- - Friday, August 8, 2014

I was never a fan of Richard Nixon; I did not trust the man. Yet I took inspiration from the final words he spoke as president of the United States.

He resigned the presidency 40 years ago, on Aug. 9, 1974. I was reporting developments from a distance as a young political reporter in Oklahoma.

Articles of impeachment were pending. They had been approved by the Judiciary Committee but not yet acted upon by the House of Representatives. He was accused of obstructing justice regarding the Watergate scandals.

There were plenty of parallels with how today’s Obama White House works aggressively to conceal information from the press and the public. In the Nixon era, like peeling back the layers of an onion, scandals were gradually revealed that the White House wanted buried. But the Supreme Court ruled against the president’s claims of executive privilege and cover ups of the truth came out through the courts and through hearings in Congress. These included presidential abuses of power, enemies lists and more.

Nixon’s impeachment by the House had become inevitable. His possible removal from office by the Senate was less certain but definitely might have occurred. In announcing that he instead would resign, Nixon correctly noted that the drama would have stalled all other activity in Washington.

The nation benefited from Nixon’s resignation and his legacy did as well. It was more honorable than being forcibly removed from office.

What penetrated the high drama and touched my heart were his very final words, the very last three minutes publicly spoken by President Nixon as he addressed White House staff in the East Room, broadcast to the nation on television. The veneer slipped away and Nixon spoke from the heart; I was moved to tears.

After praising his own parents, Nixon recounted how President Teddy Roosevelt as a young man felt that the light had left his life when his daughter died. Yet T.R. rebounded. Then Nixon spoke of the ups and downs of his own life:

“… because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes and you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.

“And so I say to you on this occasion, as we leave, we leave proud of the people who have stood by us and worked for us and served this country. We want you to be proud of what you have done. We want you to continue to serve in government, if that is your wish.

“Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.

And so, we leave with high hopes, in good spirit, and with deep humility, and with very much gratefulness in our hearts.”

Many rejoiced with Nixon’s departure from the White House. Yet despite my lack of trust for him, his final words left me with an inspiration and an appreciation for his perseverance. They touched my heart and I cried for the man and his family.

Richard M. Nixon achieved the presidency not through a whirlwind of hype but through a lifetime slog through adversity. After coming through the ranks and surviving controversies as congressman, senator and Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, he lost the 1960 presidential campaign to John F. Kennedy. After he then lost the 1962 governor’s race in California, he told the press they “wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Yet he came back and was elected president in 1968.

Anyone and everyone can remember Nixon for what he did wrong. But we also can learn by remembering and admiring his determination. True grit.