What was the impact of the Watergate scandal on American politics?
9 Answers | Add Yours
The impact of Watergate on American Politics was felt on multiple levels. The most elemental of these was how the news media evolved into the "fourth check" on the government. From Watergate, politicians understood that the media could be strong enough to bring down a government. Essentially, Woodward and Bernstein's reporting took down a sitting President. Through Watergate, the office of the President, and all politicians, understood the power of the media. Another impact of Watergate was that it was living proof that no politician could operate for a prolonged period of time above the law. Power could not save President Nixon and his cabinet from facing impeachment, and eventual resignation/ prison terms. The Constitution's belief of equality before the law was affirmed through Watergate. The last impact of Watergate was that politicians understood the value of judicious conduct. President Nixon and his cabinet operated in a manner that was brazen to the point of arrogance. This is the reason why they were caught. Politicians understood the value of being discrete, or actually being transparent in their dealings with the public. Hiding behind "executive privilege" could only go so far. Politicians learned to be more direct and credible with their constituencies.
Most political historians agree that the increased power of the Executive branch began during F.D.R.'s New Deal Administration. Prior to the 1929 crash there is little evidence to suggest that the federal government was either involved or capable of providing any type of assistence to its citizens. Of course this point has been disputed, for example President Theodore Roosevelt's agenda to reel in business monopolies. Having said that, it is clear that Executive branch power increased its power from 1933 until Watergate. Watergate in essence was a third rate burglary that resulted in the downfall of the highest office in the United States. However, the impact of Watergate on American politics goes so much deeper than the downfall of an American President because;
1. It confirmed the principle of 'no one is above the law'...not even the President
2. It gave a new meaning to the 1st Amendment protection of 'freedom of the press'... if it is true, it can be printed regardless of power or position.
3. The Supreme Court confirmed the 1st Amendment protection in Nixon v. The United States 1974 with regard to what became known as The Pentagon Papers. A series of news articles that suggested that the Nixon administration was not telling the truth about Vietnam. Although this decision was rooted in Nixon's foreign policy concerning the Vietnam War, in theory it was definitely regarded politically connected to Watergate and the Washington Post's pursuit for justice.
4. After Watergate and President Nixon's resignation Congress passed The War Powers Act. For the first time since 1933 it was clear that in the light of Nixon's abuse of power Congress was set out to reign in the power of the Presidency.
5. Watergate exposed the dark side of American politics, a fact that some always knew existed but for some reason were able to negate. For others, Watergate represented innocense lost and left those Americans feeling violated. In either case, American politics would never be looked at in the same way by the people who elect the individuals who represent their political voice.
The Watergate scandal illustrated the power of a free press to execute checks and balances against the government. It also verified beyond doubt the venality and potential for criminal behavior of even those raised to our nation's highest office. I distinctly remember coming home every afternoon after school when I was in fifth grade and watching the Watergate hearings on television. It was astonishing that the President of the United States could have committed such crimes.
In reply to mrsmonica: Although this board is not about the press, I need to add my own view to your post. I think the "power" of the press is not as innocent and pure as your imply. It is important to remember that the "venal" President at that time was Nixon, a Republican. The press, always learning toward the liberal, has never been as interested in revealing the venality of the Democrats, or others more liberal. For example, one has already confessed to doing what they could to further the case of electing Obama (http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/11/10/1243222.) And where is the press now that we have spent trillions of dollars on the "stimulus" plan and nothing has happened? Why aren't they exploring the weaknesses and contradictions of the Health Care Bill or at least asking HOW we are going to pay for it.
The press has always been political. If you want to read more about the prejudices of the press, read "Scandalmongers" by William Sapphire. It's a great read and also contains a lot of information that may show the press in a different light.
Like mrsmonica, I too remember watching the Watergate hearings, spellbound and disbelieving. For whatever reason, I especially remember the testimony involving L. Patrick Gray, director of the FBI, throwing a suitcase full of incriminating documents over the bridge into the river. (I believe my memory is accurate here.) The press didn't pursue Watergate because Nixon happened to be a Republican; it pursued Watergate because the Nixon administration was so very busy shredding the Constitution. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
The Washington press corps in particular has come under some fire recently for becoming "too friendly" with the powers in Washington. This issue first surfaced while Bush was in office. The criticism is rooted in the idea that the press is supposed to be a watchdog. The press, it is now recognized, did not ask the hard questions in the run up to the war in Iraq; instead, they reported what they were told by the Bush administration. As reporters, they should have been as tenacious as those who covered Watergate.
In regard to the two-year stimulus plan and the fight over health care reform, I have read much in the print media and have heard much on TV in regard to all aspects of these issues. Today, I heard six different congressmen on TV discussing various ways to pay for a health care bill, many of their views opposing each other's. These issues are being covered, and all views are being represented.
I agree with mshurn that the old saw about the press being a liberal bastion does not reflect current reality. 'The press' is a broad array, including plenty of right wing components. Look and Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, not to mention the conservative print media.
The bigger concern, I feel, is that people are more and more tuning in only to commentary that reinforces their own political beliefs.
But it's the conservative media that is under attach via the "fairness doctrine." I can only suggest that everyone evaluate the "mainstream" media, asking what they're covering, what they're not (the Tea Parties, for example), the time they give each story, and the language they use to describe things, and I think its bias is unmistakable. The "conservative" media admits its bias; the liberal media denies it.
And I do believe that cburr is correct ... the biggest problem is that we tend to listen to what reenforces our views. I think the reason for that is that there is so little in the "middle" ... with a choice of extremes, you tend to go with what you agree with.
I am actually in favor of the fairness doctrine, in a comical way. I think the conservative view would get a LOT more airtime if television media had to be more balanced in their presentation --- presuming that this is what happens to the conservative point of view which is usually expressed on talk radio.
Actually, I believe the whole movement is an attack on the 1st Amendment and we should all fight it.
And a comment on what mshurn observed. Obama is getting an hour on TV tonight to push the Health Care Plan; is the opposition getting equal time?
This is clearly a very personal opinion, and I certqainly am not out to make converts; I just want to keep a possible alternative view "out there."
The president always gets more air time than does the opposition. Tonight it's Obama. For the previous 8 years, it was Bush in prime time on all 3 major networks. The bully pulpit. Being POTUS does have its privileges. At least now the loyal opposition is given some time to follow up after the President speaks, whoever the President happens to be.
I'm not sure cable news has contributed much to intelligent political discourse in the country. Talking heads screaming at each other generate more heat than light. Makes one appreciate the mute button on the remote.
And I also fear that cburr is right about many viewers watching only those programs that tell them what they want to hear. To get the best news coverage, we really need to get our news from a variety of sources, and it's always interesting to listen to the BBC every so often for a really different point of view.
Although it may not be significant, the data suggests that Obama has had many more news conferences that Bush did at this time in his presidency. I understand that he has the power of the Presidency, but that power needs to be checked. The founding fathers were clear that they wanted no part of a king, or someone with the power of a king. I have always thought that the opposition should get the same amount of time as the party in power. After all, isn't this the Fairness Doctrine :)
Join to answer this question
Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.Join eNotes