Anniversary Post: Watergate Hearings

Richard NixonOn this day in 1974, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee started formal hearings on the impeachment of President Nixon. When I think back on Watergate, I see a great defeat for democracy in America. The issue isn’t Nixon. Presidents do all kinds of illegal things and about the only thing that stops them from getting thrown out of office is that they have political support. What’s more, I think Nixon would have survived the whole thing if there hadn’t been the tapes. Since then, I’m sure that worse things have been done. But the way our media is, unless there is a smoking gun, it is treated as though nothing has happened. As it is, after everything that clearly indicates that Chris Christie is the most corrupt of politicians, he is set to announce a run for president.

But the reason Watergate was so bad is that it caused Democrats to turn against ideology and toward anti-corruption. Of course, all that meant was that they supported status quo while the Republicans pushed hard to the right. Meanwhile the Democrats pushed efforts to make the government more transparent. But as you may have noticed, the government is less transparent than ever. So even on that front, they failed. But it really did set up the environment in which neoliberalism could take over the Democratic Party. So when it came to economic policy, Americans are offered the “choice” of conservative policy competently administered or conservative policy incompetently administered. Gee, ain’t democracy grand. It reminds me of the democracy that existed in the Soviet Union.

So that’s what Watergate brought us: less choice in politics. I still look back and find it strange that three consecutive Republican administrations could be shown to be corrupt, and yet the American voter keeps on giving them power. And then you can add to that the George W Bush administration that got appointed by a partisan Supreme Court and then went on to be both corrupt and incompetent. Yet the American people, in their wisdom will certainly make Scott Walker the next president if everything lines up the right way. And then, when he signs a federal “right to work” law, everyone will be shocked — Shocked! — that he would do exactly what he had campaigned on.

Nixon may have run a crime syndicate out of the White House. But as we’ve seen, there are much worse things that the president can do. And if the American electorate is clueless enough to elected another Republican, we will see more of them.

Happy anniversary to the House of Representatives standing up for something while they allowed the country to go to hell over the next forty years.

6 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Watergate Hearings

  1. Your writing is so sharp right now I mostly can’t think of anything to add/bloviate, but I’ll chirp in on this one.

    So you’re saying the Dems, because of Nixon’s epic collapse, decided they didn’t have to run on economic issues anymore? That they just ran on Not Being Nixon?

    I’ll buy that. The party was in deep trouble. It stood for racial integration yet integration divided its union base. (Early unions, particularly the mine unions, were big on integration. Ford integrated his auto plants specifically as a means of trying to prevent union organizing. When unions got cocky and corrupt over their post-FDR victories, most abandoned blacks.)

    It’s kinda hard to blame the Dems post-Nixon for avoiding economic issues, as those were tied in pretty tight to race issues and Nixon had stomped Dems blind with coded racist appeals. Still, running against “Government Is Out Of Control” — instead of against Nixon’s specific crimes, his administration’s targeting of activists and disregard for any kind of foreign policy oversight — set up Reagan’s “government is the problem” rhetoric perfectly. Reagan could pose as an anti-establishment Republican and tap into anti-Nixon, anti-government-overreach sentiments while running far further to the right than Nixon ever dreamed. The Dems boned that. It’s apparently become something of that party’s specialty.

    There’s a great citation of an old line from “Nation” writer D.D. Guttenplan about the recent British election:

    “And always keep ahold of nurse
    For fear of finding something worse.”

    In Perlstein’s “The Invisible Bridge” he laments the transition from Nixon to Reagan, saying we had a chance, after Nixon, to see how farted-up our system had become. Instead, we doubled down on childishness. William Grieder once wrote that America might well be on a track from adolescence into senility, without ever achieving adulthood. Good points, all.

    • I really need to read the Perlstein books. Basically, I’m talking about people like Carter and Gary Hart. It’s like at the end of Primary Colors where Henry talks about working on voter registration because he is so disgusted with the process. It’s an understandable reaction. But Stanton replies, “Who are those people gonna vote for after they’re registered?” It doesn’t matter if politics is clean if the only policies available are screwing the poor.

      You should check out yesterday’s anniversary post on the Hard Hat Riot. It’s part of the same thing.

      • Of course I read the Hard Hat Riot post, it was great! Like I said, when writing’s this taut, I simply read, not butt in. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten used to your style of writing, but it seems to me you’ve become really friggin’ good at this.

        “Invisible Bridge” is my favorite Perlstein. I kept it so long from the library I gave up and bought them a new copy. Many things to note — one which sticks out is how much terrorism there was in the 1970s. Practically every week had a new terror attack somewhere. It surely added to the general “malaise” but nobody claimed the US or Europe were in danger of conquest by Evil People. (Well, Reagan did.)

        • Yeah, it’s probably that you’ve just gotten used to me being angry all the time. The anniversary posts are the most rant-y stuff I do. They now get written pretty fast — just the opposite of what they were like when I did people.

          You’re right about the terrorism. I remember that growing up. But it wasn’t used as a tool to control the people. How far we’ve come!

      • Also, “Primary Colors” is my favorite Nichols movie. Sometimes his satirical side didn’t quite mix with his activist side. They blended together perfectly in that one.

        • I just watched The Birdcage again. It didn’t hold up that well. But he made some great films: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, Silkwood. I’ve never liked The Graduate. Regardless, it hasn’t aged well. But he succeeded more than he failed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *