“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.”
Since Richard Nixon left office, we’ve learned a number of things about him that shed light on how he got into such terrible trouble, how he handled the biggest crisis of his crisis-ridden life—and more of what was going on inside the White House while we were watching, agape, from the outside. Moreover, looking back at the events of 1973–1974 offers new insights as to what Watergate was really about.
The story of what happened to Richard Nixon after he became the first president to have been driven from office is as interesting and compelling as most of the rest of his life. Nixon never managed to be boring. Little has been known about what he proceeded to do after he landed at his “Western White House,” in San Clemente on August 9, 1974. He was now essentially out of sight. The nation might have thought that Richard Nixon, having met with the ultimate political humiliation, had finally gone away and disappeared from public life. But—as he’d said so many times before—he wasn’t “a quitter.” It wasn’t in his nature to give up.
And so this remarkably resilient man wasn’t about to quit now. Deter- mined and methodical as usual, Nixon soon had a plan. With the help of aides who had gone with him to California, at government expense, he drew up a secret plan for his restitution, to regain respectability. It was given the code name Wizard. This plan took place out of sight because with the excep- tion of those few aides, Nixon was more on his own than since he’d begun his long and tumultuous political career. He’d struggled virtually all his life, had pulled himself out of deep troughs before, and he wasn’t about to stop now, not when all that he had fought for lay in ruins. This was the deepest trough of all, the most difficult situation to surmount. And now he was fight- ing a new kind of battle—not for something as tangible and requiring fairly conventional means (even for him) as political office, but to rehabilitate his reputation. How, exactly, does one in this unprecedented situation go about that? Most people wouldn’t have dared to try. What would have crushed most people was to Nixon yet another challenge to be met and overcome. He was as driven about this one as he had been about all those that had gone before.
Nixon’s defenders have argued that it’s unfair to look at the man’s record as president only through the prism of Watergate. That’s a valid point, and this section will also attempt to put his presidency in that larger perspective. What follows is a more rounded picture of Nixon’s presidency than could be assessed in the midst of Watergate, as well as a new view of what that crisis was about—the crisis that cost him his lifelong-desired place at the pinnacle of political power and the desperately sought affirmation that this country bestowed by electing him to that position. Richard Nixon may have been more disgraced than any other president in history, his career up in smoke, but he wasn’t done yet.