Sunday, December 31, 1995 12:00 AM
As the Vietnam War ground on and the fatalities increased ¿ along with the protests at home ¿ Johnson in 1968 announced that he would not run for president again. In a close race against Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon became the 37th president of the United States.
This was recognized in the one-free-shave cartoon, after many depicting Nixon's dark jowls. Nixon had chosen as his running mate Spiro Agnew, governor of Maryland, who became "Nixon's Nixon" ¿ a hatchet man who attacked the press and all who opposed the administration.
The hope, however faint, that the presidency might have an ennobling effect on Nixon was soon dashed. The dark shadow that had been on his face soon spread across the country.
The Nixon who ran in 1968 saying that he had a plan for ending the Vietnam War instead extended it into Cambodia and continued it beyond his first four years, with a loss of some 20,000 more American lives. The Nixon who gave his Checkers speech in 1952 because of public concern about disclosure of an $18,000 special Nixon fund, got into much bigger funds. As president of the United States, he even had to reimburse the Internal Revenue Service for more than $450,000 in back taxes as a result of improper deductions and other gimmicks on his returns. Even his supposed successes were often about-faces: The Nixon who surprised both enemies and allies with his sudden "opening to China" was the same Nixon who, after the 1960 election, had told Kennedy his greatest concern was that our government might recognize Red China.
There were other scandals. ITT offered to pay a large amount of money toward a Republican convention to be held in San Diego. After that deal became public, the convention was moved to Miami Beach.
In the milk fund scandal, Nixon let it be known that he was considering a cut in price supports for milk ¿ until the dairy lobby started making contributions to Nixon's reelection campaign that ultimately totaled $2 million.
He tried to prevent the press from publishing the "Pentagon Papers" but the Supreme Court overruled him.
Watergate was not some isolated event. It was not even the first burglary by Nixon's "plumbers," who had earlier broken into a psychiatrist's office. And the Nixon tapes reveal him discussing a possible break-in at IRS offices.
Watergate was simply the place where Nixon's misdeeds finally caught up with him. This "law-and-order" president conducted bugs and taps and tried to corrupt agencies of the government. The president who talked about wanting to "bring us together" compiled "enemies lists." He also developed the political "Southern Strategy" to divide us and was heard on the tapes making racist remarks.
The president who told a convention of editors, "I am not a crook," had selected as his vice president a man who had to resign because he was a crook. And, facing probable impeachment because of his own corruption, Nixon had to resign too. Barry Goldwater, who at first tried to support Nixon, finally summed it up: "He was the most dishonest individual I ever met in my life."
Do I seem to dwell on dark hours? The departure of a disgraced president and vice president promised a brighter time for the United States.