Thirty-nine years ago today, Richard Nixon resigned as president, after a long effort to avoid impeachment on charges related to the Watergate scandal.
The sheer number, variety, and viciousness of David Levine’s drawings of Nixon provide some sense of his place in The New York Review’s pages during the five and a half years of his presidency. In the summer of 1973 the magazine published a lengthy special supplement by I.F. Stone making the case for the president’s impeachment, following Philip Roth’s satirical “The President Addresses the Nation,” in which Roth imagined Nixon, having been impeached, refusing to leave office.
For further reading we present below a few highlights from the Review’s archives, from the Republican national convention in 1968 to Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon in 1974.
The dark blue curtains part. As delegates cheer, the nominee walks toward the lectern, arms loose, shoulders somewhat rigid like a man who…. No, as Henry James once said in quite a different but no less dramatic context, it cannot be done. What is there to say about Richard M. Nixon that was not said eight years ago? What is there to say that he himself did not say at that memorable “last” press conference in Los Angeles six years ago? For some time he has ceased to figure in the conscious regions of the mind, a permanent resident, one had thought, of that limbo where reside the Stassens and the Deweys and all those other ambitious men whose failures seemed so entirely deserved. But now, thanks to two murders in five years, Richard Nixon is again a presidential candidate. No second acts to American careers? Nonsense. What is lacking are decent codas. At Miami Beach, we were reminded that no politician can ever be written off this side of Arlington.
Nixon was the artist who had discovered the laws of vibration in all the frozen congelations of the mediocre. Other politicians obviously made their crude appeal to the lowest instinct of the wad, and once in a while a music man like George C. Wallace could get them to dance, but only Nixon had thought to look for the harmonies of the mediocre, the minuscule dynamic in the overbearing static, the discovery that this inert lump which resided in the bend of the duodenum of the great American political river was more than just an indigestible political mass suspended between stomach and bowel but had indeed its own capacity to quiver and creep and crawl and bestir itself to vote if worked upon with unremitting care and no relaxation of control.
Nixon was always Wronged; so, since the score could never be settled entirely, he felt no qualms about getting back what slight advantage he could when no one was looking. Even at the height of his power, he feels he must steal one extra vote, tell the marginal little lie. He is like a man who had to steal as a child, in order to eat, and acquired a sacred license—even a duty—to steal thenceforth; it would punish the evil that had first deprived him.
If there is something in Watergate that keeps calling for cover-up, that can be summed up as the character of Richard Nixon. At the same time, there is something in Watergate—the same entity—that persists in disclosing itself, despite all efforts, well-meaning or evilly designed. Pardon will not quieten Nixon; nor in the long run will it defraud the public, if getting hold of the facts, the actual corpus delicti, rather than of Nixon’s flailing, struggling person is its real desire.