Would America have been better off never learning about Watergate?

I am not an historian or political scientist, but I’ve heard the sentiment often expressed that the Watergate scandal did a lot of damage to American’s faith in government that stretches even to today. Of course there has always been conservatives who want small and limited government, and progressives who want a stronger, more involved government, but I’m not sure if old-style conservatism had as much to do with government distrust as it does today.

Is it possible that things like the Tea Party are long-brewing ramifications of Watergate?

How different would our country be if we had never learned about Watergate, Nixon had won re-election (as I believe he was predicted to do), and the country went on from there?

Would we be a more progressive country? Would there be as much anti-government sentiment as exists today?

If so, or for any other reasons, would America be better off if we had just never learned about the wire-tapping Nixon had done, and why?

(Also, if I am wrong about distrust in or apathy towards the government increasing after Watergate, or anything like that, please feel free to correct my assumptions)

I believe that if we had never learned about Watergate, there wouldn’t be as much distrust and anti-government sentiment as there is today. I think our political map would look a lot different too, and we wouldn’t have nearly the level of safe red states or safe blue states like we do now. Back in Nixon’s day and earlier, there really weren’t such a thing as safe red or safe blue states I don’t think, but after that, the states began shifting allegiences to one party or another, and now it’s almost unthinkable that we could have an election where 90% or more of the electoral college goes to one candidate or another. Yes I know Reagan won huge landslides in the electoral college, but I don’t think it had really brewed long enough by then to fully set in.

My idea is that since government distrust started spreading during Watergate, local governments of certain states began digging in their heels and throwing their weight behind one political party or the other, and both political parties started to having to pander to the whole “government is a big problem in our country and needs to be reduced as much as possible.”

Timeline trouble there, most of the distrust was beginning to brew thanks to what the US was doing in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. That budding distrust grew more thanks to the Pentagon Papers leak.

The Nixon administration then organized “The Plumbers” to discredit the leakers of those papers and to prevent other “intelligence” leaks, unfortunately the administration got the idea that his opponents could then be put under surveillance too and organized searches to look for more “evidence”.

The last operation of the Plumbers? A breaking to the Democratic National Committee HQ at Watergate. The Nixon administration was caught attempting to coverup the connections that they had with the Plumbers.

The dominoes were falling already by then, but one of the first to do so was the Pentagon Papers.


If it hadn’t been this, the arrogance of the perpetrators would have pushed them into something even more egregious later on.

The anti-government distrust was already there. Lyndon Johnson was every bit as deceitful as Richard Nixon. If anything, Watergate was probably a good thing because it balanced the deceit out and kept it from being a partisan issue.

Watergate also established the important precedent that the President is not above the law. He’s a citizen not a monarch.

I see what you did there. :slight_smile:

I agree that if WG had gone unnoticed, it’s likely that something worse would have happened afterwards.

The question: Would America have been better off never learning about Watergate?
IMO makes me think of a question like:
Would your broken marriage have been better off, had you never learned that your spouse cheated?
It’s not that I’m certain the outcome would have been better, had I not learned the facts,
but rather I would have hoped for a trustworthy spouse,
just as I would prefer a trustworthy government.

Alan Moore already covered this.

We won the Vietnam war in that world, which includes Nixon’s election to a fourth term, widespread airship travel, and a superpowered blue-skinned physicist.

Which is why I tend to think Watchmen is an utopia not dystopia. :stuck_out_tongue:

At any rate its interesting to think how the 1976 election turns out-Reagan probably wins the nomination IMO without Ford being an incumbent and the election also without Watergate (which was fairly close in the real world).

With millions of Americans dead in the end, sure. :dubious:

Not likely IMO, the middle east was a fiasco for him too and the economic problems that Carter faced and sank him later would had also soured many to a second term for Reagan also. And if Agnew had not resigned by unrelated reasons:

Been a while since you’ve read Watchmen, hasn’t it there Qin? In that timeline, Nixon got the 22nd Amendment repealed, and he was still president in October 1985 - his fifth term. At the end there’s a visible newspaper headline that says “RR to run for Pres”, leading to a comment that nobody wants a cowboy actor in office. Meaning Robert Redford.

And if you think that Watchmen was utopian rather than dystopian - read it again. You’re post-Cold War, if you are at all like your peers you will find the notion of killing millions nonsensical and horrific. For those of us alive at the time it might have been a barely acceptable alternative to the larger casualties of a full nuclear exchange. Barely.

To the OP - it’s better to know than not know. And if Nixon and cronies had gotten away with Watergate they just would have tried something else until they got caught. History has shown they didn’t know when to stop, and were not exactly masterminds.

It’s arguable the country would have been better off, or at least if had been revealed a later date. Nixon’s tactics were nothing new, as past presidents of both political parties were prone to wiretaps and break-ins. What likely hurt Nixon the most was the profanity-laden audiotape. Once that came out, he lost the moderate voters. If there hadn’t been an audiotape, there’s a good chance the public would have forgotten Watergate, like the myriad of other political scandals since.

It also gave a platform to the Blame American First crowd, ala Church Committee, Kennedy Assasination conspiracies, etc. This fundamentally shifted the political debate such that professing faith in the government sounded naïve, and expounding crank conspiracy theories sounded educated (CIA assassinating JFK, CIA introducing crack cocaine, CIA responsible for all the wrong in the world…)

Arguably the worst case of Executive abuse in the 20th century was FDR’s court-packing scheme. It cut to the very heart of the American system, and could have quite easily turned our country into a banana republic. Why don’t people remember it? Well, it was 70 years ago. As time passes and people die, things are forgotten. The same will happen with Watergate, probably for the better.

