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In Memory of Deep Throat

 

Little had changed overnight. The war continued in Vietnam. Another southern Vietnamese town had been taken over by the popular forces over the weekend. I left work at 2 in the morning on August 8, 1974 and headed home to sleep. After waking around 10 the same morning, I hitchhiked into Washington, DC. Something big was in the air. The Congressional committees involved in deciding whether or not to impeach Richard Nixon had been meeting all summer. The noose was tightening around the son of a bitch. Word on the street was that Nixon was going to quit. Maybe today, August 8, 1974. His last supporters in Congress were jumping the proverbial ship like the rats that they were. The radio playing on the last ride I caught-from College Park into Georgetown-was playing Bob Dylan’s song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

All summer much of the nation had been riveted to the various congressional hearings devoted to uncovering Nixon’s crimes. The theatre had been excellent and it looked like the ending was going to be better than anything Hollywood could dream up. It looked like Nixon was going down. Of course, there was an underlying fear that he would declare martial law for the “good of the country” and not go anywhere, but that sentiment was held mostly by leftists. It’s not that they didn’t have good reason for such fears, given the counterintelligence program that had been conducted against them-a program that intensified under Nixon. But, one hoped that even Nixon had enough respect for his situation to realize when it was time to say goodbye.

I got out of the car at Wisconsin and M Streets and began walking towards the Mall. I wanted to see what was up amongst the Yippies and others who had been hanging around near the seat of power for the past few days in hopes that they would have a resignation or impeachment to celebrate soon. Plus, if the weather got too hot and muggy, I would be near the Smithsonian buildings and their air conditioning. I stopped at a small shop and bought some coffee in a styrofoam cup, then headed on down the street. An hour or so later I was looking at the Capitol Building. Tourists were milling around along with various pro and anti-Nixon elements. Some rightwing preacher was leading a small prayer session and the Yippies were lighting up joints wrapped in American flag rolling papers.

The charges being considered against Mr. Nixon were related to his actions involving the cover-up and obstruction of justice in the matter of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate offices; the use of various federal agencies including the FBI, the IRS, and the Secret Service to spy on and otherwise violate the constitutional rights of US citizens; and his failure to respect various subpoenas and requests by the Congress for papers and tape recordings, thereby subverting the constitution of the United States. Another article that had been considered, but was dropped when the writers realized that they would not have enough votes to pass it concerned the secret bombing of Cambodia that Nixon began in 1969 and continued for over a year before the public knew. One can assume this latter charge was too controversial for most of the committee and Congress and was left off the articles of impeachment for fear that it would diminish the case against Nixon. More importantly, the charge regarding the secret bombing was a question of foreign policy and not even the acrimonious 93rd Congress was willing to challenge the president on the Empire’s perceived need to be able to bomb when and where it wanted.

Rumor holds that one of the staffers who had researched the Cambodian bombing article and presumably lobbied hard for its inclusion in the final draft of the Article of Impeachment was a young woman named Hilary Clinton. Hard to believe in 2004, isn’t it? What happened to her principles? Lost in the wash of opportunism and politics-as-usual, just like those of her husband’s and so many others from that time. On the other side of the spectrum, meanwhile, we are provided with George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, all of who were around when Nixon was going down. Indeed, Cheney and Rumsfeld were already in Washington. George was still out of the circle, preferring drinking and other forms of partying to the serious work of taking over the country. One assumes they learned an important thing or two from watching their president twist slowly in the wind. Lesson one, make certain that you don’t get caught and; two, if something is illegal; make it legal before you do it. That way, there is nothing the law can get you on. After all, the current administration ignores subpoenas, conducts secret military operations and violates citizens’ constitutional rights with regularity and it’s all legal. We can thank the foresight of the Bush administration’s predecessors and the perpetually compliant Congress for this scenario.

