46 Years Ago Tonight…In Hancock And The White House…

…our family only had television for about one year by the time President Richard Nixon resigned from his office in a stunning address to the nation.

Home July 2000

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 summer day in my childhood.  So it is not hard to fathom how exciting following the news over 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 wanting 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 closet 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 lasting impressions 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 see 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 covers 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 actually playing 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.

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 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 the 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.

And so it goes.

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Reason For Hope In Madison

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It is a grand Saturday afternoon in Madison.  Sunshine galore with barely a cloud to be found while warm breezes blow off the lakes.  In spite of a pandemic that has gripped us there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful and optimistic about the future of our city.

I met one of those reasons today.

I was looking out a front window to find if the mail had arrived when I see a woman coming up the front stoop.  She waves and I as round my way to the entry of our home and then the front door she has backed onto the sidewalk.  Such is the condition we now need to live as the virus rages.

“Are you Greg?” she asked.

We had never met but had a few online messages back and forth during the time of gathering signatures on nomination papers for the 76th District.  She is one of seven candidates vying for election to an open assembly seat.  The election is August 11th.

I greeted her from the stoop and after some pleasantries, I expressed my sincere thanks for the time she has spent being a candidate.  In most election cycles a candidate is able to shake hands and talk one-on-one with voters until there is no more rubber on the bottom of a pair of shoes.  With COVID-19 it takes more resolve and energy to make it through the long days, but as noted the weather was very nice to work on a lit drop.

I quickly added that our democracy is well served when there are many voices talking about the issues and asking for voters to place trust in them.  And this district is most fortunate to have so many with impressive resumes, skill sets, and varied experiences with which voters can make a choice.

She reminded me of a comment I made to her in one of our first messages.  I stated that when running a campaign don’t forget to have fun. Too often our politics is overly bombastic, overly rhetorical, and just plain mean. While issues of the day are always frothy and should be discussed there is no need not to have fun in the campaign.  So, I asked, “Are you having fun?”

She said indeed she is having fun.  It was plain to see in her eyes–as she was wearing a face covering–that campaigning was agreeing with her.  Her assistant, who was also wearing a face covering, was equally engaging and obviously also invested in the race.  I thanked her, as well, for being a part of the process of elections.

The other reason for being impressed today with the candidate is that even with a lawn sign in full view for another candidate I am supporting there was still an effort to connect with me and chat.  That is a sign of professionalism and maturity as a candidate.  Let me assure my readers that too often candidates follow a ‘walking list’ and skip past those doors not on the printed page.  That is a huge mistake and one a serious candidate never makes.  So, yeah, I was impressed today.

So I can say with no hesitation, after weeks of reading about and following the various local candidates I have hope for our future.  It may sound corny to state, but after the almost hourly assaults on our senses from Washington I see numerous reasons to have faith as we move forward due to the character and earnestness of those wishing to serve in the assembly.

It does not take one very long after picking up the morning newspaper or turning on the evening news to feel angst when it comes to our democracy.  (As I mentioned to the candidate today one of the foundation issues needing resolution is the way redistricting is undertaken.) But we also need to be aware that with the candidates who have reached out to ask for our vote, given their intellect, background and varied experiences, we are in good hands. If we follow the solutions that have been presented, and if we can act in a timely fashion the angst and divisiveness can lesson.

Not all candidates can win, that we know.  But let me assure my readers that what we have seen locally allows us to know with certainty there is a deep playing bench when it comes to a wide array of local offices that in time will need to be filled.

Yes, there are many reasons to smile today.

And so it goes.

Now go vote!

Fallout From Beirut Explosion Is Second Blast

It has been one of those weeks when an event of severe gravity morphs into another of sizable dimensions.  Watching and reading this week of the events from Lebanon underscore the need for a strong international team at our State Department and links with international players that are healthy and ready to seek solutions. Our nation does not have either at this time.

Where the events in Lebanon leads is near impossible to predict.  The New Yorker has one of those capsulized columns that places the Beirut port explosion and the breaking of a country into a must-read.

Lebanon is now on the verge of collapse. It was already a failing state before twin explosions ripped through Beirut’s scenic port, shortly after rush hour began, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The second blast set off a billowing mushroom cloud, reminiscent of a nuclear bomb, and registered seismic waves equivalent to a 3.3-magnitude earthquake. The explosion was heard as far away as Cyprus, an island more than a hundred and twenty miles to the northwest. The Lebanese government appealed to every ambulance in the country to head for Beirut. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than a hundred and thirty-five had died, more than five thousand were wounded, and untold numbers were still missing. Hospitals, already overwhelmed with covid-19 patients, treated many of the injured on sidewalks and roads, or turned them away. “There is an acute shortage of everything,” the country’s health minister, Hamad Hasan, told reporters.

Lebanon now faces existential challenges. The blasts destroyed office buildings and apartment blocks across the capital as well as its largest port, which is critical to the trade and imports on which Lebanon is dependent. One governor estimated that more than a quarter million were left homeless, compounding the challenges of absorbing hundreds of thousands of Syrian war refugees in a country of fewer than seven million. A row of towering wheat silos, which play a central role in the country’s importing and storing of food, were among the facilities destroyed at the port. “No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city,” President Michel Aoun said at an emergency Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, as smoke still rose from the port. “The Apocalypse,” a headline in the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour read.

The blasts could not have come at a worse time for the country. They may mark the end of modern Lebanon as we know it. The physical signs are everywhere: once famed for its robust night life and rich cultural outlets, Beirut recently has had no electricity for up to twenty hours a day. Rescue efforts were hampered by the power outages. Rancid garbage lines streets and fills open spaces, owing to squabbling among political factions over which of their allies should get the contract to collect it. Potable water is often in short supply.