The walk was as avoidable as the climb.
The walk followed the fall, while the climb marked the collapse of more than a man or a political party, because the walk toward the presidential helicopter presaged the rush to board the last helicopter out of Saigon, because the wave outside Marine One—the flash of the double “V for victory” sign—foretold the fate of 11 Marines on a rooftop 9,000 miles from home, because the walk from the South Lawn of the White House foreshadowed our defeat in South Vietnam.
The walk marked the end of Richard Nixon’s tenure as the 37th president of the United States.
Forty-five years ago today, President Nixon did more for his country than members of Congress deigned to even ask of themselves.
That Democrats had the votes to impeach the president, that Senate Republicans said the president lacked the votes to stay in office, that they would vote to convict him in spite of his convictions—because of his convictions—proves what Patrick J. Buchanan said this fiasco was: an act of spite.
Who among the president’s enemies could have ended the draft without draining or exhausting our ability to wage war?
Who else could have repelled the Soviets by threatening total war, while saving Israel from total annihilation?
Who else would have risked so much for so few of so little, when the enemy controlled a sea of oil?
Who else could have desegregated the schools without losing the South?
Across the vale of years, the president’s words speak to us still:
It is only a beginning, always. The young must know it; the old must know it. It must always sustain us, 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.
Photo credit: Bettmann/Getty Images