Memories Of August 8, 1974, Nixon Resignation From One Middle-Class Wisconsin Home

As a twelve-year-old growing up in Hancock, Wisconsin this news seemed most interesting for the simple reason that nothing exciting ever seemed to occur in my hometown area. Everything exciting happened ‘out there’ and that meant far way. All of a sudden the energy of a national story was hitting home as people around me were talking about it and we seemed in that fashion to be a part of the story, too. I liked that feeling and was starting to understand the adrenaline rush that came with breaking news stories.

Counting the bean-pickers that rumbled down our country road or predicting how much rain might be in the gauge dad had set up on the white fence separating Mom’s flowers from the leafy rhubarb patch were what constituted a normal type of summer day in my childhood. So it is not hard to fathom how exciting following the news of a president leaving office might be for a kid.

Even though I was not aware of the depth and complexity of Watergate, thanks to the daily paper that was delivered six days a week in our mail and from radio newscasts, I knew there was excitement brewing in the land.

My parents spent the early part of the evening of August 8th after our dinner—supper as my Mom always referred to it—doing some lawn work. There were gray clouds that evening, though not the type that made for any rain. That surely was greeted with a smile by Dad as he mowed in cooler temperatures. Mom followed him around the trees and flower patches with trimming shears in hand tidying up the spots the mower was not able to perfect. I know dad was being cognizant of the time and wanted things to be done in time for the national presidential address.

By the time Nixon looked directly into the camera the three of us were seated in the living room, with dad in his leather-like chair that tipped back ever so slightly while Mom and I sat on the sofa, with me perched close to the TV, a spot I always seemed to gravitate towards.

How my parents felt about that night is not registered in my mind. I suspect that is due to the fact they watched the address like most other Americans who knew larger legal and political forces were at work in the nation and all they could do was just watch it unfold. In later years I knew my parents were part of that “Silent Majority” that Nixon was speaking to in his national races. They worked hard, played by the rules, and at times could do nothing more than just watch as events swirled around them. I have no memory of any emotional reaction—one way or the other—from the Republican home where I grew up that night, though I still recall where we were and what we did.

As was the case with other events that played out on the national stage in those years of my life it was the drama and excitement that drew me to the story. I knew that the resignation was a major event, but am not sure I placed it in historical terms. What I very much recall that night and then in the days that followed were the urgent tones in the announcer’s voices and the paced delivery of whatever was being reported. Where others my age were the product of the TV age I had grown up with radio and experienced a whole other way of hearing the news. I may have wished for more excitement in my youth but would not trade those AM broadcasts for any black-and-white image from a TV.

The following morning was one that left a lasting impression on me.

Dad was at work and Mom was undertaking the regular household-type patterns of life that made our house a home. August 9th was sunny and bright as I sat in the living room in front of the television with the sun streaming in through the windows on the south side of the house. What happened has lingered with me over the decades.

First, and though I was not able to recognize it at the time, came the raw and unvarnished words and open emotions from a politician. Rarely has anyone with power and a national moment spoke in the way President Nixon did as he stood behind a podium and bid White House staff and administrative aides farewell. It was unscripted and though I had no reason to know why at the time his words hit me and have never left me since. Some would say in later years they wondered how Nixon made it through his roughly fifteen minutes of saying goodbye. It was wrenching to watch and never fails to move me when I view it these decades later.

In one of his awkwardly emotional moments for a man who never relied on such sentiment to carry him through the political battles he stated, “Nobody will ever write a book, probably, about my mother. Well, I guess all of you would say this about your mother–my mother was a saint.” I think his time behind the podium that morning was as close as we ever came to seeing the human side of the man.

The second reason the events struck me that morning and continue to hold my attention, concerned the way power was handed over under the rules that our nation agrees to be governed by, even in the worst of times. This is not some small outcome when a constitutional crisis was finalized with the wave from a fallen leader as he gets on a helicopter and his vice-president takes over as the next leader of the free world. A twelve-year-old out in the country where nothing ever happens could even see the wonder of it all.

Decades following that morning when Nixon made his emotional comments from the White House I wrote Walking Up The Ramp, a book about my life, and parents who raised a boy to be a determined man. The quote I used to open my story was the same one that caught my attention back in the sunny living room of my childhood. No one may have ever written a book about Dick Nixon’s Mom, but I would write one about mine.

