The New World Sends the Old a Gentleman and a Scholar: Archie Cox
Just when British academic cynicism about American politics was plummeting to new depths, who should turn up as a visiting professor at Cambridge University but Archibald Cox.
Just a year to the day when he was fired as Watergate special prosecutor in the fabled Saturday Night Massacre, spry, crew-cut Mr. Clean himself, Archie Cox, joined his fellow dons at the High Table of Sidney Sussex College as a Cambridge scholar.
Cox has commenced a year-long appointment at the eight-century-old university. There, twice weekly, students who want to hear his pungent observations on the American Constitution—a lecture course known popularly as “The Archie Show” or “Watergate 1010″—swarm into room four of the Cambridge Law School.
Epitomizing the Maine saltwater cracker in accent and attitude, the 62-year-old Cox has captivated English students curious about Watergate. Already young Americans—many of them Ivy Leaguers who arrive in class armed with the latest Washington news from the International Herald Tribune—have welcomed him as a contemporary hero.
Though Cox ostensibly is lecturing on the Founding Fathers, Watergate is never more than an analogy away. He reflects somewhat ruefully that perhaps he should have pushed Richard Nixon harder for the damning tapes, since he now believes the fatal confrontation was inevitable. The former special prosecutor also criticizes President Ford’s pardon of Nixon as a “horrible precedent” and says he is “disappointed” by the resignation of Leon Jaworski, his own successor, because “there’s a big job left to do.”
Cox is pleased to point out that his invitation to become a visiting Fellow predated his Watergate fame by several years. “The English are very forehanded,” he says, “and I was very flattered.” Teaching at Cambridge is more strictly academic than at Harvard, says Cox, especially since “I have the unfortunate habit of getting involved with public affairs.” Cox also notes the unaccustomed civility of the students. “It’s been a long time since anyone called me sir.”
The new Fellow and his wife, Phyllis, have set up housekeeping in a quaint, brick-and-stucco house that’s just the right distance away for Cox’s tramps into town or along the university’s beautiful “Backs” bordering the River Cam. Cox is so fired with enthusiasm for his daily strolls, which have replaced his wood-gathering chores on his Massachusetts and Maine farms, that Phyllis has had to buy a bicycle just to keep up with his brisk, long-legged gait. On a recent jaunt Cox was walking through Cambridge’s open-air market when he saw a hand-painted sign reading, “sweet potatoes, 15 pence a pound.” He looked up with a smile and said, “Sometimes I feel just like a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”
With their three married children—and the Morgan horses Mrs. Cox trains—back home, the Coxes plan to spend a “completely academic and leisurely year” in Cambridge. He has no plans to follow the example of other Watergate figures and recount his experiences in a book. Not that he hasn’t formed some opinions about the lessons of Watergate. “The best way for a government to gain the trust of the people is for it to behave in an open, honest non-manipulative way,” he says, with professional earnestness. “Unless the government proves it trusts the people, the people won’t trust the government. God knows we need to trust one another again.”