The moments before Nixon’s resignation speech

There has been an orgy of remembrances about Richard Nixon’s resignation as president because the 40th anniversary was on the 9th. I am not a big fan of these retrospectives but I found the following video clip intriguing. It is from a TV series called Nixon’s the One that has not yet been broadcast in the US. It is supposed to be an accurate verbatim portrayal of events based on transcripts and notes of those present.

The clip consists of Harry Shearer as Nixon portraying the minutes before Nixon went on camera to give his resignation speech. Nixon in his final moments as president was remarkably relaxed and casual and, in Shearer’s opinion, ‘goofy’.

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.

The recording of the minutes before the resignation is one that Shearer has always found confounding. It is so clear that the camera crew is unmoved by Nixon’s small talk. “If you were a comic, you’d stop after two of your jokes bombed like that, but he just keeps going,” Shearer said. “For years, I was puzzled by that behavior. Why didn’t he just sit quietly until the time came to deliver the speech? What was going on there?” The answer that finally came to him, as he rehearsed the scene, is that Nixon already had an eye on rehabilitating his reputation. “Those people in that room were going to go out and say, ‘He wasn’t depressed, he wasn’t angry. My god! He was the nicest guy in the world.’ I think that’s exactly who he was. That’s how he got out of his depression, on fight. And the fight starts here.”

Nixon was a strange yet fascinating man.


  1. dean says

    I watched that video the other day. The “like when Nixon snaps at a photographer for taking too many pictures” moment was the only one that seemed like it wasn’t written just for the video (and note that it was supposed to be the official White House photographer, not a press photographer.). I didn’t think it was one of Shearer’s better performances, but it was interesting.

  2. lorn says

    Nixon always struck me as a person without a core who was very nervous that others might notice. He covered this by becoming a master of maintaining a public persona and keeping it at least slightly more acceptable than the opposition. A lot of people about him having the sort of character that would justify reaching out toward a person drowning ten feet away with a six foot pole. If anyone complained he would calmly explain that he went more than half way. For him it was all about being seen to be doing the right thing and just a bit more. Using every situation to advance this goal. Rescuing the person was always secondary.

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