President Nixon had been twisting slowly in the breeze for months, denying any direct connection to the Watergate break-in. But on August 5, 1974, the hammer fell. The "smoking gun" was a transcript of a secret Oval Office tape that showed that six days after the burglary, Nixon had tried to use the CIA to block the FBI from investigating the incident. The tape directly linked the president to obstruction of justice, and Nixon knew the jig was up.
Three days later, word of Nixon's forthcoming resignation hit the street and spread like a barrel of spilt mercury. Horns honked, people shouted the news, and below my apartment window, hippies did the happy dance in the streets of Haight-Ashbury.
The bastard, the evil one, the man who walked the beach in a suit and wingtips, the very face of the Vietnam insanity, was finally leaving. He was too a crook. We'd won ... something. Something big.
We were suddenly riding a wave, surfing gleefully into a golden age where all would be made new. Politics would be about principles. Human decency would prevail. Racism and sexism and corporate greed would fade away, replaced by an Aquarian idealism that seemed at that moment ready to take over the world. Talkin' 'bout my generation.
And so my girlfriend Autumn and I joined Americans everywhere and settled in front of our television to watch Nixon's final chapter. I remember we smoked a fat joint out on the fire escape just before the president came on, which might seem stupid in hindsight, but it makes more sense if you know that many of us in my generation smoked a fat joint before doing anything in those days. And afterward too.
I turned the on/off knob (remember those?) and the television made that low sizzling whump televisions used to make and flickered on. There he was. Nixon. He stared out at me, and I remember feeling a bizarre combination of queasiness and exhilaration.
"This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this nation," he began.
"That means at least 37 lies you've told us, you asshole," I riposted.
"Each time," the president continued, "I have done so to discuss with you some matter that I believe affected the national interest."
"Get to the point, man!" I hissed.
"Calm down, man," my girlfriend said, stroking my shoulder soothingly.
"In all the decisions I have made in my public life," the president droned, "I have always tried to do what was best for the nation."
"Like hell you have, you lying sack of ..."
"Baby," my girlfriend said, rubbing my neck, "you need to mellow out."
"In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort ..."
"Political base?" I screamed. "You got caught by your own tape recorder!""You know, Bruce, this is really bad-vibing me," said Autumn, removing her halter-top.
"But the interests of the nation must always come before any personal considerations ..."
"The interests of the nation had nothing to do with it, you creep!"
"Honey, turn that thing off," Autumn said softly but firmly.
"But this is historic and ..."
"Turn that off, and I'll take something off," she said, fingering her Indian-print skirt.
"I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body ..."
"I said Turn. It. Off."
So I did.
Ten minutes later, I turned it back on. (Hey, I was young.)
" ... whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
"I pledge to you that as long as I have a breath of life in my body, I shall continue ..."
And then I turned it off again. (Hey, I was young.) Thus began my lifelong love affair with American politics. •