Thursday, August 08, 2013

Nixon resigns 5 years after The Beatles cross the street...

Today is a day of great note in the history of American politics, at least for those of us who are around at the time.

I suspect that there are lot of you younger people out there who don't quite understand the big deal that those of us who are older make around the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon from the presidency that those of us who do remember what went on during that time do. But, if you were there and followed the whole string of events, you know that it was a big deal. Not just Nixon's resignation, but the distrust of the political system in the United States that the events leading up to it awakened. People might have had their doubts about what gets called politics as usual, but Watergate brought all that dirty laundry out into the open.

Pretty much everyone who has taken a US history class since 1974 knows the basics of the story of the break-ins at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building in Washington D.C. on May 28 and June 18, 1972 that culminated in Nixon's nationally televised announcement on August 8, 1974 that he would resign the presidency, effective at noon the next day. After a long and checkered political career, "Tricky Dick" had finally gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar, metaphorically speaking. The succession of events is pretty commonly known: the break-ins, the televised hearings that popularized the phrase "what did he know and when did he know it", the tapes Nixon had made of conversations in the Oval Office, Nixon's insistence that "I am not a crook", the articles of impeachment that were passed against him, the admission that he really did know a whole hell of a lot about what had been done on his behalf after a long battle to get the Oval Office tape transcripts released, and then his resignation, the first (and so far only) time a US president has resigned in disgrace from office.

For me, Nixon's resignation speech is one of those "I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened" moments that crop up occasionally in history. I was less than two months out of high school and working as a cashier at the K-Mart a couple of blocks from my house. I was working that night, and happened to be on break. So, I watched the resignation speech. on a bank of televisions in the electronics department on my way back from the break room, trying mightily to keep from jumping up and down and yelling, "It's about damn time."

Yeah, I was never really a fan of Nixon, to put it mildly, especially after watching the whole sordid saga unfold through most of my high school years. And, I've always wondered why anyone was surprised that Nixon participated in the cover-up that followed the break-ins. As far back as the 1940s, when he first ran for office, Nixon had used underhanded tactics to undermine his political opponents. His favorite tactic back then was Red-baiting, accusing opponents of being Communists or Communist sympathizers. He began using that strategy as early as his first campaign for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Again, when he first ran for the US Senate in 1950, he did the same thing as he campaigned against Helen Gahagan Douglas. Nixon won both races, but Gahagan Douglas gained a revenge of sorts as legend says that she is the one who popularized the nickname "Tricky Dick", which followed him for the rest of his life.

Despite Watergate, Nixon's resignation from office, and a history of questionable political tactics - besides Red-baiting, he put to use what is called the "Southern strategy" of gaining votes in the Southern United States by exploiting the racial prejudices of some white voters - Nixon left a mixed legacy. He supported creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the legislation that requires environmental impact statements before Federal projects can be implemented. Despite his use of the Southern strategy, he implemented the first Federal affirmative action program. He endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. He took the first steps to regularizing relations with China.

Still, I figure that having to resign the presidency was Nixon's come-uppance for being "Tricky Dick."

Exactly five years before Nixon announced his resignation, on August 8, 1969, a much more positive event took place. That was the day that the photograph that became the cover of The Beatles' album "Abbey Road" was taken.

You know the one, in which the members of the band were crossing Abbey Road, the street outside the Abbey Road Studios in London, where the album was recorded: John Lennon was in the lead, in a white suit, with Ringo Starr following behind him in a black suit. Paul McCartney came next, barefoot, in a blue-gray suit, carrying a cigarette. George Harrison brings up the rear, in jeans and a blue work shirt. The result of a ten-minute photo shoot, the album cover is one of the most famous in the history of recorded music. The zebra crossing (crosswalk to those of us in the States) in the photo now has official status in the UK as a spot of "cultural and historical importance."

Despite it's status as a pop-culture icon, the taking of this photo is not exactly what you'd call an earth-shattering event. On the other hand, I find it worthy of note because "Abbey Road" is my favorite Beatles' album.

It isn't Music Sunday, but as long as I've mentioned it, I thought I'd share a couple of songs from "Abbey Road". First, here's "Come Together":

And, maybe my favorite song on the album, "Oh! Darling":

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