Sunday, June 17, 2012

Watergate At 40: Not Just A Burglary And Coverup

Forty years ago, Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building was burglarized. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward have written a new piece in the Washington Post to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Watergate concluding, with the benefit of far greater resources unavailable at the time, that "Nixon was far worse than we thought."

There is nothing particularly revelatory or newsworthy about the latest Woodward and Bernstein collaboration, but it provides a helpful reminder that "Watergate" was not merely a "third-rate burglary," as Nixon's press secretary described it at the time, and that the coverup was not worse than the crime, as is commonly remarked.  Indeed, the expansive record subsequently made available establishes that "gumshoeing, burglary, wiretapping and political sabotage had become a way of life in the Nixon White House" long before Watergate and demonstrates "the president’s personal dominance over a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents."

Woodward and Bernstein summarize the "five successive and overlapping wars" that Nixon oversaw --  "against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself."  They say that this "all reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency."

 In the end:
Nixon had lost his moral authority as president. His secret tapes — and what they reveal — will probably be his most lasting legacy. On them, he is heard talking almost endlessly about what would be good for him, his place in history and, above all, his grudges, animosities and schemes for revenge. The dog that never seems to bark is any discussion of what is good and necessary for the well-being of the nation.

The Watergate that we wrote about in The Washington Post from 1972 to 1974 is not Watergate as we know it today. It was only a glimpse into something far worse. By the time he was forced to resign, Nixon had turned his White House, to a remarkable extent, into a criminal enterprise.

On the day he left, Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon gave an emotional farewell speech in the East Room to his staff, his friends and his Cabinet. His family stood with him. Near the end of his remarks, he waved his arm, as if to highlight the most important thing he had to say.

“Always remember,” he said, “others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

His hatred had brought about his downfall. Nixon apparently grasped this insight, but it was too late. He had already destroyed himself.


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