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The Final Days of Nixon

May 22, 2021

Another Way for week of May 14, 2021

The Final Days of Nixon

I recently read The Final Days, about President Richard Nixon’s extremely troubled second term in office. Why read a book from almost 50 years ago? It was written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the same pair that wrote the first book about that drama, All the President’s Men. Hang on and we’ll reach my point which applies to all.

I love history, and this happens to be a piece of history I lived through but didn’t have a very complete picture. I was studying in Spain during the aftermath of Watergate, from the fall of 1973 to summer 1974, and we never knew what we could believe in the Spanish papers. Spain’s “dictator” Generalissimo Francisco Franco was still ruling. We experienced the press there as somewhat hard to believe, but maybe it was just because we (and me especially) weren’t that good at Spanish, and missed or miscued some statements. At any rate, in the days leading up to when Nixon actually resigned (August 9, 1974), I was glad I was back home because I could read the papers in English.

A friend shot this photo of me on a Saturday afternoon excursion in Barcelona, Spain.

This book spells out the details of the final days of Nixon’s presidency in almost tedious, plodding fashion with so many names that still ring a familiar bell in my head: Joseph Califano, Charles Colson, Archibald Cox, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Alexander Haig, Leon Jaworski, Henry Kissinger and many more. But the plot (even though we kind of know it) gets increasingly involved and detailed. The authors interviewed over 400 people, helped by two other full time writers sorting things out and organizing timelines. What a monumental effort.

Some non-political details that struck me in this book: frequent references in descriptions of how tanned someone looked. This was in reference to men, (there are a lot of men in this tale). The tan was actually a marker that they were rested and had enjoyed some golf or cruising the Potomac on the Presidential yacht, “The Sequoia.” In 2021, most of us don’t consider being tanned something to aspire to—at least not in my family with numerous precancerous skin tags.

The church youth group in Barcelona sitting at an outdoor cafe for coffee and chatting after worship on Sunday morning. Note the 1973 era”Telefono” booth in the background.

I was also startled by a reference to one staffer being given a dime to go make a phone call. I checked that illustration with my husband: “In 1973 did it only cost ten cents to make a call from a public phone or booth?” We finally agreed that yeah, it was probably a dime. A dime. A phone booth. They also sent telegrams. I can only imagine the fast and furious texts they would have sent back and forth if cell phones and smart phones had been invented. Things (like Nixon’s stewing over the decision to resign or not) changed by the day and sometimes by the minute.

The book started out slowly and frankly, boring. But as it went, I was taken in by the incredible details that Woodward and Bernstein incorporate. The writers include intimate, insider descriptions of how the family members were reacting to the drama—and not agreeing on whether or not Nixon should resign. I felt sympathy for Pat Nixon who never wanted her husband to end up in that job anyway, and then to face impeachment and resignation.

The ending—even though we pretty much know what is coming—is devastating. No matter what your politics, no matter that Nixon was guilty of some of the coverup and lied as necessary to protect his friends and his office, to see (described) the heartache and pressure and emotional turmoil the whole family went through is heartrending. At one point we learn that both Alexander Haig (Nixon’s chief of staff) and Nixon got down on their knees together—well, I’ll let you read it and decide. The book should still be available in any good library.

Numerous photos in this historical book by White House photographers.

Given what the U.S. has been through here in early 2021—another impeachment, a contested election, an assault on the Capitol itself, killings—it seems we all need to get down on our knees praying for our leaders and ourselves.   

What do you remember about this era? Phone calls for a dime?

Do you enjoy reading and learning about history?

Some of the histories, memoirs, and biographies

Comment here or send stories or,questions or stories to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. Comment from Nick:
    Thanks for the interesting column. The U.S. was fortunate 50 years ago that the vast majority of Congress and citizens chose the Constitution over a wayward president. Today, that is not true, sadly.

    Thomas Jefferson reportedly said, after being part of the exhilarating experience of creating a constitution, that every generation should have the same experience. He knew that the Constitution was imperfect, otherwise a Supreme Court was unnecessary.

    Despite being beaten, battered, amended and variously interpreted, the Constitution has survived. If it were being created anew today, a large number of Americans, probably even larger than in Jefferson’s time, would want a monarchy or a dictator, and they have someone in mind.

    Similar to how you questioned the reports in the Spanish papers years ago, readers of today’s news also struggle to decipher what is true, especially when some leaders spew falsehoods repeatedly. Confusion and obfuscation abound. When a person hears an obvious truth that is contrary to their beliefs, they too often dismiss it by saying, “You don’t know what to believe these days.”

    The country and the world are deeply divided. Prayer can help if everyone prays for the same thing. — Nick

    • Nick, thanks for your careful reading and comments! I had never heard/read that quote from Jefferson, I will explore it more. After January 6, I had set my phone with a reminder to pray every noon time for our country. Then the reminder was too often ignored. I need to return to that habit as we all see the divides. Blessings!

  2. This era in Nixon’s administration is troubling. I remember reviewing transcripts from the Watergate inquiry with many expletives blacked out. Although I embraced his policies at the time, I remember feeling sad at his needing to resign. What a cautionary tale about ending well.

    Thanks for including the photos of your time in Barcelona. 🙂

  3. I’m proud of you for reading transcripts–I don’t remember doing that and I’m sure the expletives rained down. One reason for sharing this post was to remind younger folks that we’ve had other “worst of times” in this country. May there be good sense and wisdom in the years ahead.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I didn’t read the entire transcript – just saw images of certain pages in a TV documentary, Melodie!

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