What did Watergate (the affair, not the building) mean? Was it really business as usual, with the only difference being that Nixon and his men got caught? Or was it something more fundamental to the system of government our leaders like to trumpet to others around the world as being better than any other? I think that the Weather Underground actually had the best take on the whole slimy situation when they wrote in their manifesto Prairie Fire-The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism:

“Watergate is a domestic reflection of the empire in crisis. Every aspect of the prosecution of the Watergate crisis itself remains in the hands of the ruling class. The Watergate investigations observe gentlemanly limits: they have never explored Nixon’s deliberate aggression against Black, Chicano, and Puerto Rican communities. Power in the US is a white gentleman’s club.

Yet the crisis runs away. It has become the political expression of a process that began in the 1960s-the defeat of the American myth of freedom and democracy.”

However, most Americans didn’t share Weather’s (or the rest of the Left’s) cynicism about the true nature of the US system, and were more likely to believe that it was Nixon that was the problem, not the system itself. Objectively, I would argue that history has proven otherwise, but such an argument would still be a hard sell.

As I hung out in the shadow of the Capitol, with Abe Lincoln sitting in massive marbleized judgment at the other end of the Mall, I recalled an April a little more than a year before. I was on the Mall along with perhaps 100,000 other folks demanding the impeachment and trial of Mr. Nixon for the crimes with which he was now going to be charged. After the first few speakers, I had run with perhaps 10,000 others over to the Justice Department, where we threw epithets at the building and the police surrounding it before they chased us away with their clubs and their gas. Now I was on my way to Lafayette Park across from the White House to sit in on what amounted to a political deathwatch.

At Lafayette Park the major media outlets were setting up their equipment trucks. Dan Rather had a choice seat in the park underneath a big tent full of monitors and other equipment. He was not broadcasting as far as I could tell, but joking with the techies. I recalled his exchange with Nixon at a press conference not too many months before:

Rather: Mr. President, you have lambasted the television networks pretty well. Could I ask you, at the risk of reopening an obvious wound, you say after you have put on a lot of heat that you don’t blame anyone. I find that a little puzzling. What is it about the television coverage of you in these past weeks and months that has so aroused your anger?

Nixon: Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. (Laughter)

Rather: I’m afraid, sir, that I have that impression. (Laughter)

Nixon: You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.

This exchange was but one of many between Rather and Nixon. It had ratcheted up my respect for Mr. Rather and the mainstream press in general. Too bad that respect is almost gone today.

As the afternoon wore on and the heat index rose both in terms of temperature and in anticipation of the upcoming announcement, the park in front of the White House took on a bit of a picnic feeling. I had my Italian hero sandwich and beer. The Yippies were passing out sandwiches made from food they had dumpster-dived and other citizens were sharing sodas, wine, and food. There were some Nixon supporters in the crowd who attempted to make their presence known despite the ridicule they were subjected to. As night settled in, most of them drifted away to share their sorrows with more sympathetic souls.

As the moment approached there was a feeling of apprehension and exhilaration in the air. I was still afraid that Nixon was going to pull a fast one and declare not that he was resigning, but that he was declaring martial law. Than, a few minutes before 9 PM, Dan Rather intoned words that went something like, “Ladies and gentleman, the president of the United States…”

Nixon went on for a minute or two. I joined the crowd around a man who held a transistor radio broadcasting the speech in the air, waiting for the magic words: “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.” A cheer ran through the crowd. Someone near me popped a cork on the champagne bottle they had purchased just for this moment. Nixon was gone!

The next morning I sat in my parents’ house back in Maryland. The nation was nursing its Nixon hangover and the television stations were showing the man and his family on the White House lawn getting ready to board a helicopter. My mom’s friend and neighbor-an Irish-American woman whose IRA father had escaped from Ireland in the wake of the Easter Rising in 1916-came in the door without donuts and coffee. She looked at me and smiled. “Got rid of the bastard, eh, Ron?” She said in her best South Boston accent. My mom looked at us both high-fiving each other and said, “It’s a sad day for America.”

Nowadays, high school history books tell students that the Watergate episode and Nixon’s resignation prove that the US way of government works. Personally, I think that the real indicator of how (and for whom) the system works is Gerald Ford’s pardon of the man the following month.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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