How did a spirited Democratic congressman from such a far-flung, uniquely Louisiana locale as Plain Dealing become a singular source of light for a broken Republican president who was anything but plain in the way he dealt with one of the most scandalous periods in American history?
Some folks, particularly in Northwestern Louisiana, contend it was political providence, or some form of fate-inspired or destiny-driven intervention, that merged the paths of Joseph David Waggonner Jr. and Richard M. Nixon. Actually, they were absolutely convinced of it by the time 1978 knocked on Thanksgiving’s door, bring Nixon back to the Bayou State.
Whatever did comprise the glue in the late-in-life relationship of Congressman Waggoner and President Nixon, those ingredients were remarkable. We do know the Democratic lawmaker’s conservative leanings and loyalist approach to politics endeared him to the president, and the Nixon Administration in general. The gang in the west wing also made Waggonner an unofficial floor whip.
Waggoner, who would have turned 100 next week (Sept. 7, 1918), became the go-to phone call for the president to make as the Watergate investigations closed in on the White House. The access and fellowship likewise transformed Waggoner into a presidential protector of sorts, from working reporters to working impeachment angles. “The only thing I’ve got to say is it hurts,” he told the UPI. “I’ll let the dust settle before I say more, and think the whole thing through.”
When the infamous White House tapes were finally made public, the dust had settled — and there was little doubt about the president’s complicity in the criminal acts allegedly committed. When his staff informed Nixon that the whip count was hemorrhaging votes, he again called Waggonner and lobbied the Plain Dealing native for support. With that phone conversation, Nixon realized he may either be forced to resign or removed from office, the former president revealed later in his life.
On the morning of Aug. 9, 1974, Richard Nixon climbed onto Marine One for the last time, waved goodbye and flew away from the White House after resigning in disgrace. In subsequent years, journalists and historians published many accounts of the Watergate break-in, subsequent cover-up and scandal that doomed Nixon’s presidency.