Political Scandal? Just Add -Gate

When I was a kid we never watched TV at dinner—a rule that was broken night after night beginning May 17, 1974, with some somber news program on the tiny black and white on a corner shelf over the kitchen table. I was 11 years old.

My primary memories: We couldn’t talk, no matter what. Dad shushed us furiously if we so much as whispered. He was angry—very angry—about something. And someone important had done something really, really wrong and was getting in trouble.

This all came back to me as I watched the opening lines of “Frost/Nixon” at the Spokane Civic Theatre the other night.

The somber news over our dinner table, of course, was the Senate Watergate hearings. Nixon indeed did something really, really wrong and got in trouble. And Dad was mad because he had voted for Nixon.

I don’t have any memories of the actual interviews David Frost conducted with Richard Nixon three years after Nixon left office. The era came vividly to life in the show, thanks in part to the dreadfully accurate leisure suits (OMG, the polyester with top stitching!), loud ties, and plaid pants. The show’s opening montage of images of protesters and “Tricky Dick” in historic encounters on two TV sets, set to the Beatles’ “Revolution,” got the show off to a strong start and it only got better.

Wes Deitrick as Nixon anchors the show. Simply stunning. The voice, the mannerisms, the psychological depths. When he unburdened himself of his guilt at last in the closing interview with Frost—admitting that he let the American people down—it moved me to tears.

You knew this was a man overly obsessed with power and control, but at the same time genuinely honored and in some ways humbled by the chance to have served as President. To have flown so near the sun, Icarus, only to plunge seaward thanks to your own hubris: This is the historical lesson Nixon teaches us.

The entire cast delivered. Kelly Hauenstein as Frost uses body language effectively as the seemingly shallow dilettante, a mere talk show host but not a true journalist as measured by other journalists, dominated by Nixon in the early interviews but then coming back with newly discovered evidence and pressing Nixon to the point that the former president says, “If the president does it, it’s not illegal!”

Yes it is, Mr. President. Yes it is.

Go see “Frost/Nixon.”

Your turn

What do you remember from the Watergate era?

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