Sunday, April 22, 2007

April 22, 1994:

Richard Nixon Dies

Only one man in the history of the United States has been elected to the offices of vice president and president twice each, and that's the 37th President of United States, Richard Milhous Nixon (few -- seven -- vice presidents have served two terms, so his competition for the distinction is small). He is not, however, the only person to come back from defeat in a presidential election to later win the prize: Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland also did that, though Nixon is the only person in the 20th century to do so. (His and Pat Nixon's gravesite in Yorba Linda, California, is pictured below.)

About 25 years ago, the column Straight Dope fielded this question: "Among other things, Richard Nixon qualifies as an ex-president. Has anybody given any thought to what will happen when he dies? Will flags be automatically be lower to half-staff, or will we have a big brouhaha about the appropriate procedure for mourning disgraced public leaders?"

The answer, in part: "This particular hot potato will be dropped into the lap of the man lucky enough to be president when Nixon kicks. It's not tradition, but a presidential proclamation that establishes the customary 30 days' public mourning. Conceivably, whoever's in charge could declare a national 30-day period of embarrassed throat-clearing, or choose to ignore the whole thing."

In the event, 20 years after the Watergate scandal, nothing of the kind happened. Nixon received his full posthumous due as a former president, including flags at half-staff, the offer of lying in state at the Capitol (his family declined), and a 21-gun salute and a generous eulogy from President Clinton at the funeral -- "He had an incredibly sharp and vigorous and rigorous mind," the president said about his predecessor, among other things.

Of course, not everyone was so laudatory -- "a hubris-crazed monster from the bowels of the American dream with a heart full of hate and an overweening lust to be President," was the gonzo thumbnail of Nixon's character, though not one offered to the public during the official funeral ceremonies.

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