The summer of 1974 I was attending summer classes at Valparaiso University. I had a couple of history seminars with great teachers. I studied the Civil War and its aftermath. Yet, history was being made right in front of my eyes as Watergate dragged on and on. It was dragging our nation into partisan bickering (not unlike today in our nation).
In an evening televised address, on this date President Richard M. Nixon announced his plan to become the first president in American history to resign from office. With impeachment proceedings underway against him for his involvement in the Watergate affair, and the cover-ups associated with it. Nixon was finally bowing to pressure from the public and Congress to leave the White House. He said in a solemn address from the Oval Office, “I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.” Just before noon the next day, Nixon officially ended his term as the 37th president of the United States.
I’m not sure how I felt. I didn’t vote for him, I hated what the war in Viet Nam had done to our country, and like many Americans I wanted this national nightmare to be over. Now nearly forty years later I still don’t know how I feel about what happened. It just did.
Integrity is such an important quality in our leaders. Yet, power has a way of sapping integrity from even the most ethical men and women who assume the reigns of government, business, and even the church. It is as old as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden. People succumb to the temptation to control their world when they don’t really control anything. Even the most powerful men in the world could not keep the secret of the tapes and the cover-up of a botched break in.
On the one hand Nixon was a scoundrel who manipulated and failed the country; on the other hand he was a man of courage who knew when to get out and save the country further division. We all live in glass houses don’t we?
“To preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” is what the President promises in the oath of office. Integrity. It is something we all long to have but many of us let it slip through our fingers a little at a time. Some pretend to have it and act ethically superior, overlooking their sins of omission. Others humbly recognize that they are beggars but strive each day to be better men and women. Who is the true leader?