From the archive: Republicans and sinners

From the archive, 9 May 1974: Hella Pick reports from Washington on publication of the 200,000 word Watergate papers

Whether or not President Nixon succeeds in avoiding impeachment, his reputation will never recover from the publication of the Watergate papers. Now that there has been time to read and digest the unique insight into Mr Nixon's mentality which the 200,000 word Watergate papers provide, a reaction of revulsion, or at best profound disappointment, has spread across virtually the whole political spectrum, and is even beginning to affect Mr Nixon's most loyal henchmen inside the White House. John Dean, in his now famous characterisation of the Watergate affair, warned Mr Nixon of the "cancer" threatening to destroy the presidency. In retrospect, historians may well come to the conclusion that it was Mr Nixon himself, and not Watergate that was the cancer in the office of the presidency.

Though everyone here accepts that American politics have their seamy side, there is at the same time an almost naive belief that American policy-makers, once they have made it to high office, are there not merely to defend American interests, but also to provide moral leadership.

And this is where Nixon has let America down. He is seen now as a confidence trickster who set out in 1968 to persuade the nation that he was "a new man". Instead, he has personally provided chapter and verse to demonstrate that the real "Tricky Dick" is even worse than his critics had always maintained.

The President's lawyers agree that Mr Nixon talked about paying blackmail to Howard Hunt, one of the Watergate conspirators, and that the President is defending himself merely by arguing that he rejected these options and was not directly concerned in the chaos. But the Watergate papers show conclusively that these decisions were taken on the grounds of expediency, and never really rejected because they were considered wrong. What a defence for the President of the United States.

When Mr Nixon announced last week that he would publish the Watergate papers he said he conceded that they would "embarrass" him. That crass understatement demonstrates better than any other words that Mr Nixon has still not understand the damage he has caused. He has already lost his reputation and he may lose his job, but he has still not grasped – as others now reluctantly have – that the office he claims to have tried to restore and protect has been profoundly misused by him.

In 1968 Mr Nixon successfully ran for the presidency on a platform of "new morality" and "law and order". It is fortunate for America that not everyone felt a compulsion to follow Mr Nixon's moral standards.

Hella Pick in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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