George HW on Nixon resignation
"It was weird," wrote George H.W. Bush in his diary entry for August 9, 1972, the day Richard Nixon became the first president in American history ever to resign the office. One question seemed to keep asking itself: "What kind of man is this really"?
That summer, news of Nixon's ties to a break-in at the Democratic National Committee's Watergate headquarters had led to even worse revelations. Facing impeachment, Nixon announced on August 8 that he would resign in a televised address. The next day, in his last hours as president, he made a private farewell speech. Bush, whom Nixon had appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee, his position at the time, got to sit in. The speech was "masterful," Bush noted, butin a telling contradictionits audience was noticeably small. "People who labored next to Nixon's side forever are not invited," Bush noted in his diary.
The Watergate scandal unsettled the country, and the future president Bush appears to have been no exception. But while the episode has been cited as the beginning of the end of Americans' trust in government, Bush ended his day optimistic. Ford's swearing-in ceremony heralded "a new spirit," he predicted, "a new lift." For Bush, at least, whose connection to the fallen president did not prove to be a liability, that would turn out to be pretty accurate.
August 9, 1974 There is no way to really describe the emotion of the day. Bar and I went down and had breakfast at the White House. Dean and Pat Burch and the Buchanans were there in the Conference Mess. There was an aura of sadness, like somebody died. Grief. Saw Tricia and Eddie Cox in the Rose Garden talked to them on the way into the ceremony. President Nixon looked just awful. He used glasses the first time I ever saw them. Close to breaking down understandably. Everyone in the room in tears. The speech was vintage Nixon a kick or two at the press enormous strains. One couldn't help but look at the family and the whole thing and think of his accomplishments and then think of the shame and wonder what kind of a man is this really. No morality kicking his friends in those tapes all of them. Gratuitous abuse. Caring for no one and yet doing so much. When he used the word 'plumbers' meaning it 'laboring with his hands' the connotation was a shock on me. I remember Lt. Col. Brennan who has been with him so long Marine standing proudly but with tears running down his face. Rabbi Korff, a brand new friend on the scene who told Kendall he wanted to start a Support for Ford Committee. Thrilled with the limelight. Coming in and standing around and looking for special attention, ending up sitting next to the Cabinet. People who labored next to Nixon's side forever are not invited. It's weird. The Nixon speech was masterful. In spite of his inability to totally resist a dig at the press, that argument about hating only if you hate do you join the haters. We walked through the bottom lobby to go out. After the Ford swearing-in many of the pictures were changed with a great emphasis on the new President. We went over and hung around waiting for the swearing in of Ford. And then the whole mood changed. It was quiet, respectful, sorrowful in one sense, but upbeat. The music and the band seemed cheerier, the talking and babbling of voices after Ford's fantastic speech, crowds of friends, indeed a new spirit, a new lift. I walked through the line and the President was warm and friendly, kissing the wives, telling Bar he appreciated my job, and on and on. It was much more relaxed. There of course were a lot of people that didn't know what they were going to do. There was great turmoil in that sense.