Watergate and Bipartisanship


It was 40 years ago this week, yet the biggest scandal in America’s history has not faded from memory. Watergate was unraveled by sound journalism and, ultimately, by the workings of the American constitution. Americans do well to revisit this unique chapter in history.

The ultimate success of bringing a corrupt president to resign had a lot to do with an underlying tenet of the U.S. constitution– bipartisanship.  Republican President Richard Nixon did not resign because the Democratic party was out to get him for approving clandestine efforts to spy, bug, burglarize and defame opponents.

America survived Watergate because the Republican leadership in Congress and members of the Nixon administration drew a line between the exercise of power and respect of the U.S. constitution. After doing so, they worked with the Democratic leadership and majority in Congress.

Not long after Nixon’s overwhelming re-election in 1972, the five Watergate burglars appeared in front of Judge Sirica’s (a registered Republican) and severe sentences were imposed. The judgment prompted one of the accused–James McCord, formerly of the CIA–to divulge the larger conspiracy.

The Special Senate Watergate Committee composed of Democrats and Republicans began hearings in 1973 that put on display the extent of the conspiracy. The ranking Republican, Senator Howard Baker (a moderate), asked probing questions: How much did the president know?  And when did he know it?

In the spring of 1973, a Republican aide, Alexander Butterfield, divulged the existence of a White House taping system that corroborated much of the testimony. The latter, who resisted the release of the tapes and actually fired two attorney generals in the process–Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus in the famous Saturday Night Massacre–was soon on the path to impeachment.

In the spring and summer of 1974, the House Committee charged with investigating the scandal  considered some articles of impeachment. A compromising tape disclosure was followed by a visit from influential Republican Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who made it abundantly clear to the president that he would not survive an impeachment trial.

Nixon resigned Aug. 9, 1974.

Gerald Ford was sworn in as U.S. president and within a month, issued a presidential pardon,  The controversial decision may have cost him the 1976 election. However, history sees Ford’s gesture as one of healing. Nixon never recovered his glory, and history still regards him more for Watergate than his many accomplishments.

Sirica, Baker, Goldwater, Richardson, Ruckelshaus and Ford were all Republicans. They had to deal with a president who won 49 of 50 states in 1972 and could boast of such major achievements as détente with the USSR, an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, full diplomatic recognition to Communist China, the creation of Amtrak and EPA and the start of a Mideast peace process. Yet Republicans and Democrats were inspired by ethics and the spirit of the constitution to place justice above the retention of power while they worked together.

In so doing, they saved the Republican party. Make no mistake, the crimes were serious and deeply imbedded. Nixon committed a constitutional coup d’état against his own government. But bipartisanship triumphed and members of both parties worked together for the greater good.

Many in the U.S. long for days in which principle wins over expediency and polarization gives way to compromise — days in which being American is more important than being a Republican or Democrat.

A look at the Watergate scandal 40 years later provides hope.

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Watergate and Bipartisanship

  1. Provides hope? Perhaps I’m in too much of a pessimistic mood these days, but do you honestly believe, if another Watergate had happened yesterday or three years ago, that the same results would be forthcoming? No longer does a partisan even look to see if just possibly his side might have done something just a tad over the line. And if it is made abundantly clear, that just means its time to divert attention, or laugh at getting away with it, or shrug that other parties have done it before.

    • And there’s no longer the zest for investigative journalism either; the press just parrots the talking points. The MSM would do well to look to the Watergate era and note how far they have fallen.

  2. Hope?

    In the USA today, the Attorney General of the United States is implicated in a cover up that involves distributing American guns to Mexican drug lords and which resulted in the deaths of American border agents at the hands of those drug lords with those same guns. The story is over a year old. Republican and even Democrat congressmen have called for the AG’s resignation.

    NBC just covered it on their evening newscast for the very first time this week.

    If Watergate happened under this President? Something like it probably already has. We just haven’t been told about it.

  3. Watergate was indeed terrible – because a third-rate burglary was allowed to overshadow what would have been the most successful presidency of the postwar era. The leaders we remember as being great are, virtually to a man, those that bent the rules in order to accomplish larger national objectives.

    Were Nixon to have avoided Watergate…
    1. The US would likely have implemented universal healthcare by now (Nixon had a plan that was similar to Obamacare, which the Democrats rejected because they figured they would win the presidential election and get a better plan from Jimmy Carter. However, Carter did not prioritize healthcare reform).

    2. The United States would have made good on its promise of air support for South Vietnam, in the case of an invasion by the north. South Vietnam might have still been a sovereign nation today, probably approaching the levels of development of a South Korea. Moreover, South Vietnam would have acted to prevent the slaughter of millions in Cambodia.

    3. The kinks in detente could have been worked out in the mid-1970s, instead of being left to the amateur peacenik Carter, and then the amateur warhawk, Reagan. The Cold War would have ended around 1979 under President Ford.

    The notion that open government is the best government is utterly false. Think about facebook – you don’t post your real thoughts on facebook because you don’t want your grandma, or whoever to think ill of you. Policy is best formed in an environment of secrecy. When you open up the process, you get dumb ideas constructed because of their appeal to illiterate morons, not good ideas. Does anybody genuinely think that most countries were better governed after 1973/4 than before it?

    Bernstein and Woodward are not heroes. In fact, few people can claim to have caused as much harm as they have.

    • interesting how consevative views about government have changed between harper being out of power and being in power

    • You forgot the gold plated unicorns who would happily perform most menial tasks for free, leading to a world of leisure and prosperity that today we can only imagine.


  4. how much is bipartisanship and how much is actual respect for the rule of law, which shouldn’t be something people have to agree to uphold every few days.

  5. I find myself in the strange position of agreeing more with Parisella than H2H. Weird.

    However, I think JohnG’s point is the best. Watergate was met with the correct response because there were (a) journalists who weren’t in the tank for Nixon, and (b) lawmakers from Nixon’s own party who cared more about upholding the Constitution than protecting their man. People like Barry Goldwater – a principled conservative who held to the standard conservative notion that there are objective moral rules (like honesty) that one should live by regardless of convenience. Journalists generally despise everything about him except for his opposition to Nixon’s corruption.

    Good luck on both of those with Obama. Most American journalists appear to be Obama lickspittles (you’ll notice what a non-issue once-huge travesties like Gitmo have become), and the Democratic leadership appears to have no regard for such basic notions as allowing Congress to read a bill before passing it (see Obamacare), meeting their Constitutional duty to bring forth an annual budget (now over 1000 days!), holding their own Administration to account for being accessories to murder and using Executive Privilege to cover it up (Operation Fast and Furious), violating the Constitutional rights of US citizens (kill lists, mandating employers pay for contraceptives over their First Amendment objections), etc.

    On the plus side, I do think that with Republican Presidents one gets both of these benefits: journalists hate them, and some of their own party appear to be principled about upholding the Constitution.

    • I agree with your comment ranking but I rank yours above JohnG, because you’ve presented a good summary of the abuses of the current administration.

      Another abuse was bypassing the senate when making appointments at a time when the senate was not in recess. Another abuse was the Obama adminstration outing a CIA agent (which seems to be a big issue when Republicans are in office). Then there’s Obama’s refusal to enforce existing immigration law as passed by Congress. Then there’s Obama’s negative swipes at an equal branch of government, the supreme court, which he has done repeatedly. The list goes on and on… and of course the likes of the liberal-dominated media does not care about any of these violations of fundamental rules of governance.

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