I was being sarcastic. But that said, Adrian Veidt’s plot of killing millions in New York was totally useless-the book was written during the Cold War and apparently Moore thought World War 3 was inevitable without Veidt’s actions. On one forum there was speculations that the USSR would have dissolved anyways later on.

I have long, though not publicly, mourned the damage that Watergate did to our country. One of the greatest injuries has been the rise of “investigative journalism” as a self-perpetuating and increasingly voracious enterprise. Muckrakers have always has a role to play in the maintenance of a free and decent society, but considerably less legitimacy attached to the practice of sniffing out secrets, creating scandals, and ruining lives and careers for the sake of selling papers. but Watergate gave respectability to this practice, to the point where few journalists will even consider keeping a damning secret to themselves. Wearing the cloak of “the public’s right to know,” and pointing to Woodward and Bernstein as if they, too, were pursuing malefactors in high office, the newly encouraged dregs of the press seek out every personal failing and splatter it into every living room in the country. Within the bottomless gullet of the 24-hour news cycle, the cancer has metastasized into the body politic, so that there is no peccadillo so small, so irrelevant, that it cannot gain the attention of the New York Times. Small wonder that public life is no longer dominated by giants with feet of clay, but by cautious functionaries who have never put a foot wrong in their lives, by virtue of never stepping forward at all. And yet…

The alternative is worse. Had had the White House staff not been exposed, had Nixon not been hounded from office, had Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee not run the story, the abuses of the Watergate years would have gotten worse. The use of government staff to plan and commit tawdry crimes, the use of the FBI, the CIA, and the IRS for personal vendettas and political payback, it all would have continued, would have increased, would have become the way things are done. America would have become a lawless oligarchy, with a press muzzled by its own dignity, with a loyal opposition destroyed by its own rectitude.

So, no. If the price of freedom is throwing a few good men to the wolves, I’ll pay it. Though it would be nice if Eliot Spitzer had lost his job for abuse of power, and not for visiting prostitutes.

And some people don’t like that. Dick Cheney came out of the Nixon Admin with a lifelong ideological commitment to reviving the Imperial Presidency, and got his chance when he became Veep.

Look, the Watergate break-in was a trivial tail end to CREEP’s operations. What CREEP was really all about was to assure Nixon’s re-election in 1972 by sabotaging the primary campaign of every Dem contender but McGovern, who was judged easiest to beat. It worked. You can read the story in Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein.

Now, does anybody here really believe it’s harmless to our republic if somebody gets away clean with that sort of thing?

No, and it’s a good thing no one is arguing that. I was simply suggesting that maybe it would be a little less harmful if they got away with it, obviously it’d been better if none of it had happened at all. My question was, are we better off knowing about it or not knowing about it, considering that we may be living with the extreme repercussions of Watergate now in the form of the tea party and rampant anti-government sentiment.

I think it’s difficult to credit Watergate, which took place in the early 1970’s, with being the direct cause of the formation of the Tea Party movement.

Let’s not ignore the obvious. There was opposition in the past to Democratic Presidents like Carter and Clinton. But there was never a mass movement of public demonstrations before Obama was elected. Conservatives don’t like to hear this but I think there is a racial element involved. People may not like a Democrat in the Oval Office but it takes a black Democrat in the Oval Office to get them out on the streets. If Kerry or Edwards were President, there’d be the usual grumbling but there wouldn’t be a Tea Party.

I think the Wall Street bailouts had something to do with it, as well.

The thing I find bothersome is that banks are allowed to pay stock dividends, even in a world where they get bailouts. How is that fair? At least with the auto industry bailout you can say that it’s probably foolish to let the American car manufacturers all go down. However, with the banks, there were plenty of banks around that didn’t NEED bailing out, like Wells-Fargo.

If we’re going to be in the business of bailing them out, then we don’t need to be providing welfare for the lucky stockholders of big banks.

For that matter, I don’t think telephone companies and and electric companies should be allowed to pay dividends. They are given monopolies over public utilities. Since they don’t have to compete, they shouldn’t be able to profiteer like they do (and boy they do, AT&T pays a 6% dividend. Their wireless rates are then, by definition, way overpriced).

I wasn’t born until 1975, so I can’t comment on the Watergate thing. My guess is, though, that it will make little difference 50 years from now, when the people running things don’t remember it.

I definitely agree that a lot of the anger against Obama is because he is not a white man. It’s no shock that most of the denizens of our reddest states hate minorities. We knew that already.

Back in Nixon’s day and before there were safe Republican and Democrat states, they were just different than they are today. The south had been solidly democrat dominated since the end of reconstruction,and the northeast was run by establishment republicans. The difference is that some Republicans were liberals and some Democrats were conservatives. The Democrat party still reflected the New Deal coalition of segregationist southerners, urban liberals, and big labor. The Civil Rights era marked an end to democrat dominance of the south. Vietnam and the riots led to a conservative backlash against the great society. Watergate was a part of the growing distrust many americans started to feel but the stagflation of the 70s and the inability of the government to solve it was a much larger part. Absent Watergate the political realignment still would have happened and the distrust of government still would have been the same. The worst legacy of Watergate is what the myth of Woodard and Bernstein did to the press corps.

:confused: It set expose-the-wrongs-of-the-mighty as the ultimate career-achievement prize dangling before every American journalist’s eyes. That’s a good thing.