- Historic Sites
II. The Final Act
A sometime “Nixon-hater” looks back on Watergate and discovers that his glee of a decade ago has given way to larger, sadder, and more generous emotions
June/july 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 4
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.
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.