There are many who can not find anything other than revulsion for Richard Nixon. I just am not one of those. As readers might know I have had a life-long interest in the life and times of Richard Nixon. While I have long stated President Abraham Lincoln was our most important leader to occupy the White House I have long felt Nixon was our most intriguing. Nixon’s life was a Shakespeare play acted out for the whole nation to watch.

No one can or should want to spin away from the Watergate affairs which cover everything from a bungled burglary to the plumbers, ITT, the firing of a special prosecutor and so much more. Frankly, it is hard to imagine all that happened to play out day after day, week after week, month after month. Yet it all happened and many of us have memories of those days, as anguishing as they were. We would not again see a political meltdown until the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election unfolded in horror and shameful actions in front of our eyes on January 6, 2021.

Over the years I have come to a more nuanced perspective about the man. I do not allow for any wiggle room on his crimes or the need to resign from the office. But when it comes to his international involvement I leave the bitterness for the partisans while taking stock of his accomplishments in places around the globe.

At this time as we reflect on the resignation, we need to ask ourselves if our politics really did survive that event or was it instead a demarcation line where faith was lost in our political institutions that have never again been mended. Between the Vietnam War and Watergate, the nation lost more of itself than most knew at the time.

Kansas Looks Like Modern America, Problem For Conservatives In Mid-Term Elections

It was not so long ago that the nation was reading and talking about Thomas Frank’s book, What’s The Matter With Kansas?  The author went back to his home state to dive into the reason for the right-wing fascination with culture wars.  More to the point, he pondered why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests.

Tuesday night, like so many others across the nation, I was following the counting of the ballots in Kansas as it related to a constitutional question regarding abortion rights for their citizens. I was certainly heartened by the outcome, but also stunned that it happened, and by such a wide margin of victory.

The question for the voters in the conservative state could not have been any clearer and to the point. Do you favor removing state constitutional protections for abortion access?

Given the ideological ruling by the conservatives on the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case, state after state will become election battlegrounds where the citizenry will be asked to stomp down the overzealous nature of those who feel a need or a ‘right’ to interfere with a woman’s reproductive health care decisions. The question going forward will be how strident the GOP acts given the reality of the mood among the voters regarding this issue.

To be fair with the facts—and I try to be on this blog–Republicans could feel confident going into the balloting about the political landscape, given the voting record of Kansas.  I noted last night that only one Democratic presidential nominee won Kansas since 1940! That was Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964.  Today, conservative Republican supermajorities control the legislature.  Add in the politics of a midterm primary with GOP candidates up and down the ballot and the suspected low-voter turnout for such balloting could lead the GOP to believe the amendment was a slam-dunk.

If the conservatives watched the polls, they would have had more reason to feel confident, as every pre-election poll suggested passage was most certain.  They could feel the power in their hands, as it was likely that voters would say yes, thus striking the abortion language in the state constitution, and come January a total ban on abortion would be passed in the legislature.  

So, what happened?

The problem of course, for the conservative Republicans, is that they have lost insight into the importance that women, and supportive men, too, place on the right to abortion services along with the ability of women to make their own decisions about their body. They misjudged suburban voters…Lord, how they misjudged them. The giddiness that followed the stripping of a fifty-year-old precedent in the nation was not lost on the people in Kansas.   A conservative state, I must add, once again.

Kansas voters favored abortion rights by over 20 points.  Now, I am not a consultant or even engaged directly in any race come the fall elections. But if I were advising a candidate, it would be to make hay with the backlash that is building in the states about a woman’s right to choose.  I would urge candidates to take this battle directly into the heart of conservative country.

This morning the data from Kansas shows that turnout was near a record level for a midterm primary election.  Looking at the map today of the outcome the success in balloting occurred not only in progressive areas, but far direr for the GOP across the nation come the midterms, success Tuesday took place in Middle America and more moderate Republican areas like the Kansas City suburbs.  There were also red areas of the state that said to Alito and Company “get your hands off my body”. That message needs to resonate within the Republican Party from top to bottom.

When this election cycle is over another assessment will need to be made of the political culture wars perpetrated by conservatives.  A new book might be required, and the title I propose is It Started In Kansas.

Wisconsin UW System Needs To Return, Under Federal Law, Native Tribe Remains And Funerary Objects

Over the past few years, our nation has attempted a better reckoning with some of the social issues that still lead to inequality and harm to some segments of our society.  There is no disputing the power that masses of people across the country asserted following the death of George Floyd.  The growing understanding of why transgender teens must be allowed their space and right to become adults proves how a determined push can make positive changes.

