Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Photographs: Nixon Departs

Yesterday I used a photo of Richard Nixon  to illustrate my item on the Vulcan greeting.  The photo showed Nixon in one of his famous poses of hands held high with fingers outstretched in V signs.  The photo is of interest for the reasons set out below.

Richard Milhouse Nixon (1913-1994) was the 37th President of the US between 1969 and 1974. Notwithstanding his achievements in domestic and international affairs, as well as economic management and civil rights advances, his Presidency will forever be equated with the Watergate scandal and his resignation from the Presidency to avoid impeachment. He remains the only President to have resigned from office.
I have never been a quitter. 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. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.

- Richard Nixon, 8 August 1974

The following day Nixon departed the White House aboard the Army One Helicopter.

Hunter S Thompson recorded Nixon’s departure:
I took a cab down to the White House and pushed through the sullen mob on the sidewalk to the guardhouse window. The cop inside glanced at my card, then looked up -- fixing me with a heavy-lidded Quaalude stare for just an instant, then nodded and pushed his buzzer to open the gate.

The pressroom in the West Wing was empty, so I walked outside to the Rose Garden, where a big olive-drab helicopter was perched on the lawn, about 100 feet out from the stairs. The rain had stopped and a long, red carpet was laid out on the wet grass from the White House door to the helicopter. I eased through the crowd of photographers and walked out, looking back at the White House, where Nixon was giving his final address to a shocked crowd of White House staffers. I examined the aircraft very closely, and I was just about to climb into it when I heard a loud rumbling behind me; I turned around just in time to see Richard and Pat coming toward me, trailing their daughters and followed Closely by Gerald Ford and Betty. Their faces were grim and they were walking very slowly; Nixon had a glazed smile on his face, not looking at anybody around him, and walked like a wooden Indian full of Thorazine. His face was a greasy death mask. I stepped back out of his way and nodded hello but he didn't seem to recognize me.

I lit a cigarette and watched him climb the steps to the door of the helicopter. . . Then he spun around very suddenly and threw his arms straight up in the famous twin-victory signal; his eyes were still glazed, but he seemed to be looking over the heads of the crowd at the White House. Nobody was talking. A swarm of photographers rushed the plane as Nixon raised his arms-- but his body had spun around too fast for his feet, and as his arms went up I saw him losing his balance. The grimace on his face went slack, then he bounced off the door and stumbled into the cockpit. Pat and Ziegler were already inside; Ed Cox and Tricia went in quickly without looking back ... the engine cranked up to a dull, whining roar. I was so close that the noise hurt my ears.

The rotor blades were invisible now, but the wind was getting heavier; I could feel it pressing my eyeballs back into their sockets. For an instant I thought I could see Richard Nixon's face pressed up to the window. Was he smiling? Was it Nixon? I couldn't be sure. And now it made no difference. The wind blast from the rotors was blowing people off-balance now; photographers were clutching their equipment against their bodies and Gerald Ford was leading his wife back toward the White House with a stony scowl on his face. I was still very close to the helicopter, watching the tires. As the beast began rising, the tires became suddenly fat; there was no more weight on them. . . The helicopter went straight up and hovered for a moment, then swooped down toward the Washington Monument and then angled up into the fog.

Richard Nixon was gone.

Those who have seen the movie Nixon will recall the final interview of Nixon by David Frost on 19 May 1977. That interview produced the following famous quote by Nixon on his views of presidentila power:

"So what in a sense, you're saying is that there are certain situations… where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal."

Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.

An outrageous, isolated view?

On 30 April 2009 US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice addressed students at Stanford University. She was asked about the US use of waterboarding* and torture. Her replies were taped by a student:
The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

The United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, and so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
* Immobilising a person on their back with their head lower than the body, then pouring water on the person’s face and into breathing passages, simulating the sensation of drowning and initiating the gag reflex.

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