II. The Final Act

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YES, DAMN IT . I used to watch Connally with exactly the same feeling, though more in fear than admiration. Thinking of him calls up that whole feeling of inadequacy, of being an outsider, of not belonging. A circle is closing: once I felt that way about John Kennedy, with the balance between fear and admiration reversed.

I am speaking, then, of the great American inferiority complex, one of the few items of psychiatric jargon to become a phrase in popular culture. For it, we overcom pensate quite splendidly at our best, and maybe cheat and lie a little at our worst.

So I come, at long last, to a sense of brotherhood with Richard Nixon. Marx-brotherhood? No. The comic view of it all is more deeply buried than I realized, and what I took then for the gibbering of partisan clowns I hear now as the cries of the stricken, the weeping of the well-intentioned, and the mourning of the just.

WHEN THE CHORUS , in a Greek choral ode, moved from right to left, the words it spoke were called the strophe. When it moved from left to right, they were called the antistrophe, and my memoir seems to be moving now in that direction. I am moved to many recantations. Let this one stand for all: Martha Mitchell. Was she really the straight woman in a slapstick hour? No, she was actually, long before Bernstein and Woodward’s sources, the first person to try to speak out on Watergate, and without prompting, just four days after the break-in. Whatever we understand about what moved her to it, Martha Mitchell called the press to try to tell of “all the dirty things that are going on”—and her telephone was ripped off the wall by one of Pat Gray’s FBI men. She was held prisoner, she said during a second call, thrown down and forcibly sedated by a hypodermic to keep her quiet.

No one paid much attention back then, certainly not I. I was too used to taking her for a kind of female Agnew to feel like anything but chuckling.

 

We watched the final summer, my wife and I, Philip sometimes, through the eyes of Dan Rather at five-thirty every evening. The watching was compulsive and mostly silent. If we talked about it some among ourselves, it was muted. It never did become a lively topic of Iowa conversation, but not because anyone dismissed it any longer. We just didn’t expose our feelings, or chance offending those of others. At university parties, after tennis, at the Windham Garage where the farmers met, we spoke of other things and hurried home at network news time. We watched our district representative in Congress, Ed Mezvinsky, who was on the Judiciary Committee, vote for impeachment one day. Though we were friends, I had no will to phone or write to him about it.

It was, I think, because we felt, unconsciously, the time of our division coming to an end. We must not risk, by chattering, hubris , which is the arrogance of setting oneself among the gods. Nixon had risked it for us, and the gods of democracy, known to us through their sacred writings—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—were as inexorable as any. We saw our scapegoat struggle. We watched him go down. And through him came, I now believe, a restoration of faith, a cleansing, and the lifting of an enormous burden.