Interview with Richard Nixon: Paying The Price

RICHARD NIXON believes he will always be known as the "Watergate man," the President who resigned the office, and expects little charity from history

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Q. How do you expect the Watergate affair to be judged in the future?

A. Clare Boothe Luce once said that each person in history can be summed up in one sentence. This was after I had gone to China. She said, "You will be summed up, 'He went to China.' " Historians are more likely to lead with "He resigned the office."

The jury has already come in, and there's nothing that's going to change it. There's no appeal. Historians will judge it harshly. That's what I would say on that.

Q. Why did you write this book?

A. I really wrote this book for those who have suffered losses or defeats and so forth, and who think that life is over. I felt that if I could share with them my own experiences, it might help.

The problem with that, of course, is that resigning the presidency is something that is beyond their imagination. And so, consequently, that's why throughout the book I tried to put it in a context that they could understand. But I felt that if I could let them see what I went through, and how I at least recovered in part, that that might tell them that life wasn't over.

Q. You say in your new book that you recovered in part. You also say that you have paid, and in fact are still paying, the price for it.

A. By paying the price, I mean in terms of being able to influence the course of events. I mean, every time I make a speech, or every time I write a book, inevitably the reviewers refer to the "disgraced former President."

And I consider, for whatever time I have left, that what is most important is to be able to affect the course of events. My experience has been somewhat unique. I am probably wrong on a number of things, but at least it's a point of view.

The difficulty is that getting that point of view across is compromised by the fact that they say, Oh, this is the Watergate man, so we're not going to pay any attention to what he does. Now that attitude has receded substantially, and over a period of time it may recede more, but that's what I meant by that.

Q. Do you think the price you paid was fair, or do you think it was disproportionate to what happened?

A. I don't think I'm the best judge of that. It was a price that was inevitable, and I accepted the fact that it had to be paid. I must say that many of my friends and my family think it was very unfair and disproportionate, but I'm not going to even comment about if it was fair or disproportionate.

Q. I want to ask you a Watergate trivia question or two.

A. There's nothing trivial about Watergate.

Q. Do you have any reflections on the somewhat ambiguous role that was played by your White House chief of staff Al Haig?

A. I have never shared the mistrust that many have about Haig.

Al Haig was a consummate bureaucrat, and that's said with admiration rather than condemnation. You can't get up that high in the Army without being a consummate bureaucrat. Eisenhower was a consummate bureaucrat too.

I think in Al's case, he would engage in activities that might have a double meaning. But I think as far as his goal was concerned, it was always one of loyalty to the office, loyalty to me, and I think it was almost as hard on him as on me when he came to the conclusion that I should resign. That's my view about Al.

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