Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Watergate Years

The measure of a man is what he does with power. - Plato

Me during the Watergate years, wearing a fashionable green body suit from The Gap. 

My first takeaway from the Watergate scandal was irritation.

How dare the TV networks pre-empt the Flintstones and Gilligan's Island to show - all day, every day - the endlessly boring Watergate hearings??

Yeah, I needed a few more years of growing up to get a little more perspective on things.

Slowly, my adolescent brain untangled the basic threads of the national nightmare:

Burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Office Building.
President Nixon was behind the break-in.
He and his people tried to cover up their involvement.
When Congress began to investigate, Nixon's people did not cooperate.
The media played a pivotal role in finding facts.
The deeper the investigation went, the more illegal acts were uncovered.
Audio tapes proved that Nixon was definitely involved in the whole mess.
Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned as president.
The new president, Gerald Ford, chose to pardon him and lay the scandal to rest.

Though it took me years to realize, the Watergate scandal shaped my political thinking in two fundamental and rock-solid ways:

* * * * *

Presidential Personality > Policies

Richard Nixon achieved some pretty impressive things during his presidency.

He wound down the war in Vietnam and brought the POWs home
He stood firm on desegregating schools in the South
He visited China - which was unthinkably wild at the time - and opened conversations with the Soviet Union.

Before Watergate - and even after the scandal broke - I was proud of what Nixon had achieved.

But when the Watergate investigations laid bare the true facts about Richard Nixon, I was appalled.

His language was foul.
He lied fluently.
He was a person who definitely could not be trusted.

By contrast, Gerald Ford was a simple man whose presidency didn't leave many milestones save one.

He pardoned Nixon.

And although most of the nation was infuriated at that decision, I saw that Ford was right to do so. His choice allowed the nation to close the door on an ugly chapter and move toward a brighter future.
And it was Ford's character as a man and as an insightful human being that was his greatest legacy to our country,

A man's character matters more than his political convictions. And a good man can always be trusted to do the right thing.

* * * * *

A Free Press Keeps The President In Check

In a story sadly lacking in heroes, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stood out like two cowboys on white steeds, galloping into town and pointing their pistols at the bad guys until they had no choice but to raise their hands in defeat.

The two reporters' names won admiration far and wide.
Their informant, Deep Throat, became a national legend.
They wrote a book about their journalistic coup which was eventually made into a move starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

Doesn't get much better than that.

But over time, I came to see this dynamic duo as more than just major league media stars.

Woodward and Bernstein represented the free press, independent from the government and in fact, quite ready to pounce on presidential misdoings and report them to the American public.

Our two Watergate heroes have inspired every generation of journalists who followed to dig deep, to sniff out inconsistencies, to doubt and mistrust and investigate any potential misconduct of our nation's top officials.

And while there have certainly been times when the media may have taken this challenge too far, violating the privacy of first families and reporting trivia as news, I am mostly grateful for the aggressive tone.

Because every elected American, especially the president, knows that their actions are constantly analyzed under the microscope of the free press, and reported far and wide.

And this check on our president's considerable power is a very good thing.

* * * * * 

As I prepare to vote in the hotly contested 2016 presidential election, I find myself reflecting on the moments and milestones of my life that have shaped me as an American citizen and contributed to my worldview today. 

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