Monday, October 4, 2010

Richard Nixon's Resignation Speech

In 1974, the nation became consumed by the Watergate Scandal, which involved a burglary by the Committee to Re-Elect The President. The members involved attempted to rob the Democratic Party’s National Committee office, and it was seen as an attempt to sabotage the party. As more and more of President Richard Nixon’s close advisors were revealed to be involved in the scandal, Nixon was also accused of being involved. Tapes from the White House recorded evidence that Nixon did know about the burglary and attempted to cover it up. Eventually the evidence lead to Nixon almost being impeached; instead, he decided to resign. Nixon’s resignation speech was focused on how he would pass on his presidential duties to Vice President Gerald Ford, but he did not provide what people all around the nation were waiting to hear: an apology. Instead, Nixon almost completely avoided the subject of Watergate and placed no blame on himself. Although Nixon’s speech was appropriate in preparing the nation for what was next, it would have been more effective had he admitted his involvement in the scandal and apologized forthright.

Since the Watergate scandal was publicized, it was clear that Nixon had something to hide. He battled to keep the recordings of his conversations in the White House from Supreme Court. When they were finally released, it was enough evidence to approve three out of four articles of impeachment. In addition, in the interviews with David Frost, Nixon responds to a question of endorsing "wiretappings, burglaries, or so-called black bag jobs, mail openings and infiltration", he responds with, "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal." This statement is alarming for a nearly impeached president to say. With this evidence that Nixon was guilty of having some involvement with the scandal, the nation expected Nixon to finally admit his mistakes and apologize for his wrongdoings. To take blame and responsibility would have been enough; however, Nixon avoids any hint of blame in his resignation speech, shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Benson, Harry. “President Richard M. Nixon Resigns”. Photograph. 1974. Monroe Gallery. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

Nixon begins his speech explaining how he has "always tried to do what was best for the Nation". Starting with this, Nixon already presents his stance on what he has done: it was what he thought was best. He goes on to support this by proclaiming, "I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the Nation would require." This shows that Nixon feels that because of lack of Congress's support-- not his own actions-- lead him to his resignation. Nixon avoids taking responsibility by saying he is resigning because it is in the nation's best interest. He asserts, "To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first." Nixon explains that while he feels he should carry out the term, he must leave because of America. This repeated notion that resigning isn't his choice/fault reinforces how Nixon views himself as blameless and should not apologize.

Not only does Nixon refuse to acknowledge that his wrongdoing caused him to leave office, but he blatantly offers no apology. Nixon's best attempt at admitting his faults is when he states, "I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong -- and some were wrong -- they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interests of the nation." Nixon still hides behind "the best interest of the nation", a phrase that dilutes his attempt of an apology by saying that even if he did something wrong, he still thought it was right. Other than this, Nixon does little to express his regrets about his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

If Nixon would have admitted his wrongdoing, it would have eased the minds of the nervous Americans, who had been abandoned by their President for the first time in history. Instead, he moves along to what the new President, Gerald Ford, will do for the nation. The fact that Nixon does not apologize, even years later in the Frost/Nixon interviews, is unsettling and his speech loses sincerity and effectiveness. If he had simply acknowledged the burglaries and taken responsibility for the damage it had done to America's confidence in him, his speech would have clear and focused on what America wanted to hear.

Works Cited
Nixon, Richard M., perf. "Resignation Address to the Nation." American Rhetoric.
     N.p., 2009. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

Nixon, Richard M. "I Have Impeached Myself." Interview by David Frost.
     Guardian News. N.p., 2010. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

Works Consulted
"Timeline: Watergate Scandal." Fox News. N.p., 31
May 2005. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.