Three Days of the Condor, All The Presidents Men, Enemy of the State, and State of Play. These four Hollywood blockbusters are just a few films in the ever-growing list of popular cultural stabs at the American political system and the office of the President.
These stories of corruption and abuse of power would have once been considered blasphemous in the eyes of the American public, yet now they almost fail to raise a disinterested brow. Why?
Society and popular culture now regularly discredit the President and his constituents and the practice has become common place.
Yet what is more alarming? The fact that the President is almost expected to behave in a base and illegal manner at some point throughout his tenure? Or that no one is really surprised or truly cares that he does?
How did this once lordly office, a position of insurmountable prestige and power, become so dismantled, degenerate, so dubious?
The answer is as obvious as it is oppressing; the men who are responsible for the public cynicism are the men who suffer its consequences. And none are more guilty than Richard ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon and his government’s involvement and cover-up of the Watergate Scandal.
In 1972, under the order of the Republican Party, the Democratic headquarters at Watergate suffered a series of break-ins and wire-taps. The burglars were caught and sentenced but the following two years saw the biggest cover-up scandal by high office in American history. The end result was the fitting, and first ever, resignation of the American President on August 7, 1974. To this day the two year debacle is widely considered the most catastrophic and damaging event the proud political system has suffered, and the ever-present legacies are firm reason for this.
Watergate not only changed the political statistics and the record books, but it changed forever the shape of American government and most devastating of all, the way the people of the United States perceived their President. Among the most dramatic changes to government were the developments of legislature;
The Sunshine Act passed in 1976 required government agencies to conduct all meetings open to the public; The Ethics in Government Act passed in 1978 required public officials to disclose their financial and employment history and it created tight restrictions on lobbying; The Presidential Records Act also passed in 1978 ordered the preservation of all presidential records and documents. These bills were most emphatic because whilst they provided a safety net for the voting public, they issued a backhanded warning of distrust to all future governments.
The most damaging consequence, however, whilst rather intangible, was the instant and infinite reaction of the public to turn their back a system that was forged and implemented by men of legend. Poor Presidents Ford and Carter felt the immediate backlash. In 1979 President Carter pleaded for a progression from Watergate and stated that the incessant problem was a “fundamental threat to American democracy…a crisis of confidence…that strikes at the heart…of our national will…a growing disrespect for government. ” Carter was right – the threat to democracy was real and active. The 1976 election polls tallied only 54.8percent of eligible voters, a number that was the lowest since the end of the Second World War .
Despite his profound and popularised claims to the contrary, Nixon was a ‘crook’ . And despite his responsibility for Watergate, the event was not the only to tarnish the Oval Office.
Previous governments and presidents had been more than compliant in their efforts to chip away at the golden armour of the most powerful man in the world and, beginning with Eisenhower, they paved the way for the capitulation of public approval for nigh on twenty years. Incidents and events including McCarthyism, the Assassination of JFK, the violent Civil Rights movements and most importantly the catastrophe of the Vietnam War, dominated a period renowned American historian, James T. Patterson identifies as, “so crowded with contradictions and complexities, so befogged with myths to glorify successes and expectations, as well as myths to justify failures and disgraces. ” The demise and distrust began here, with Vietnam the most comparable disaster to Watergate.
These events began the decline in public support and presidential infallibility, combining to combust with the crescendo of Nixon’s catastrophe.
Just as there is no clearing Nixon’s government of wrong-doing, there is no striking Watergate from History. The event altered the course of American politics forever but was not without a solid launching pad. The American Presidency has fallen from grace and those responsible, through action or inaction, are indisputably the American presidents.
Ackerman, B. “The Decline and Fall of the American Republic” Harvard University Press, 2010
Finney, D. “Watergate Scandal Changed Political Landscape Forever” USA Today Newspaper, Published 16 June 2012
Frost, D. “Frost V Nixon” Television Interviews available online at Nixon Library, http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/
Jeffrey, H.P., Maxwell-Long, T. “Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon: Impact of a Constitutional Crisis” CQ Press, 2004
Patterson, J. T. “Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974” Oxford University Press, 1996
Woodward, B. “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate” Simon and Schuster, 1999
- Our Nixon (2013) (canadiancinephile.com)
- New MSM Propaganda Line: If the CIA killed JFK, “Would America be OK with that?” (willyloman.wordpress.com)
- The Saturday Night Massacre 40 years later: How our Constitution trumped a reckless President (constitutioncenter.org)
- Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” made famous (kshb.com)
- Why did Deep Throat leak? Revisiting the Watergate leaks and the garage where it all began (news.yahoo.com)