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Nation has often turned to former presidents in times of crisis

Kirk Wilbur Special to The Spokesman-Review

Since W. Mark Felt came forward as Deep Throat, the media have focused on his role in the Watergate scandal. Less attention has been given to the paradoxical actions of President Nixon that started the entire controversy and investigation.

Nixon was obsessed with his legacy. On Oct. 10, 1972, he wrote in his notebook that F.D.R. was remembered for his charm, as was President Kennedy. Truman was remembered for being “gutsy.” Eisenhower’s smile ensured his place in America’s memory, and Johnson would be known for vitality.

Curious about how he would be remembered, Nixon scribbled “RN – ?” One idea was “the national conscience,” a recurring theme in that notebook.

On Sept. 7, 1969, Nixon, aboard Air Force One, pulled out the yellow notebook. Among a list of ideas were the comments “Need to be good to do good” and “Goals: Set example, inspire, instill pride.”

In January 1970, he wrote the following personal goals: “1. Make people have a memorable experience every day – 2. Be worthy of 1st man in the nation and in world.” He was a man clearly intent on acting morally, and providing a moral example for his nation.

It is ironic, then, that Nixon was at the center of one of the most immoral controversies in presidential history. It is paradoxical that a man so obsessed with being “the national conscience” would defy morality and law.

The scandal began with the burglary and wiretapping of the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. As the Watergate investigation proceeded, it became apparent that Nixon had been involved in a conspiracy against political opponents and had aided in attempts to cover up the administration’s involvement in the Watergate break-in.

Nixon’s world began to unravel as his unlawful acts became increasingly apparent.

In 1974, the president was accused of three serious crimes by the House Judiciary Committee: misusing his power to violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, obstructing justice, and defying Judiciary Committee subpoenas. Instead of facing impeachment, Nixon resigned.

So, what caused a president obsessed with a legacy as a moral beacon to perpetrate such immoral acts? He was so convinced that he could do good for his country that he was willing to do anything in his power – moral or immoral – to thwart political opponents and remain the nation’s “guiding light.” Ironically, his attempts to be above the law earned him a wholly different legacy: that of a morally questionable and controlling president.

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