While we can point to real progress on some issues, there are other matters that deal with peoples and cultures which remain nearly stalled.  In 1990–over thirty years ago(!)–the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, became law.  Its intent was to ensure the return of tribal objects by institutions receiving federal money.

The law is rather straightforward. It requires facilities that have such artifacts to submit inventories to federally recognized tribes in the United States. Human remains, along with funerary and sacred objects that can be linked to a specific tribe must be repatriated upon request.

It was reported in the news that some 870,000 Native tribe artifacts that should be returned to tribes under that federal law are still in the possession of colleges, museums, and other institutions across our country. It must be noted, that also includes nearly 110,000 human remains.   The National Park Service maintains the data on these artifacts, with the entire list here.

The Wisconsin UW system has a number of bones and funerary objects that must be repatriated to the proper tribes.

We often hear about the desire to heal the pain in our nation, atone for the past actions of other generations, and find ways of uniting and moving forward.  How then, in this era of computers and technology, are there still tens of thousands of ancestors not repatriated with their tribes?

Why this matters so very much is that we are not talking about extinct people, as many of these artifacts are still very much integral components of living cultures. Additionally, the placement of ancestral bones and other sacred objects in cold and sterile museums runs counter to Native beliefs.

For me, this story has some meaning beyond the headlines. I am most proud of being the first cousin, 6 times removed, from Chief John Ross who witnessed the horror of the Trail of Tears first-hand.  He was also known as Guwisguwi (a mythological or rare migratory bird), and was Principal Chief of the Cherokee Native American Nation from 1828–1866.  My Mom’s side of the family always spoke with pride about their heritage.

Broken treaties litter our national story concerning Native tribes. Thirty years after a federal law was passed about Native bones and, artifacts it is troubling that so much work remains to be done. A better reckoning with the parts of our past regarding Native tribes is much in need.

UW-River Falls Lands Grant To Study ‘Detergent For The Atmosphere’

The increasing level of awareness about enacting proper policies to combat global warming, and educating the citizenry about environmental concerns is producing some good results. We can agree policy moves are not taking place fast enough to meet the changes that are being noted globally, but with more efforts made at informing younger generations, who will be leaders someday, it is hoped that more robust changes can occur.

I was delighted to learn, therefore, that three University of Wisconsin-River Falls students are using their summer months as part of a National Science Foundation grant to study the effect of pinenes, molecules released by conifer trees, and other vegetation into the atmosphere. Why this matters, (and like you, I am learning as I blog), is that pinenes are oxidized by other molecules in the atmosphere and during the process produce an important molecule that acts as a detergent for the atmosphere. 

University of Wisconsin River Falls Chemistry and biotechnology Professor Stacey Stoffregen, left, with research students Lilianna Rolands, Makayla Mobeck, and Trinity Olguin.

There are many reasons to smile about this project and applaud the effort.

First, science matters greatly, and grant writing and securing funding is tough work. So to land the $459,686 three-year grant for the project is truly noteworthy.

Getting fresh young minds involved with research not only looks good for their future resumes, but also matters to the climate change dilemma, that now impacts the entire globe. Who knows what findings or new questions these students might land upon which move and shape another researcher perhaps in some other nation that will then spur on a finding that has far-reaching implications.

That is the beauty of research! That is what excites me about this news.

And of course, the research branches out at UW-River Falls beyond these women as additional students will continue the research project for the next two summers.  Their contributions will supplement the growing understanding of atmospheric processes.

There are many news headlines that make up each of our days, and sadly, too many of them are the kind that can only be labeled as just awful. So it pleases me that there is a truly uplifting and hopeful story, coming from Wisconsin about young people and scientific research.

Alex Wollet Is Modern-Day Hugh Sloan, Copies Of Clark Kent

With many tasks underway at my desk, this post is several days late. But given the nation’s amusement while watching ‘Clark Kent’ at the January 6th congressional committee hearing last week it appears this addition is still timely. What made some in the nation sit up and wonder if Superman’s bespectacled reporter alter ego had entered the political arena to make things right was when this image appeared on television screens.
Seated behind witnesses Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews, sporting a sleek navy suit and glasses was 23-year-old Alex Wollet, a medical school student from Ohio. He is currently doing a fellowship at The National Institutes of Health. When I saw him I instantly thought of Hugh Sloan. Who, my readers ask, is Hugh Sloan?
During the 1973 Senate Watergate Committee Hearings, which I started watching in chronological order during the pandemic, the former treasurer of the Richard Nixon re-election committee held forth for several days with inside information about the money at the heart of the sandal.  Chairman Sam Ervin and the fellow committee members all praised Sloan for his candor and assistance with the investigation. Why the connection came at once in my mind between Wollet, Sloan, and Clark Kent is clearly apparent. Who can ever claim the era of Richard Nixon was boring?

