Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Most famous Gate on Earth

  • Print

WASHINGTON -- With a bowl of Chinese noodles at a below-ground Watergate café, we mark the centennial of the late Richard Milhous Nixon, the great visionary and villain of the American Century, the Cold Warrior who pried opened the doors to Red China and -- illegally -- to Democratic Party headquarters, the only U.S. president ever to resign, but hardly the only one who should have.

It is the eve of Tricky Dick's 100th birthday when I descend for lunch to a tiny stir-fry salon called Chen's in the basement of the once-elegant, ever-notorious Watergate complex of apartments and offices (and a now-abandoned hotel) on the shores of the Potomac River.

The eponymous Chen -- reputedly Henry Kissinger's favourite Chinese chef -- no longer runs the restaurant, having passed it 20 years ago to a Korean immigrant named Young Bae who, when I ask if he remembers Richard Nixon, laughs and says, "He was a good leader. He was going to win the election anyway -- why did he need to get involved with Watergate?"

"Watergate gave its name to everything," says Florence Min, the genial, Malaysian-born, ethnic-Chinese hostess and server at Chen's. "Now everything bad is 'something-gate.' When students and tourists come here from China, they are all excited.

"But Americans, they don't remember," Young Bae interjects. "They don't know Watergate anymore. They don't even know Nixon!"

This is actuarial: 51 per cent of Americans were born after the 37th president flipped us his famous final, venal Vs-for-victory, boarded a helicopter on the White House lawn, and flew off to retirement and disgrace.

But for those of us who came of age during his tenure on the stage, and for many Old China Hands, Nixon remains both as hallowed and as hated as few other men ever have been, and the question of whether his achievements should outweigh his arrogance is one that we will argue until we die.

Tricky Dick himself expired in 1994.

"You have to look at both sides of Nixon!" a diner at Chen's eagerly chirps when I bring up the centennial. (The great day also is being marked here by a reunion dinner featuring a eulogy by Dr. Kissinger, and by an exhibition of Nixonia at the National Archives.)

The chirping diner is an Ethiopian-born cabbie named Sahle Zewdinhe who was a student at Washington's Howard University in 1973, when a panel of preening, pouting senators grilled Nixon's aides about the depth of his anti-Democrat depravity and discovered that he had audio-taped the whole sad thing.

"That was a lesson in democracy," Zewdinhe recalls. "That was part of my education about this country. That even a president had to face justice."

Delivered to a waiting universe on Jan. 9, 1913, Richard Nixon was the first (and still the only) native Californian to reach the summit of power on the opposite coast, and the only man since the 1880s to lose a presidential election and then come back to win on his next try.

While in office, he ended the Vietnam War, signed a missile-reduction treaty with the Soviet Union, established the Environmental Protection Agency and fostered the Endangered Species Act, shook hands with the senescent Mao Zedong and made the first telephone call to humans on the moon.

Yet Nixon also gave the nation such catch-phrases as "expletive deleted" and "I am not a crook" and told his staff, as the country wallowed in Watergate, "I don't give a shit what happens. I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up or anything else, if it'll save it, save this plan. That's the whole point. We're going to protect our people if we can."

"His views about blacks, his views about Jews, his obstruction of justice, we must remember those things, too," Sahle Zewdinhe says.

Such furor, just because the president of the United States tape-recorded himself in the Oval Office in conversation with senior aides while musing that "every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana are Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob?"

Now, on Centennial Eve, down the steps to Chen's Watergate descends Richard Siegel, formerly a lawyer in the office of a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania named Schweiker -- he was a liberal Republican, an endangered species now extinct -- who had the distinction of earning a berth on Richard Nixon's "Enemies List." (Siegel later served as deputy assistant secretary of agriculture in the Reagan administration.)

"I admired his resilience, his ability to keep coming back," Siegel says of Nixon as he picks up an order of tofu-to-go. "He was not doctrinaire. He believed in big government, but in effective government. Still, I can't accept the things he said about Jews."

(To wit, from another Oval Office tape recording: "Jews are an irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards.")

"A lot of them did the same thing and didn't get caught, but I'm glad he did get caught," Siegel says. "It gave us better journalism, and it gave us better government."

And it gave us Watergate, where Siegel still practices law in a semi-circular tower where the law so brazenly was broken, and where your shrimp and noodles come with a side order of infamy.

"Watergate!" the lawyer sighs, looking up at the skyline. "This is the most famous office building in the world!"

From behind the counter, Young Bae snaps, "Fame gone."

Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 J1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Total Body Tune-Up: Farmer's Carry

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Goslings with some size head for cover Wednesday afternoon on Commerce Drive in Tuxedo Business Park - See Bryksa 30 Goose Challenge- Day 12- May 16, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS June 23, 2011 Local - A Monarch butterfly is perched on a flower  in the newly opened Butterfly Garden in Assiniboine Park Thursday morning.

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google