'In the Coffin': New (Old) Nixon Tapes Released


National Archives

Forty years ago this week Richard Nixon's presidency crumbled, his name became as anathema as Benedict Arnold, and we began the longstanding tradition of suffixing scandals with "gate." To commemorate this, the folks at the Nixon Presidential Library (yep, you paid taxes for that) and the private Richard Nixon Foundation are beginning today releasing some new (old) tapes of Tricky Dick.

From the Associated Press (AP):

The postings begin with Nixon recalling the day he decided to resign and end Saturday — his last day in office — with the 37th president discussing his final day at the White House, when he signed the resignation agreement, gave a short speech and boarded a helicopter for San Clemente, California.

The segments were culled from more than 30 hours of interviews that Nixon did with former aide Frank Gannon in 1983. The sections on Watergate aired publicly once, on CBS News, before gathering dust at the University of Georgia for more than 30 years.

There's nothing too revelatory about the videos, or at least the ones that have come out so far. Though, whether speaking about his decision to resign, telling his family about that decision, or their reactions, Nixon doesn't live up to the villainous, paranoid popular conception. He's dynamic, alternating among reflectiveness, candidness, and even flashing a few smiles as he discusses the "smoking gun" tape and how it was "the final nail in the coffin, although you don't need another nail when you're already in the coffin, which we were."

Gannon told the AP, "This is as close to what anybody is going to experience sitting down and having a beer with Nixon, sitting down with him in his living room. Like him or not, whether you think that his resignation was a tragedy for the nation or that he got out of town one step ahead of the sheriff, he was a human being."

Lest one feel too sentimental, read Gene Healy's latest for Reason on why we should celebrate Watergate and the cutting-down of an imperial presidency.

Below is one of the tapes. Here are links to two others.