I like Noonan a lot, but I disagree with her here. Her position is that America and the world would have been better off if Nixon?s dirty laundry had never been aired and he had stayed in office to fight from a stronger position for America?s interests in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Let me first say that I count it as one of my fortunate blessings not to have lived through the Vietnam war era (at least at an age which I can remember.) For many reasons. I am sure that many who did live through that era wished many of the incidents which transpired and trends which either started or were strengthened as a result of that time had been different.
It seems to me, however, that Nixon?s fall from power was a watershed event for the American political psyche? and one which had both a positive silver lining as well as a dark shadow. The dark shadow includes the fact that the US President lied repeatedly, broke the law, and revealed himself to be (in the eyes of history I think) a crook. This does not discount the tremendous strategist and international politician which Nixon was? I have read many of his writings– but it does cast a dark pall over the accomplishments of his administration and political life that really overshadow them for historians, at least amateur ones like myself.
The silver lining of Nixon?s fall from power, however, is the other side of the coin. While America and Americans perhaps became further defined in their cynicism and disillusionment with government and its potential for noble administration, we also revealed our systemic capability for political transparency and accountability. In this way, we defined ourselves as a beacon of light for the world. Freedom of the press is not something we should take lightly, undervalue, or underestimate in its power to shape our politics and culture. I have lived and traveled in other countries where press freedom is less than a pipe dream. That reality is not good for democracy, and in the long run I don?t think it is good for economics or individual opportunity either.
We should celebrate that we live in an era of unprecedented transparency and accountability for our leaders and body politic. Certainly this does have a dark side, and people both abuse and are abused as they were in the past and are under different circumstances of media freedom. But taken on the whole, I would much rather have a United States with an active and vigilant press than a nation of virtually closed debate where brave journalists attempting to reveal the machinations within the dark cabals of power (governmental and commercial) are silenced by bullets. We need to maintain some global perspective on the issue of press freedom. To do that, you just need to look south of our own border. We are blessed to have a relatively free and open press.
Yes, it is sad that Nixon fell from power, but ultimately that fall was not caused by Mr. Felt or by the journalists who published his leaks. It was caused by Richard Nixon, who chose to act in immoral and illegal ways which contravened his oath of office to support and defend our own Constitution. I am sorry for many of the choices Nixon made while he was our President, but not sorry that he faced the eventual consequences of his own actions. And I do not blame him for the deaths of millions in Cambodia. Our involvement in Southeast Asia was Nixon?s inheritance from Lyndon Johnson, not his own creation. Could a strong United States have stopped the slaughter of millions in Cambodia under PolPot?s regime? Perhaps. But when a similar genocide came to Rwanda, did we answer the call to defend human rights as Noonan seems to assume we should have. No.
The diamond of history is multifaceted and curious, yet the light of truth does shine through its many colors. Nixon made bad choices, and Mr. Felt made good choices in helping bring about consequence for a leader who seemed to have believed he was untouchable and unaccountable. This was a tough lesson for all who lived through that era, but a valuable message of enduring permanence for the nations and peoples of the world.
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