The Watergate Scandal

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What were the key features of the Watergate Scandal and what was the effect on American politics?

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On the evening of June 16, 1972 a security guard in the Watergate hotel noticed a piece of tape on a lock of a door to the Democratic Headquarters; his report set off a chain of events that would lead to the demise of Richard Milhous Nixon as president of the United States.  The tape had been placed on the door's lock as part of a plan to rattle Democratic campaign leaders and tarnish the reputation of the party.

Ironically, of course, the tarnish came not to the Democratic party, but to the Republican.  In efforts to cover-up their activities, John Ehrlichman, President and Chief of DomesticCouncil, and Bob Halderman, Chief of Staff, leaders in the operation, were fired.  Later, it would be revealed that Nixon did know about the break-in.

Initially the news media reported this incident as a minor story with little significance.  However, two reporters for The Washington Post, renowned as a pro-Democratic newspaper, Carl Berstein and Bob Woodard, began to dig deeper.  Their investigations were assisted by an anonymous informer who called himself "Deep Throat."  (In recent years this man has made his identity public; William Mark Felt, Sr.,an FBI agent.)  These investigations ripped open many cancerous sores in the Nixon presidency.  There were other clandestine operations in which Nixon had been involved including the infamous secretive tapes he made and the shoe box he had in a drawer containing "Hush Money" as well as his involvement with people of questionable reputations.

The Watergate Scandal is a classical tragedy.  For, President Nixon had had a very successful first term, having received worldwide recognition and respect in foreign affairs (he was good in these affairs as Vice-President under Eisenhower).  He opened trade with China, for one thing.  He was leading in the polls, and won the 1972 election by a large majority, so there was no need for him to have fretted about the Democratic Party.  But, because Nixon had led John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election by 11 points in the polls as late as September, a960, and then lost after the television debates, Richard Nixon developed his tragic flaw:  He became paranoid.  As a result, he had his various clandestine activities.  Like any tragic hero, Nixon also had his great fall, having to resign from office and turn over the reigns to the Speaker of the House, Gerald Ford, since the Vice-President Spiro Agnew was charged with nefarious deeds and had to resign.

After Gerald Ford's appointment as President, the Republican party was in shambles, public confidence in the office of president was certainly lost, and, as a result, legislation was passed restricting some of the privileges of this office.  In a backlash against the Republicans, the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter--as inexperienced in foreign affairs as great as Nixon was--was elected mainly because the American public did not forgive Nixon's actions, nor did they trust the Republicans.  Voting was a "knee-jerk reaction."  Some view the past election of a Democratic candidate in 2008 as analogous to this same "knee-jerk reaction" and cynicism toward the Republicans in the person of President George W. Bush.

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The Watergate Scandal...

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