixon gave into his baser impulses, he succumbed to his weaknesses. He was petty, vindictive, mean and spiteful and he paid the ultimate price. But that doesn’t make him evil or wicked or any of the over the top descriptions he’s earned from the mainstream press and historians. Richard Nixon was just so very human. Like all of us he had flaws, but he did great things for his country and there’s nothing more admirable than that. We’ve all fallen woefully short in our lives; we’ve all given in to our darker sides at some points in our lives.
But the lesson the Nixon story teaches us is to never allow our shortcomings to bury us, never allow them to snuff out our drive and our passion. Life will only defeat you if you allow it. And Nixon NEVER allowed it. We’ve all suffered setbacks, some worse than others. But, as Nixon stated in his final address from the White House, none of them are meant to be endings, rather they’re meant to be new beginnings. Every setback is merely an opportunity to come back.
This troubled man aspired to be the greatest peacemaker in American history. That more than anything was the legacy he sought and yearned for the most. And it is my hope that in death President Nixon found the peace that always seemed to have eluded him in life.