WHAT I REMEMBER most about him was the color of his suit, electric green, and how you would not expect him to wear such a loud suit on this of all days. He was standing in that suit and he was responding to the judge, saying his, yes your honors, and his, no your honors, and from what was being said you would think that nothing out of the ordinary was going on. But I was standing behind him, studying him, studying him, and I could see the back of his neck working, the blood and the muscles moving under the skin, and it was clear that the man in the green suit had terror in his heart. He was about to go to jail.
I had read about the man in the green suit, read about his career, about his indictment, about his trial for political corruption, but I had never seen him and now that he was standing before me I was unprepared for what I saw. This ogre of the headlines, this lifeless corrupter, this caricature of an evil man, turned out to be a human being - scared, ordinary-looking and without the sense to wear a conservative suit to court. I felt sorry for him and I half hoped someone would put their fingers in their mouth and whistle - say, OK. enough's enough, let's really not send this man to jail. He's scared. He's sorry. But the judge said what he had to say and the cuffs went on with a snap and the man in the green suit was led away. Justice, being blind, did not see the back of his neck.
I learned something that day and what it comes down to. I guess, is that I'm something of a softie. I can't look a man in the face, listen to him talk, watch him sweat or tick or whatever, and not feel sorry for him. I can't get into a room with him, get close and hear him talk about his wife or his children or maybe his troubles with his car and not walk away with a new perspective. I am forever climbing into the shoes of other people and while I know this about myself and watch for it. I am always surprised when it happens.
All this brings me to Richard Nixon. The funny thing about Nixon is that he has always kept his distance. He almost never lets you in, never lets you close, and the times when he did were the times, to use his own words, when he was at the won't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore and it was then that he referred to his mother - how no one would ever write a book about her. People either laughed at that or found it unbearably mawkish, but I found it moving - one of the few times he had let me in, maybe the only time he truly cried for help.
So we come now to the David Frost interview and we know what to expect. Richard Nixon will be Richard Nixon and he will lie to us. We know that. Richared Nixon has been with us since 1946 and we know by now that he is a liar. He himself admitted as much to Frost, and so all that business about the tapes and who said what to whom means nothing - a senseless, uneless dialogue in which Richard Nixon proved once again that in his mouth the English language almost never means what you think it means.
But then in the last 15 minutes or so, something happened. No longer were we talking tapes, but guilt and responsibility and letting down the country. The camera took us into that room as surely as we ourselves were there, as surely as I was up against the neck of that man in the green suit, and it stayed on the heavy face of Richard Nixon while these confessions came pouring out. The heavy brows were as if painted on my television set and that deep voice kept saying things I never expected it to say - admissions, blunted of course, but admission none the less. He said he let down the American people, let his heart rule his brain, made mistakes, probably was wrong, was more of a defense counsel for a few than President of all the people.
So there we were in the room with him and although this was Richard Nixon and although I have never trusted Richard Nixon and although I have never voted for Richard Nixon and although my library is full of books about what he did to Helen Gahagan Douglas and Jerry Voorhis and just ordinary people who came before him when he was a punk of a congressional inquisitor . . . although I knew all this. I fell for it. I fell for the man. I felt he was crasy in his own, inimitable Richard Nixon sort of way, But he made those admissions and that was all we could expect from him. I thought we has at least gotten something.
But that's me, the softie, so I asked around and found that others felt the same way. Nixon had been moving, they sai, and that is what I said when a collegue named Woodward asked me the next day what I thought of the show, and it could not have been easy for him.
So Woodward reached into his portfolio and handed me a copy of the letter Richard Nixon wrote to Gerald Ford when he accepted the pardon. It was all there. "No words can describe the depths of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have cause the nation and the Presidency . . ." There was more. There were references to "mistakes in judgment" to not understanding that Watergate had grown from a "political" scandal to a "judicial" proceeding and how he had tried to deal with Watergate the "wrong way." It was a "burden" he would have to bear for the rest of his life. I read that and remembered thinking at the time that Nixon had probably written it because it was demanded of him in exchange for the pardon. Now he had made the same admission in exchange for money and now I understood why the statue of justice wears a blindfold.
It's so she can't watch television.