Another Look at Agnew

March 09, 1993

If living well is the best revenge, then Spiro T. Agnew must be laughing all the way to the first tee. As Dan Fesperman reported in detail in The Sunday Sun, Ted Agnew has come a long way from the depths of disgrace and debt that accompanied his forced resignation from the vice presidency, announced in a federal courtroom in Baltimore nearly 20 years ago. He is a well-to-do international deal maker, living a life of ease in celebrity-rich, recreation-oriented Rancho Mirage, Calif. When he is not getting a commission on an arms or related contract he helped arrange with old contacts in the government, he is rubbing elbows with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.

There is still the matter of the kickbacks he took for acts as governor and Baltimore County executive. If that is not a disgrace from a situational ethics point of view, as he has claimed (the everybody-does-it-in-Maryland argument), then getting caught was. Mr. Agnew must think of this with regret on some sleepless nights. After all, but for getting caught, he would have become president in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned. "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!' "

Even Mr. Agnew's severest critics should find it unsatisfactory that he has become, as Jacob Goldfaber recently put it, just a "one-dimensional" figure. All most people know about Mr. Agnew is the scandalous end of his public career. Mr. Goldfaber is provost at the University of Maryland at College Park. Yesterday the Agnew papers were opened to researchers at the university's McKeldin Library. These include most of his public files from his vice presidency, governorship and county executive days, according to archivist Lauren Brown.

Of special interest to scholars of national politics will be the briefing notes, messages to and from Nixon administration officials, speech drafts and correspondence from influential figures of the day, national and international. Students of local government and politics should find the Agnew archives helpful in understanding local politics and governance. Spiro Agnew was a lucky politician, but it takes more than luck to rise from last-place loss in a county judgeship race to county executive, governor and vice president of the United States in less than a decade.

His decade was the '60s. He was every bit as much a symbol of American culture in those frantic times as the Beatles or Bobby Kennedy. Even if there are no surprises in the material at College Park, the study of it should be rewarding to those interested in the times and in the man.

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