What Happened To Republican Party? How Conservative Movement, White Resentments Impacted United States, Rick Perlstein Books Must-Reads

In 2008 I tried to understand, as best as I could, what drove the intense hatred during the presidential election from conservative Republicans toward Barack Obama.  For a very large segment of the nation, the nomination and then election of the first Black American to the Oval Office was uplifting, reminding all about the national ideals as our better angels secured another victory.

But as I read and heard the voices from the far-right it became apparent to me that a sizable segment of the conservative movement could not at all compute how the nation had elevated a Black person to the highest office in the land. The intensity of the conservative reaction to President Obama taking over the levers of power in the White House was the result of decades of social advancements and policy moves in the United States that had the right-wing feeling—in their minds—somehow marginalized.

Fast forward to 2015 and the words from Donald Trump during an ABC News phone interview stating he did not owe Senator John McCain an apology for saying on-stage in Iowa the previous day that the former Vietnam War POW “is not a war hero … I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

Coming from the home of a WWII veteran, having worked for many years in various political activities, and having watched decades of elections come and go made me most certain, due to those words, that Trump’s campaign for the White House was over.  I wrote on this blog that “there is one thing that I feel most confident about and that is the fallout will take Donald Trump and flush him out of the presidential race”.

I could not imagine that all the sensibilities that had been wedded to the American mindset when it came to our politics would no longer apply.  I could not imagine that the conservative values about our military members would just evaporate when it came to POWs.  Boy, was I wrong!  (I do not believe I have been so wrong about anything so fundamental in our nation before or since.) 

So how does one explain what happened to the Republican Party and how did the conservative movement secure itself so strongly and willingly to racism, Trump’s Islamophobia, along with recent political attacks on transgender people, while embracing all-out conspiracy theories? 

Since Inauguration Day 2017 I have been on a quest to better understand what happened to the Republican Party and how it morphed into what we witness today. The need to know is important as what is happening directly impacts our democracy.

I expressed my purpose online and was steered by a Facebook friend to read the works of Rick Perlstein.  To know where we landed politically requires knowing how the conservative movement started. Before we can discuss the current claims that the 2020 presidential election was not ‘legitimate’, we need to traverse through the world of Nixon who unabashedly played on the resentments of white middle-class Americans.  We need to step back from the travel bans during Trump’s administration and examine the racial chords being struck in 1968 during a heated presidential season. And again in 1980.

To see forward, we must know from whence we came. As a lover of history and well-researched and powerfully written narratives, I believe these books are nothing short of masterful.  I have read two of the four, and today the first volume, Before the Storm landed on my front stoop.  I await the journey into the pages.

With awards aplenty and critical acclaim from all points of the political spectrum, Perlstein writes dense and vivid accounts of the decades in American politics that have greatly impacted our nation. I can attest that one only needs a love of history to turn the pages. 

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos Should Remove Janel Brandtjen As Chair Of Elections Committee

Parents know how often small children will do just about anything to get attention. The whole nation was reminded of those types of antics when the Stuart skit on Saturday Night Live would make us laugh with “look what I can do’. Now that same type of behavior is being exhibited by a member of the Republican Assembly caucus.

Representative Janel Brandtjen, the chair of the Wisconsin Assembly’s elections committee, has called for invalidating President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory in the state.

While the display is laughable, it is not charming like the performances of the little rascals at home aiming for the limelight with their parents. In fact, it is just sad, dangerous to the nation, and another reminder of how removed from reason and logic a portion of the unhinged element of the Republican Party strives to remain.

Readers do not require my writing this sentence to know that constitutional scholars from across the state and nation, along with even the conservative Republican legislative leaders in Madison have called such outbursts legally impossible. Most Wisconsinites would label Brandtjen’s desire as patently absurd.

