December 24, 1996


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As Special Council to the President Charles Colson lived in a world of power, and the misuse of that available authority landed him in prison.

Colson landed his dream job—that as one of four special aids to President Nixon—in 1969. He was named the liaison between outside interest groups and inside policy makers. In media circles, Colson was known as the White House “hatchet man,” a man feared by even the most powerful politicos during his four years of service to President Nixon.

Then The New York Times published portions of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret report on America’s involvement with Vietnam, and revealed that U-2 surveillance planes had flown secret assignments over China. Nixon directed Colson to form a group to prevent such sensitive leaks in the future. Colson tapped Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy for the job.

Then people suspected that laws had been broken, and then the discovery of the secret taping system that Nixon had activated allowed the truth and proof to surface. Nixon resigned the presidency—the only man to ever do so—and a number of administration personnel went to jail.

Colson was one of those who ended up behind bars because of his involvement with the Pentagon Papers, and has been most vocal about how easy it became to use power for personal advantage. He considers his time in jail time well spent. It was that experience that revolutionized his life, and prepared him for a second career of working with men and women in prison.

The recently released portions of the Nixon tapes reveal a President who was crass, profane, and quick to call for investigations on those who opposed the administration –or whom Nixon simply did not like. Even Nixon supporters who have listened to the tapes have been shocked.

It is very difficult for people with power available to them to steward it correctly. Proper use of power takes character and righteous determination. For, as U.S. President John Adams said, “No man is wise enough or good enough to be trusted with unlimited power.”

Power is like a strong-flowing river. As long as it keeps its course, it is a useful thing of beauty. But when it floods its banks, it brings great destruction. How does one keep it in its banks? Take the advice of U.S. President Harry Truman. He recommended, “If a man can accept a situation in a place of power with the thought that it’s only temporary, he comes out all right. But when he thinks he is the cause of the power, that can be his ruination.” Anyone who realizes that he’s guarding his power too much had better start examining himself for breaches of ethics. Power can be terribly seductive.

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