Does your conscience bother you?

Whenever there’s a scandal(!), faux or otherwise, it’s compared to Watergate.

It’s worth remembering that Watergate didn’t mean anything politically in the long run. Sure, it affected the ’74 midterms, with Democrats gaining 49 seats in the House (fewer than Republicans gained in 1994 or 2010, by the way), and maybe Ford lost in ’76 because he pardoned Nixon, but Reagan won easily only six years later.

Watergate had no structural impact of any kind on American politics. Maybe that put in new rules, but people found ways around them. Probably the biggest impact was it inflated DC journalists’ sense of their place in the world.

I believe that Richard Nixon — rivaled only by Johnson, and their relationship is symbiotic anyway — is the dominant figure of post-war American politics. Everything of importance in the last 40 years is a result of the southern strategy or at least a ricochet of a result.

Watergate was not a big deal, though.

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26 replies
  1. 1
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    4 years later.

  2. 2
    David Koch says:

    Whenever there’s a scandal(!), faux or otherwise, it’s compared to Watergate.

    that only happens when a Dem is president

  3. 3
    Casey says:

    I’d argue that its biggest effect was aiding Republicans. As a scandal, it helped (along with Vietnam) destroy Americans’ ability to have faith in their government. That serves the political party which argues that government is bad. Maybe the argument is correct, but that’s what it did.

  4. 4
    Regnad Kcin says:

    ZOMFG new design w00t!

    Oh, and RMN remains the curse of his (and our) generations.

  5. 5
    pokeyblow says:

    Actually, Watergate had the impact of causing the press to go all wobbly with respect to attacking the president (if the president happened to be republican, anyway).

    Iran-Contra, the 2000 Florida recount and supreme court decision, 9/11 and the Iraq debacle were all downplayed by a press which patronizingly (and wrongly) thinks America can’t take another (republican) presidential failure.

  6. 6
    DougJ says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    Six years after Nixon resigned.

  7. 7
    replicnt6 says:

    What an epic troll! Turn off comments, then say Watergate was no biggie. My hat’s off too ya, DougJ.

    Have you ever heard the Robert Klein routine New Teeth? It’s about going to the dentist. In it, he talks about dentists saying things that you’ll feel compelled to reply to while your mouth is full of junk. The example he gives: “Boy, that Nixon sure got a tough break!”

  8. 8
    Regnad Kcin says:

    @DougJ:

    Which is at least when Muscle Shoals shoulda started to bother ya

  9. 9
    ChrisNYC says:

    So disagree. Watergate opened the door for Reagan — so many GOP importants were either implicated or had to say that there was a huge problem, there was a credibility/effectiveness issue for them in 76 with GOPers. Not all that dissimilar to the anti-Establishment GOPers now — big part of the reason they’re anti-Establishment is because of the GWB failures. Counter example is Rumsfeld, whose ability to rise post Watergate is often credited to his being out of the country (NATO ambassador?) during Watergate.

  10. 10
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Hot.

  11. 11
    lojasmo says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Douche and Bag is still here. That sucks.

    Also, no format buttons. I think the first thing is worse, though.

  12. 12
    pokeyblow says:

    No reason to go on a killing spree.

  13. 13
    whoami says:

    @Casey:
    IMHO it’s not so clear.

    While it didn’t keep us from invading Iraq, a large fraction of the US population was against it from the beginning. Vietnam? We’d been involved there since before 1954, but mass public discontent didn’t really happen until 1968 IIRC.

    So a little distrust of the government can be a good thing, depending on the context.

  14. 14
    whoami says:

    @Casey:
    IMHO it’s not so clear.

    While it didn’t keep us from invading Iraq, a large fraction of the US population was against it from the beginning. Vietnam? We’d been involved there since before 1954, but mass public discontent didn’t really happen until 1968 IIRC.

    So a little distrust of the government can be a good thing, depending on the context.

  15. 15
    The prophet Nostradumbass says:

    Some years ago I was at the transit center, waiting for a bus home, and there was a guy strutting around yelling “GIMME BACK MY BULLETS” at maximum volume.

  16. 16

    @Casey: mistermix highlighted this poll lending credence to that view.

    Site looks great, nice work.

  17. 17
    drkrick says:

    Not so sure Reagan gets elected in ’80 if Carter doesn’t slip in thanks to disgust with Watergate and the pardon. The late ’70’s were gonna be bad no matter who was President, and the changeover could just as easily been GOP to Dem with Ford as the incumbent. It’s also likely that the big Dem Watergate class of ’74 postponed the Southern Strategy takeover of Southern House and Senate seats for a cycle or two. So consequential, but not in ways anyone would have predicted in the mid ’70’s.

  18. 18
    drkrick says:

    @The prophet Nostradumbass: but nothing from “Saturday Night Special”? I’m guessing that one doesn’t make the setlist very often these days.

  19. 19
    jl says:

    Obs DougJ troll post. IMHO.

  20. 20
    LosGatosCA says:

    @drkrick:

    FTW. Basically, Nixon/Burns mismanagement of the economy crashed on Carter. Nixon has never reaped the huge scorn he deserved even more so than Watergate for price controls and churning out the dollars to get re-elected in 1972 and then to cheapen the real cost of oil after the embargo.

    Of course, without Watergate, Reagan probably wins in 1976 (assuming Nixon doesn’t re-escalate Vietnam???) and then RayGunz reaps the economic collapse. Where things go from there is anybody’s guess. A Democrat wins in 1980? Who?

    Fast forward to 2004-2012.

    In retrospect, Kerry losing in 2004 was much better than winning, since the whole Bush economic disaster would have been pinned on the Democrats, rather than where it belonged. And the Democrats would have been the traitors on winding down Iraq instead of Bill Gates doing it for Bush after the 2006 disastrous midterms.

    That set the stage for 2008/2012.

    The Republicans in 2008 were a lot smarter than the 1976 Democrats, because they understand their era is ending. And because they understand it their goal is to roll back as much of the New Deal as possible by any means that are effective: obstruction, suppression, hate fueled divisiveness, political decisions by judges, etc. Make it as difficult as possible to re-win back territory won in 1932-1980 by the Democrats.

    In the grand scheme of things, Democrats were blissfully ignorant for 12 years that their era started closing in 1968 with the Southern Strategy. Reagan was a surprise they were completely unprepared for.

  21. 21
    mclaren says:

    On the contrary, Doug — I’d say Watergate was a huge deal, because it taught the people in power that they could commit flagrant massive high crimes and misdemeanors and get away with it without any real consequences.

    Reagan learned that lesson well, and the drunk-driving C student and his torturer sidekick learned it even better.

  22. 22
    Steve Crickmore says:

    It’s worth remembering that Watergate didn’t mean anything politically in the long run. Really, I suppose in the sense that John Meynard Keynes, meant in his quote “But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead “or in the sense that Obama hasn’t really grasped, in his war on whistleblowers, that America wanted a more open executive, less obsessed with expanding it’s powers and secrecy. Obama was probably too young, for Watergate, forty years ago, to make any serious impression on him. Even with their short attention span, because of Watergate , Americans (for a while) had a distrust of rather cunning ambitious, politicians who had serious ethical baggage. Carter may have been seen as ineffective but his election, in 1976 was a direct consequence of Watergate, as he presented himself as honest and straightforward. Ted Kenendy was another indirect casualty of Watergate . His brief presidental boomlet in the spring of 1980 failed against Carter, because Chappaquiddick (1969 )was reviewed through a post-Watergate lens, but yes forty years later with now a weakened Congressional War Powers Act, weakened Campaign Finance Reforms, and less inclination to defer to Special Prosecutors, Watergate recedes… .

  23. 23
    Davis X. Machina says:

    How many years after Fort Sumter were the Democrats back in power? 15?

    You can’t keep the bastards down, and out. Not even losing a civil war will do the trick?

  24. 24

    […] I don’t entirely agree with this. It’s true that Watergate didn’t permanently damage the Republican Party, or even hurt […]

  25. 25
    PG says:

    No. Not at all. Watergate did hurt the Republicans. It did kill them in the 1974 midterms. It did cause them to lose the White House in 1976.

    Now, if you’re arguing that by “long term” the Watergate scandal should have caused the Republican brand to be sent down into the basement…..and then stay there for decades….well, that’s some wishful thinking. It’s impossible to imagine what would cause any political party to be that marginalized for that long now.

    The legacy remains….the only president to resign was a conservative Republican. And if we’re going to get all tribal, the Democrats have never done anything as bad before or since. Which is why it is in the interest of the Republicans to gun up every possible Democratic “scandal.” For false equivalencies’ sake.

  26. 26
    PG says:

    No. Not at all. Watergate did hurt the Republicans. It did kill them in the 1974 midterms. It did cause them to lose the White House in 1976.

    Now, if you’re arguing that by “long term” the Watergate scandal should have caused the Republican brand to be sent down into the basement…..and then stay there for decades….well, that’s some wishful thinking. It’s impossible to imagine what would cause any political party to be that marginalized for that long now.

    The legacy remains….the only president to resign was a conservative Republican. And if we’re going to get all tribal, the Democrats have never done anything as bad before or since. Which is why it is in the interest of the Republicans to gun up every possible Democratic “scandal.” For false equivalencies’ sake.

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