Every presidential inquiry, every impeachment hearing, is personal.
Not that it’s me getting impeached, or otherwise put on the hot seat.
It’s just that each crisis in the executive branch from 1973 to 2019 exists in my memory because of where I was when listening and watching as it played out.
That Watergate summer, I was 17, and driving across the country with a girlfriend before we both headed off to college.
The Senate hearings into the complicity of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate break-kicked into high gear just as we left my grandmother’s house in Amarillo and headed north and east into the gorgeous, green rolling Ozarks. It was almost as if National Public Radio, which had been launched just three years before, was invented precisely for us. Because just as one college station on the left of the dial would begin to fade out, making it hard to hear the incantatory Southern drawl of Sen. Sam Ervin, chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, another college station broadcasting gavel-to-gavel coverage of the hearings would begin to fade in. We heard not only every minute of the crucial, seven-hour opening statement made by former White House counsel John Dean — we heard every minute of his testimony through that whole week as we drove across the land.
How embarrassing it was to me months later, after the “smoking gun” taped conversation between Nixon and his aide H.R. Haldeman revealed that the president ordered the Watergate burglary cover-up, when our local congressman, Carlos Moorhead, was the only GOP Judiciary Committee member to stand by Nixon, and was one of four absurd deniers in a 410-4 House vote that led to Nixon’s resignation prior to sure impeachment. How proud I am today that my congressman representing that same district is Adam Schiff.
The Iran-Contra hearings were not an impeachment, either, but they surely introduced a fascinating character in Lt. Col. Oliver North. I was a reporter in my early 30s by then — but at a small start-up weekly. It was hard to find a local angle for secretary Fawn Hall or former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez in the look at the scam in President Ronald Reagan’s administration that sold arms to Iran in exchange for funding rebels in Central America. But it was great TV in my first home in Altadena over 41 days of hearings.
When President Bill Clinton was impeached, there was a brilliant local angle, too. Moorhead’s congressional seat was then held by the fascinating yarn-spinner Rep. Jim Rogan, now an Orange County judge, originally a Ted Kennedy presidential delegate turned deeply conservative. Rogan was the lead prosecutor in Clinton’s Senate trial over his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. I was by then editor of the Pasadena Star-News. Though Clinton’s popularity actually rose and he was acquitted, and though I had supported many of his policies, I was done with his tawdry self. I remember writing in a column after seeing him speak at Caltech that Clinton was like Pigpen in “Peanuts” — he would forever live in a cloud of dust
The great theater in the riveting Intelligence Committee hearings on impeaching Donald Trump has been provided by two voluntary Americans. We haven’t seen foreign-born patriots like Ukraine-born Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and England-born Russia expert Fiona Hill since the Marquis de Lafayette. They love America. They are outraged at anyone trying to sell their chosen home out for personal gain. The camera angles are much the same, static shots of sober witnesses stating the truth under oath, the cameras shifting to outraged pols, some making hay out of their national moments, some flailing in sweaty defense of the indefensible.
The investigations always show our country in a better light than the presidential actions that prompted them.
Larry Wilson is on the Southern California News Group editorial board. email@example.com.