It’s Time to Revisit the Watergate Scandal

watergate-nixon-resigns-headline

All politicians lie, it comes with the job.  They make promises they can’t keep.  They have grandiose plans that fall through.  They dodge hardball questions and give fuzzy answers at town halls and press conferences.  Millions of dollars are spent to spin “facts” and distract voters.  It’s all part of our First Amendment right to free speech.

The American voter is numbingly tolerant of this type of lying because generally, it has no profound effect on national security nor does it create serious harm to U.S. citizens or interests.

However we are currently in an unprecedented era of political lying.  The war over truth and facts has once again turned the branches of government against one another.  Political entities are deliberately vilifying the press and sowing discord and division among the populace.   These lies have now impacted national security and have the potential to create serious harm to U.S. citizens and institutions.

It’s time to refresh the story of the worst single case of presidential dishonesty (to date) in modern American history — a travesty of lies, deceit and cover-ups that resulted in prison time for many high ranking advisors and ultimately in the resignation of the President of the United States of America.

Known as the Watergate Scandal, it was a fascinating, complex and horrifically dark chapter in our nation’s presidential history.  I highly recommend all American citizens read or re-read a more detailed account.  Here are the brief highlights:

In June of 1972 members of President “Tricky Dick” Nixon’s inner circle had approved a burglary and electronic bugging of the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington D.C.  The burglars were part of a special “investigative” unit Nixon had secretly created, known as the “Plumbers”, to prevent security leaks and gather intelligence about his political enemies.  The money used to finance the operation came from the President’s own Committee to Re-elect the President (ironically abbreviated as CREEP).  The burglars were  more like bunglers.  They were caught inside the DNC’s offices at the Watergate complex by police and arrested.  Their identities quickly lead to connections in Nixon’s White House.  Nixon ordered his senior staff to aggressively cover up the break-in and deny any involvement.

watergate-office-complex

The Watergate Hotel and Office Complex — Washington D.C. in 1972

Despite the White House’s best efforts, the media revealed a growing body of new and incriminating evidence and certain information was actually leaked from within the government itself.  As the scandal widened, members of Nixon’s inner circle of advisors were implicated.  Nixon became furious, railing against a biased and vengeful media.  He approved additional covert investigations against his enemies in the press and in elected offices.  The White House and the American press were in open warfare.

Later in June 1972 through January of 1973, highly damaging information about the Watergate burglary was leaked to the Washington Post by a then anonymous source, called Deep Throat, who later turned out to be a deputy director of the FBI.

In February of 1973 the U.S. Senate, on a unanimous vote, agreed to begin investigations.  Shortly thereafter a Special Prosecutor was authorized for an independent investigation.

In April of 1973, in a nationally televised speech, Nixon publicly acknowledged the burglary and cover-up, announced the resignations of three of his most senior advisors but denied any personal complicity.

In November of 1973, Nixon again appeared on national television and delivered his most audacious and bald-faced lie:

“I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in: I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics.”

But evidence against the President poured in at tidal wave proportions.  Nixon stubbornly hung on, flailing against his usual scapegoats.

watergate-conspirators

In August of 1974, a secret tape recorded conversation surfaced that was later tagged as the “Smoking Gun” tape (It turned out that Nixon had secretly recorded thousands of hours of conversations in the Oval Office, roughly 200 hours pertained to Watergate).  Recorded just a few days after the break-in, in June 1972, the “Smoking Gun”tape revealed Nixon and two of his top aides discussing how to cover up the break-in and manipulate the FBI investigations into the matter.

This revelation prompted Nixon’s own attorneys to comment: “The tape proved that the President had lied to the nation, to his closet aides, and to his own lawyers — for more than two years.”

Under the threat of impeachment in the House and the near certainty of conviction by the Senate, Nixon resigned his office on Aug. 8, 1974.

What were the effects of the Watergate Scandal?  First, the American people became more cynical about government in general.  The battles for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and protests over the Viet Nam War had already done damage to the Federal Government’s credibility.  Watergate sealed the deal.   It could even be said that mistrust of government, a regular mantra of today’s Republican fear-mongering campaigns, began as a result of Watergate caused by a dishonest Republican administration!

Secondly, Watergate was an incredible civics lesson to the American people about the how our Constitution works and the genius of it’s authors, particularly in creating a government of separate powers with the ability check and balance one another.  Such a system has protected us from any one power center of government trying grab power or act independently.  So far the greatest threats to the separation of powers structure have come from the executive branch.  We should all fear a presidential power who claims to be above the law, routinely lies to the public, who attacks the judiciary when it decides against him, and vilifies the press.  Sound familiar?

Thirdly, Watergate demonstrated the importance of what is called the “Fourth Estate” an expression attributed to an 18th century English parliamentarian.  In the United States the expression refers to a free and independent press being a fourth power center as a check on the other three (legislative, judicial and executive).  Without the tireless and persistent efforts of the press, the Nixon administration may have gotten away with the crimes and cover-up of Watergate.

Today’s “Fourth Estate” is infinitely more complex that it was in 1972.  It is, in some ways, a victim of its own success.  The 24 hour TV (cable) news cycle began in 1980, only seven years after Nixon’s resignation.  News reporting was never the same after that.  By the late 1990’s, many Americans started getting their news from another source, the Internet.  This inundation of news and the media options through which it is broadcast, have permitted the rise of less-than-credible news sources intent on spreading false news, slander, misdirection and lies solely for the purpose of ratings, profits and partisan rabble-rousing.

Such speech is legal under our First Amendment.  It is up to the American public to carefully screen and fact check the news you receive.  If a news item seems unreal or sensational, check a different channel or publication.  If there is an intense debate among politicians, plug the topic or key words into your Internet browser and make sure you read more than one article on the subject.  Healthy skepticism makes for a better informed electorate.

It’s time for all Americans to refresh our knowledge of the Watergate Scandal and it’s impact on our Democracy.  There is good reason to suspect our current president is exhibiting traits similar to Richard Nixon — a belief he is above the law; condemnation of a dissenting judiciary; scapegoating the press and lying almost every time he steps up to a microphone — all in the first month of his administration.

There is one difference between Nixon and Predator Drumpf:  Nixon’s persona was shaped by his own deep paranoia and delusions born out of the Cold War, McCarthyism, his previous scandal as Vice President under Eisenhower (see Teapot Dome Scandal) and his election loses for President in 1960 and Governor of California in 1962.  Nixon was not a compulsive liar, just highly secretive and paranoid.  He lied about Watergate to cover his ass.

Drumpf’s lies are pathological.  Every American should be deeply concerned about the mental stability of our president.  This will be the subject of the next blog from La Resistance American.  Stay tuned and in the meantime:

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