37th Anniversary of the Impeachment of Nixon
On Wednesday it will be the 37th anniversary of when the House Judiciary Committee passed the first article of impeachment against incumbent President Richard Nixon on July 27th, 1974. The Committee passed another article on July 29th for abuse of power, and the day after passed another for contempt of Congress. On August 5th Nixon was forced to comply with a Supreme Court ruling demanding that he provide transcripts for the then missing Watergate tapes. Three days later Nixon became the first president to resign from office, forced by the hard evidence of his guilt in these transcripts, as opposed to any mens rea that he continued to claim he had no need to have, to either the American public or a solitary David Frost.
This is traditionally seen to be a dark day of American politics; when the President was exposed to indulge in criminal activities, shamed America in front of the rest of the world, and defiled the presidency. Before Watergate, there existed a level of respect amongst most Americans and the President that helped maintain some image of purity and idealism about government. Even if you didn’t vote for the guy, you would probably still respect the office he held, and that he was elected there. This would furthermore grow into a belief that the President would never consciously mislead or lie to the public. No scandal had ever shown that the President had willfully deceived the public. But this changed with Watergate. Once the Presidential maidenhead of public respect had been taken, it could not be given back.
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The whole incident of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation should, however, be seen as the opposite of an American dark day: instead, it is one of the greatest successes of democratic procedure. History cannot but help producing many leaders who lead in deceiving, and this will continue. Every society that has ever existed has had to put up with this problem in its politics. LBJ and his team fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident in the presidency before Nixon’s, LBJ’s claim to initiate the Vietnam War. If the fabrication had been known then, he would be the subject of this article, not Nixon. But with Watergate, for once, the leader who attempted to deceive was forced to leave office. And if it wasn’t for the leading fumbler after him, he would have been prosecuted, as well.