The Watergate scandal and eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon may have weakened the office of the President, but it proved the unwavering resolve of the American government to view even its highest members equally in the eyes of the law. The President was proven guilty of a crime. This proof illustrated his vulnerability, therefore weakening the revered executive office of President. Nixon was held responsible for his actions, just as any other member of society would be, thereby reinforcing the Constitutional belief that all men are created equal. In All The President’s Men, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward shed light on the process that exposed the scandal of the Nixon administration in such a manner that illustrates the strengthening of this country’s faith in its constitutional rights and laws.
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Elliot Richardson’s quote, and the implications therein, accurately convey the lesson of Watergate. Richardson refers to “a process that was beginning to substitute the interest of a president for the interest of a people,” meaning that Nixon’s motives for re-election were self-serving, and did not best serve the American people. The race became about power, and enabling any means necessary to obtain that power, whether legal or not. The whole process of the Watergate revelation also illustrated the American system of checks and balances, as summed up in the quote. The president was not allowed to rise above the law as some leaders manage to do. Congress was able to check Nixon and remind the American people that the power was in their own hands, not those of only one man. In Richardson’s closing, he describes the American government as one, “of laws, and not of men.” This reinforces the idea that citizens of this country are judged by the same standard of laws, not on an individual basis, and not by their position in the Government.
Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation benefited the nation in that both reporters served as an example of the power of American people. If Woodward and Bernstein had settled in reporting only the well-known facts that were approved by the Whitehouse, most of the American people would have been entirely unaware that any foul play was involved. Nixon would have eventually gotten away with the ongoing scandal and been allowed to go on serving as President, therefore voiding all of the afore mentioned lessons learned from the Watergate exposure. Those who object to the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal claim that the nation would have been better off without the civil unrest caused by Nixon’s prosecution, and that the office of president was greatly weakened. However, if Nixon had almost enough power to commit dozens of crimes without consequence, is it not necessary that the office be weakened? If the sort of behavior exhibited in the Nixon campaign was allowed to become the norm, then Elliot Richardson’s nightmare of a system serving the president and not the people could have become a reality. America would be in danger of ending up like so many failed democracies before it; with a government serving one President, who acted as an absolute ruler. Bernstein and Woodward, along with all of the others that reported on Watergate, exposed the truth in the scandal. From there, the truth allowed Congress to re-evaluate the amount of power that had been bestowed upon the President, therefore returning the concern of the nation to the people.
Nixon’s reasons for impeachment involved a clear violation of the law, while those of President Clinton involved an immorality not in violation of any legal statute. Although Clinton was actually accused for perjury when asked about the Lewinsky scandal early on, it was clear that he was being judged on his moral debauchery and his perjury was a convenient excuse for impeachment. Judging from the Clinton impeachment process, today’s society tends to be less hesitant in scrutinizing its leaders. In the seventies, most political figures and citizens viewed Nixon as a sort of infallible hero, and the mere idea of accusing him of being a thief was positively scandalous. Today, people seem to look for reasons to discredit any public figure. In Nixon’s case, he would almost surely have been impeached because American citizens no longer have the revere for powerful political figures as they once did.
The atmosphere of today’s government was largely affected by Nixon’s resignation in that it has lessened the respect that the people have for their president. More importantly, however, it proved that the separation of powers is one aspect of the system that works, and make sure no man is allowed to rise above the law.
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