The Weird Minutes Before Nixon’s Resignation

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tags: Nixon, Resignation



Many Americans remember the telecast during which Richard Nixon announced his resignation from the Presidency, forty years ago today, as a dark moment in the nation’s history. Watching the Leader of the Free World crumple in disgrace induced a mordant glee in certain quarters, but it was still a grim spectacle. The comedian Harry Shearer has another word for the events of that night: “goofy.”

In the clip below, you can watch Shearer (who is perhaps best known as the bassist in “This Is Spinal Tap” and as the voice of Mr. Burns and several other characters on “The Simpsons”) play Nixon in a verbatim reënactment of what happened in the Oval Office in the minutes directly before and after the resignation. Shearer strides in, as Nixon did that night, a man seemingly unperturbed by the fact that he is now probably the most widely despised American political villain of the twentieth century. (Jeffrey Frank recently wrote about Leonard Garment, who served as White House counsel from 1973 to 1974; Garment had viewed the original footage and was struck by “how relaxed” the President appeared.) Shearer’s Nixon joshes inanely with the TV crew, who respond with shuffling embarrassment. There are only a few moments—like when Nixon snaps at a photographer for taking too many pictures—that he acts like he’s about to deliver anything more serious than the annual turkey pardon.



When you watch the actual footage from that evening, recorded by one of the TV cameras in the room, Nixon’s swaggering tone-deafness will make you squirm. Shearer’s reënactment magnifies that effect, both because the use of multiple cameras provides detail and depth, and because presenting the episode as a dramatic scene underlines the strangeness of the President’s behavior...




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