Thursday, January 30, 2014

One Year of Watergate Was Not Enough

"I would like to add a personal word with regard to an issue that has been of great concern to all Americans over the past year. I refer, of course, to the investigations of the so–called Watergate affair. As you know, I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material. I believe that I have provided all the material that he needs to conclude his investigations and to proceed to prosecute the guilty and to clear the innocent.

"I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough."

Richard Nixon
Jan. 30, 1974

Earlier this week, as Barack Obama was about to deliver his State of the Union address, George Condon wondered in the National Journal if the State of the Union ever really changes anything.

After writing of the successful State of the Union speeches — the ones that managed to set the congressional agenda — Condon observed that "the biggest failure to set the congressional agenda was Nixon's in his 1974 speech."

Forty years ago today, Richard Nixon delivered what turned out to be his final State of the Union address. It is not remembered for Nixon's assessment of the state of the union or his ideas for improving it — although those were offered on that night in 1974. History remembers that speech as the one in which Nixon urged an end to the Watergate investigations. "One year of Watergate is enough," he memorably said.

That is what the State of the Union speech was about in 1974. The agenda was Nixon's survival. Nixon had tried everything else to divert attention from Watergate. He wanted to shift attention to anything, but he couldn't do it.

One year of Watergate wasn't enough for the people who sat in that joint session of Congress 40 years ago tonight — and that was Nixon's fault. If he had been honest with the American people from the beginning, if he had confessed his involvement, admitted it had been a huge mistake and asked for forgiveness, I believe he would have been forgiven. The American people are a forgiving bunch.

But he insisted on concealing his involvement until he had been proven to be a liar — and that made his guilt even more difficult for his defenders to bear.

In that audience 40 years ago tonight were lawmakers who had participated in the Watergate hearings the year before and who would participate in the impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee that summer. Their questions had not been answered satisfactorily. The evidence they sought had not been provided to them. There was more work to be done.

Back at the White House, Nixon's chief of staff, Alexander Haig, had been exploring endgame strategies, including the possibility of Nixon receiving a presidential pardon — even the possibility of Nixon granting one to himself.

Nixon must have known the stakes when he went to Capitol Hill to deliver his address 40 years ago tonight.

And I'm reasonably sure he knew, as he rode back to the White House later that night, that he had not made the sale.

Oh, he had a trick or two left up his sleeve, but Nixon's days were numbered.

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