I realize that Brandtjen was very busy ginning up this headline-making idea and so did not have the time to review the facts about a number of recounts, along with a slew of court rulings that upheld the victory Biden scored in the state.  Even a legislative audit from the very statehouse where she works showed there was no widespread fraud in the voting outcome.  On top of that, even the outcome by a very conservative group demonstrated there was no out-of-control fraud taking place in Wisconsin.

While I do not carry a stick so to poke at the bears at the zoo, I have to admit it would be more than amusing to allow Brandtjen sixty seconds of uninterrupted time on a newscast so she could explain why she thought decertification was possible.  Since Wisconsin is known as a state that loves alcohol, perhaps a drinking game could be arranged for every ahhh…and umm…as she seeks a way to round the square. Folks living above Highway 29 might even wish to play the video a second time.

I have faulted Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for his desire to play too close to the fire when it comes to the ludicrous base of his party as it relates to the Big Lie.  Prolonging the oxygen in the state for the conspiracy crowd and the danger that this creates for the foundation of our democracy is not something any rational leader should court.

If Vos was seeking what was best for the state and country he would remove, at once, Janel Brandtjen as the chair of the Elections Committee. She has proven to be at odds with facts, and logic, and as such should not remain in such a pivotal place. The seriousness and credibility that comes with being a committee chair are diminished when the actions of Brandtjen are allowed to stand. What she has done casts a shadow on the entire Republican caucus. And the state.

Such a move would show Vos had the leadership skills to speak and act for the higher interest of Wisconsin. Even though it would roil the waters for the conspiracy-prone, the mature members of the state GOP would be assured that a reasoned person was at the helm. Acting impotently, however, will only feed the ongoing narrative that the GOP is an out-of-control clown car.

It is no wonder why many deride the far-right wing of the Republican Party. It is no mystery why conservatives are the butt of jokes for late-night talk show monologues. What the GOP requires are elected officials who will step up and clearly demonstrate a willingness to align with sanity.

Cue Speaker Vos to look into the camera with the red light on and start speaking.

Now that would be a headline in the Milwaukee Journal the state would applaud.

Dane County Fairgrounds Dark At 9 P.M. With Clear Skies

Friday night was a perfect example of summer.  At 9 P.M. it was 76 degrees, winds were calm, and the sky was mostly clear.  It is the weekend of the Dane County Fair.  Teenage couples should have been planning a few trips around the top of the Ferris Wheel, and delighted youngsters ready to show off a prized item in the crafts or animal barn to grandparents who surely would then see the wisdom of buying some cotton candy for a job well done.

But as I drove along Rimrock Road the lights of the rides were off, the cars in the massive parking area were mostly cleared out, there were no sounds of laughter and light-heartedness, and no carnival scents of corn dogs hung in the air.

It was truly disheartening to see what the lowest common denominators in our area achieved.

Last year at the fair—and on a Friday night–about 100 youth brawled in the parking lot that required deputies to step in and respond. It was so out-of-hand that Town of Madison police was called in for assistance. Multiple physical and verbal altercations started between a crowd of minors who gathered in the parking lot. By 9:30 P.M. deputies and fair security began to break up a large crowd of more than 50 people.

The outrageous behavior forced fair officials last year to move up its closing time for its last two nights and mandated minors be accompanied by adults.

That is where we still stand in 2022.

It is pathetic that those with no goals in life other than creating mayhem can throw one of the great traditional events of summer almost out of existence.  There is so much revenue lost to vendors and those who work at the fairs.  It truly hurt inside to see the dark quiet on a Friday night at the fairgrounds.

I grew up in rural Wisconsin where it was a real treat to walk the midway as a boy with the dazzling, flickering, and beckoning lights. Life was not always big and brassy, so when the fair arrived it was truly a big deal. You just always prayed for no rain that weekend! The Saturday night grandstand show would always feature some country artist.  We would meet every year some extended family and it was an event all in its own way in the bleachers. 

Corny?  No. Just living life.  And we did year after year.

When I became an uncle and my small nephews and nieces were not sure about the Scrambler and Tilt-a-Whirl, and some of the adults were not wanting to get light-headed, I was the one who made sure there were fair memories made for a lifetime.

So, yeah, it ticks me off to know that Madison and Dane County kids who would enjoy some of their own traditions and excitements at the fair as the sun sets and the glow of the midway takes over are denied that pleasure due to losers who had to brawl last year.  And did so to such an extent the impact has lasted for a year.

The list of the lowest common denominators among us seems to grow each year. Add those who turned the county fair into a darkened parking lot at 9 P.M. on a grand summer night in Madison.