2008-07-04

Nixon pride

There are a lot of things to be proud of in the USA. Our civil liberties. The tremendous innovations and technological achievement spawned by our citizens. Beautiful landscapes. A place in the word relatively safe from invasion. And possibility that anyone can be a success if they just make the right decisions and work hard. Today other bloggers I'm sure will expand on some of these great aspects of our country. Others may worry about where we are going. I leave those topic to others.

I am proud of Richard Nixon.

Many people consider Nixon the worst President we've ever had, evil incarnate, and corrupt to his very soul. Of course I've heard that about every President. They beauty of this country is that people can make those accusations.

I'm not here to defend Nixon's cover up of Watergate or the other misdeeds of his administration. Nor am I here to excuse him.

I'm proud of Nixon because he obeyed the Supreme Court.

As Americans all learn in schools, our government is made up of three branches: Executive (President), Legislative (Congress), and Judicial (Courts). They are independent and each serves a limitation on the others.

The Judicial branch can hand down any decisions it wants, and that is the law of the land. But the judiciary has no enforcement ability. They Executive branch is the one that has to enforce the law. And if President doesn't want to enforce it, there is now physical way for the courts to compel him too.

In 1973, Independent Prosecutor Archibald Cox demanded that Nixon turn over White House audio recordings as part of the Watergate investigation. Nixon refused, and had him fired in the now infamous Saturday Night Massacre.

In 1974, the new Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, also demanded the tapes. Again, Nixon refused. Jaworski went to court to compel Nixon to surrender the tapes. Nixon fought it citing executive privilege among other things. The fight went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled against Nixon.

Now, Nixon has a decision to make. He can comply with the law of the land and surrender those tapes, or he can ignore they law and constitution and refuse to turn them over. There is no one who can force them from his hand, because all enforcement power rests with him. If he refuses to surrender them, what can anyone do?

Well, Congress could impeach him, try him, and remove him from office. That would make the Vice President the new President.

But what if this happened and Nixon chose to ignore the impeachment? What if he claimed it was invalid and refused to surrender the reigns of power? The President is Commander in Chief of the armed forces and could order all sorts of things to stop the impeachment before Congress removed him. He could stop them from meeting. He could arrest them. He could do any number of illegal thing, and, since there President controls all the federal law enforcement agencies and the military, there's no one to stop him.

Assuming Congress voted to remove Nixon, but Nixon refused to go, now we would have two people claiming the presidency -- Nixon and Ford (who had been Vice president). Would the members of the federal law enforcement agencies support the impeached President or the new one? Would they choose to protect the constitution or support the person they still believed to be their boss? And how many would side one way or the other? At this point we go down a dangerous path. The two presidents vie for loyalty from the military and law enforcement agencies. The Governors of various states would need to weigh in with their state police and national guard.

The constitution is just a piece of paper. It can't force compliance. The reason our constitution survives today isn't because Thomas Jefferson and company cast a spell on it 200+ years ago. It's because each day men and women in power choose to honor it. They choose to obey its restrictions. They choose to work with other branches of government and do their jobs responsibly and with honor.

When the Supreme Court decision came down, Nixon chose to honor it. He did his duty and upheld his Oath of Office. Rather than force a constitutional crisis or provoke a fight that could easily get out of control and endanger our entire country and democracy, he put the country first. He accepted the ruling against him.

Nixon's decision allowed a smooth transfer of power to the next President. It reinforced the notion that no one, not even the President, is above the law.

The most powerful man in the world did the right thing at great cost to himself.

That's why I'm proud of President Nixon. And it's one of the many reasons I'm proud to be an American.

3 comments:

Thomas said...

Excellent posting on a forgotten part of our history. Not many people consider that when thinking of Nixon.

Patricia Rockwell said...

I agree that this is a thoughtful post and you present ideas I had not thought about before. I can't say that I would consider Nixon a great President. To me, his behavior was more that he didn't aggrevate further an already terrible situation. But I see your points.

TLC said...

I live close to the Richard Nixon library. When my daughter's school visited years ago, I would not let her buy souvenir there. I stand by that. Nixon was deeply flawed, and he was wrong. He was not great, he got caught, simple as that.

As far as his foreign policy, he was quite good at that. I also cannot fault him, because he was a better President than the current yahoo we call POTUS. Easily. History will show that GW Bush is the worst President ever.

T.