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The Nixon Impeachment Saga | The Nation

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The Nixon Impeachment Saga

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The House Judiciary Committee says Richard Nixon must stand trial in the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors.

About the Author

Carey McWilliams
Carey McWilliams was editor of The Nation for twenty years (1955-75) and wrote numerous books on California. He died on...

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Adoption by the House Judiciary Committee of three articles of impeachment represents a remarkable political achievement in view of the corruption of our political culture which began long before the Watergate scandals. Rejection of two additional counts, each of which had merit, was politically unavoidable; the "fragile coalition" that approved the first three articles would not accept them. But the two rejected articles, both thoroughly aired in the nationally televised debate, were important to the outcome, for it was the entire pattern of Nixon's conduct that finally convinced the majority. A library of books will be written about the impeachment saga but "at this point in time" a few notes are in order....

The United States celebrated its centennial in the wake of a devastating Civil War, the scandals of the Grant administration, and charges that a Presidential election had been stolen. Observance of the bicentennial will take place under somewhat similar circumstances. In 1876 there was a great demand for "reconciliation" without genuine reconstruction and, as a consequence, the most acute problems then facing the nation were shelved, an action for which we have since paid a very heavy price. This experience could be repeated. Relief at having Nixon out of the White House could precipitate a mood in which the unresolved issues of Watergate would be pushed aside. This must not be permitted to happen. The corruption of the Nixon Administration is quite unlike that of the Grant administration; today's crisis is more dangerous and more difficult to resolve than the crisis of 1876. But by the same token, our resources are greater and the opportunities more promising. The divisions left by the Civil War which imposed a brake on progressive politics for a century are being rapidly transcended. The failure of Reconstruction deferred the struggle for full civil rights for nearly a hundred years; but substantial gains have been made which even this Administration has been unable to reverse, although the movement is stymied at the moment.

The difference between then and now is symbolized by the impressive figure of Rep. Barbara Jordan—the bitterness of black hopes betrayed in 1876 echoed in her words: "Today I am an inquisitor...hyperbole would not overstate...the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total, and I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution"—and her colleagues, Representatives Conyers and Rangel. Indeed seven of the nine sponsors of H.R. 989 calling for impeachment were blacks. American democracy was heavily handicapped in 1876 by the failure to safeguard the civil rights of freedmen and the handicap persisted well into the second half of this century. But there is a black presence in American politics today, at every level, in most regions, and it finds a counterpart in the emergence—this time for real—of a new South.

The debate on Watergate has been a profoundly educative experience and it will continue for a long time. A recrudescence of McCarthyism is always possible but seems unlikely. The new political energies generated in the 1960s have not been entirely dissipated by any means. Nor have the lessons of the war in Vietnam been forgotten. Strong undercurrents of political unrest are evident even if the direction they may take is not. Vice President Gerald Ford may well be discredited by his support of Nixon and the names of Ronald Reagan and John Connally can now be scratched from the Presidential sweepstakes. So prospects for a real bicentennial celebration sans Nixon and of a major political upheaval in 1976 cannot be discounted as wholly fanciful; the potential, at least, exists.

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