Some my earliest memories of politics involve the presidency of Richard Nixon. I’ve long considered him something of a misunderstood character, certainly not without his flaws, but also someone who moved boldly and changed the way the world worked, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. I’ve also often wondered if the long lens of history would eventually soften some of the criticism and find future generations having something good to say about him, as well as the obvious complaints.
No matter your feelings, it’s hard to deny that his presidency was an important piece of American history, and more of it will be coming to light today.
Four months after a judge ordered the June 1975 records unsealed, the government’s Nixon Presidential Library was making them available online Thursday. Historians hoped that the testimony would form Nixon’s most truthful and thorough account of the circumstances that led to his extraordinary resignation 10 months earlier under threat of impeachment.
“This is Nixon unplugged,” said historian Stanley Kutler, a principal figure in the lawsuit that pried open the records. Still, he said, “I have no illusions. Richard Nixon knew how to dodge questions with the best of them. I am sure that he danced, skipped, around a number of things.”
Nixon was interviewed near his California home for 11 hours over two days, when a pardon granted by his successor, Gerald Ford, protected him from prosecution for any past crimes. Despite that shield, he risked consequences for perjury if he lied under oath.
OK… I get it. This is historically significant material. It just strikes me as a rather odd moment in the timeline for it to all come tumbling out. We’re a bit busy with a number of other pressing issues to begin rehashing Watergate all over again now, aren’t we? There are also more than a few valid arguments to be made in favor of waiting a bit longer before emptying the bag, a point raised by one of the least likely characters imaginable.
It was the first time an ex-president had testified before a grand jury and it is rare for any grand jury testimony to be made public. Historians won public access to the transcript over the objections of the Obama administration, which argued in part that too many officials from that era are still alive for secret testimony involving them to be made public.
Even Obama didn’t want to see these records come to light right now? Interesting, though to be honest, I’m not sure what to make of that stance.
In any event, plenty of books have been written on the Watergate era and the entire cast of characters involved. If there are any stunning new revelations to be found here, I’m sure even more will be flying off the presses in time for Christmas. I’m not sure if I want to read them, though. I can’t say precisely why, but the story makes me rather sad.