"After his failures, he quit

Thirty-three years ago next week, President Richard Nixon resigned from office. Facing almost certain impeachment and conviction by Congress, and with his approval ratings in the mid 20s, he decided to leave office instead of causing further damage to the country.

It could be seen as a patriotic act, his resignation in disgrace. He knew that having lost respect with most of his countrymen, and with even more damaging revelations to follow, falling on his sword was the only way to start to close the divisions he’d created in office.

Historians have always found it difficult to assess Nixon, simply because the man was so full of contradictions. He was a red-baiting McCarthyite who restored diplomatic relations with the largest Communist nation on earth, China.

He loved to play the race card, speaking to white Southern audiences in coded messages about how he didn’t care for black people any more than they did. In private conversations, he spoke of the inferiority of blacks. But he started the long process of racial reconciliation by supporting civil rights bills and the desegregation of public schools.

Nixon will continue to be studied for generations to come because he was such an incredibly complex man. Much of what he accomplished in office was good and noble and in the best tradition of American public service.

Millions of Americans were the beneficiaries of his educational programs. Millions who would have gone hungry, both in America and overseas, received food, clothing and shelter through the policies of Richard Nixon.

And, in his final act of generosity, he spared the nation a long and divisive impeachment process by resigning when his less noble deeds came to light. America has much to be grateful about when considering Richard Nixon.

Of course, Nixon looks even better when one compares him to the current occupant of the White House, who shows no such insight or generosity when it comes to the American people.

Richard Nixon illegally wiretapped only a select group of journalists, antiwar activists and opposition politicians. George W. Bush has created the most extensive and intrusive surveillance program ever seen. Even the most minor and insignificant communication is subject to being intercepted by his government.

Yet Mr. Bush will not resign.

Nixon tried to plant favorable stories about himself in the news media, usually with not much success. Bush not only has an entire cable-news network and hundreds of radio talk-show hosts spewing his propaganda, he’s not above simply lying to the rest of the press when it suits him.

Remember the stories of poor Pvt. Jessica Lynch machine-gunning her way out of an Iraqi ambush and being rescued from sexual assault in an enemy hospital? Lies. All lies. Ask the family of Pat Tillman, the NFL star who was killed by friendly fire, what it thinks of the Bush propaganda campaign.

Yet Mr. Bush still refuses to resign.

The men Nixon chose to serve as attorney general were not a particularly distinguished lot. Two of them served jail time for their role in committing and covering up the Watergate scandal, in fact. When Mr. Bush’s AG goes before Congress and perjures himself repeatedly, he’s rewarded with extra confidence, not hustled away to a federal prison.

But there is no resignation letter being drafted in Washington tonight.

Newly released White House tapes show that Nixon willingly prolonged the Vietnam war for political purposes, causing the deaths of several thousand Americans who were killed in what the president knew was a lost cause.

But after 3,000 deaths in Iraq, against the advice of his generals, the Congress, the American people and even his own advisory group, Mr. Bush has sent thousands more troops into harm’s way, with possibly a second “surge” to follow.

After Sept. 11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden was cornered in the hills of Tora Bora. The man who ordered the deadly attacks in New York and Washington could have been either brought to justice or sent to hell by American troops. Instead, we sent the soldiers who might have killed bin Laden into Iraq to look for nonexistent chemical bombs and nuclear weapons.

Not only is there not a resignation, Mr. Bush has yet to apologize for his many deceptions.

When it finally came time for Nixon to quit, his onetime chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, called him. Haldeman begged Nixon to pardon him and his other former aides who faced corruption trials. Nixon listened sympathetically and said he could not do it. The aides would have to face the consequences of their acts.

Mr. Bush has no such courage. The gavel had barely sounded on the judge’s bench before Lewis Libby received his get out of jail free card. Rest assured that if any other Bush Administration officials get indicted, a pardon awaits them as well.

Facing what was then the worst scandal in American politics, Richard Milhous Nixon decided to accept his fate. It was the last official act of his career and arguably his most courageous decision.

We could certainly do with another Richard Nixon in the White House today. 



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