RICHARD Nixon has appeared everywhere the past few days. The April 10 issue of The New York Times sported a full page ad, with a huge photo of the ex-President, announcing Nixon's appearance on the NBC News program Meet the Press for the first time in 20 years. Last week, Nixon spoke at the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors to give his predictions on the Presidential race. On Sunday, The New York Times Review of Books contained a review of Nixon's new book on the status of the superpowers.
This sudden visibility on Nixon's part suggests that, 14 years after his resignation in disgrace due to the sweeping Watergate scandals, he is finally assuming the elder statesman status he has sought for so long. And people are letting him--they seem to forget why he resigned and the incredible significance of his actions.
Of course, Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and President Ford pardoned him before formal criminal charges could be brought. Had Nixon gone to trial, he very likely would have gone to jail, the first President ever to be found guilty of criminal activity.
Even Nixon's staunchest defenders left his side once he released the tapes, which undeniably showed the President to be guilty of trying to halt the investigation. As one young White House staff member was quoted as saying, "Oh, those bastards...who've been saying all these things about the president all year--those bastards I hated, they were right."
The shortened list of Nixon's "high crimes and misdemeanors," taken from the Articles of Impeachment prepared by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, includes: making false statements to investigators, withholding evidence, willfully disobeying subpoenas, approving the payment of substantial sums of "hush money" to those who might implicate him, using the CIA, FBI, IRS and other federal agencies to discredit those who opposed him politically, using his power as president to cover his crimes and block investigations and directly lying to the American people.
"In all of this," the Articles of Impeachment read, "Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office."
THERE was no doubt, once the tapes were obtained, that Richard Nixon had acted wrongfully. There will never be any way of knowing the full truth because he will never tell us. Nixon is a man who wants to vindicate his place in history. Escaping prosecution, however, has allowed him to be in the improved position he is now. If Nixon is accepted as an elder statesman, the lessons on the corruption of power that Watergate supposedly taught us will be lost.
Granting Richard Nixon the freedom to act as an expert voice on any issue such as foreign affairs, national campaigns or domestic policy--expert though he may be--completely dismisses the damage he did this country and ignores his complete betrayal of the public trust. The President of the United States had not only broken many laws, but he had intentionally lied to the American public in an attempt to retain his power.
At a time when, more than ever, the ethical behavior of public figures is being called into question, Nixon's reacceptance into public life shows that we are coming to the wrong conclusions about the place of ethics in society. It shows that one need not act responsible to succeed.
Unless moral positions are held firm, they mean nothing. The time for punishing Nixon is past--he resigned in order to spare a reeling nation the torment of prosecuting their chosen leader, but to restore to him public respect cheapens the ideal of our nation's highest office.
Significantly, the main factor contributing to the rise of Nixon has been the Reagan Presidency. Newsweek, which two years ago noted that attitudes towards Nixon were changing, quoted a senior aide to President Reagan as saying, "As far as the White House is concerned, [Nixon's] rehabilitation is complete--there's tremendous respect for him around here." Reagan is known to consult often with Nixon about certain policies, such as the bombing of Libya, and even called for advice on how to handle the Iran-Contra scandal.
REAGAN was ironically the first president able to repair the damage Nixon did to the status of the Oval Office in the eyes of Americans. Yet Reagan--with 115 indictments credited to his administration, the embarassing calls for the resignation of Attorney General Edwin Meese III and the scandals of Irangate--has done nearly as much damage to the country as Nixon's crimes did. The difference is between Nixon's obviously deceitful intent and Reagan's inability to comprehend the situations involving him.
In the end, however, it may be too late for change. Nixon is already listened to by many people. His party has already forgiven him for the crimes he committed against the nation. The President has already accepted him as an expert on public policy. But if we are already willing to overlook Nixon's manipulations, lies and utter disrespect for the highest office and laws of the land, then the damage he did to the ideals of the nation is irreversible.