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Kevin Buck: John Dean - living history

Democratic Voices

Posted: August 3, 2009 9:35 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.
One of the games we play upon reaching a certain age is "where were you when ...?"

In my life there have been many such moments; they have shaped my political views, my world view and the grownup I have become.

I was in Mrs. Brown's sixth grade classroom at St. Cecilia's elementary school when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Sister Francis DeSales came in and whispered the news to her.

With tears streaming down her face, Mrs. Brown turned and wrote "The president is dead" on the blackboard.

I watched Bobby Kennedy murdered by Sirhan Sirhan live on TV while I was babysitting for my next-door neighbor. These deaths changed America in ways that would take a me a lifetime to understand.

I rushed home from my first real job (box boy at a Market Basket grocery store) to witness Neil Armstrong's one giant step for mankind.

I watched the first man to walk on the moon with my parents, brother and sister on the black-and-white television in the family room of my childhood home.

The national pride in that technological and human accomplishment endures to this day.

My first foray into organized politics came in 1972. I ran a McGovern for President headquarters in Orange, California, right in the heart of Republican and uber-conservative Orange County.

I spent the summer of 1972 telling any who would listen about the burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate and the involvement of the White House in that burglary, but Watergate never became an issue. The coverup took care of that, and Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide.

Which brings me to another "where were you" moment in my past. Like a good politics junkie, I listened to the Watergate hearings daily.

I was on Pacific Coast Highway in Marina del Rey driving home from work when Alexander Butterfield testified to the existence of a secret taping system in Nixon's Oval Office.

The implications were immediately clear: It would no longer be a "he said, he said" stalemate between former White House Counsel John Dean and the rest of the felons on Nixon's senior staff; now there would be proof as to who was lying, who was stonewalling and who was telling the truth.

It turned out that Nixon was a crook after all, as were his chief of staff, the attorney general and most of his top aides, including the one who testified against them all, the aforementioned John Dean.

John Dean was a central figure in the Watergate scandal, involved in the original coverup and then as a witness during the trials of the White House defendants.

Were it not for John Dean and the tapes, Nixon would never have resigned the presidency and more than likely the nation would have been spared the Ford, Carter and Reagan presidencies.

That is quite a mark to leave on the history of the United States. And while this may be just a history book lesson for many younger Americans, there are still many Republicans and Democrats alike to whom this was a real event in their lives.

John Dean possesses a White House insider's vantage point in his role and the role of Nixon and his senior advisors in betraying the Constitution.

Dean's subsequent experience in helping overthrow Nixon's government gives him a unique perspective on all subsequent presidencies, including the late, unlamented Bush administration, which more than any other appeared to believe Richard Nixon that if the president does it, it's not illegal.

It is not often that we get an opportunity to listen to and question a key figure in American history, but the citizens of Santa Clarita will be able to do just that on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m.

John Dean will be speaking at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on Orchard Village Road. The event is hosted by local Democrats, but it is open to all who would like to hear a witness to history in person.

As an added bonus, admission is attractively priced at free, the perfect amount in these difficult economic times.

We are never too young or too old to learn from the past, and I am looking forward to reliving a seminal moment in my political evolution.

Kevin Buck is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" runs Tuesday in The Signal and rotates among several SCV Democrats.


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