The Bloom is Off the Rose: Observations on the 40th Anniversary of the Watergate Hearings

Published May 17, 2013

On the 40th anniversary of the first televised U.S. Senate hearing into the Watergate scandal, it’s both disturbing and amusing to watch the wheels coming off the Obama “Hope and Change” wagon.

As President Obama’s narrowly-won second White House term begins with revelations of scandals that reek of abuse of power, the incumbent executive inevitably invites unfavorable comparison to Richard Nixon, the only U.S. President to resign from office under threat of impeachment and removal from office:  secret wars; privacy violations; cover-ups; vendettas against the press; refusal to release internal emails; and politicizing the IRS.  (“I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons,” Obama told reporters in the Rose Garden in the rain on Thursday, May 16. “You can read the history and draw your own conclusions.”)

It’s amusing because this time, unlike during Watergate, the press has been on the side of the White House and until recently thought that the White House was on its side, too.

It’s disturbing because the major lesson the Executive Branch seems to have learned in the past forty years is how more effectively to stonewall, to cover up, and to attempt to manipulate the press and the public.

You can – and we trust have – read elsewhere in detail about the Obama administration’s attempts to cover up the fact that al Qaeda-related attacks took place or were broken up on the anniversaries of the September 11 attacks and of the killing of Osama bin Laden; the administration’s chilling investigations of the Associated Press; the IRS’s efforts to stifle opposition to the Obama re-election campaign; and the Holder Justice Department’s Nixonian refusal to turn over the functional equivalent of the Nixon White House tapes in the form of unredacted emails Congress has requested.

Suffice it to say that – four decades after Watergate – nothing much has changed when it comes to the abuse of Executive Branch power, and the famous dictum of Lord Acton remains true:  power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It’s been said that in a democracy the people get the politicians they deserve, so cynics may argue that the millions who voted to re-elect Barack Obama’s after seeing him in office for four years deserve what is now coming home to roost.  But the nearly equal number of people who voted otherwise can only recall with wistful sadness the response of Benjamin Franklin to the passerby who asked back in Philadelphia in 1789 what kind of new government the framers of the U.S. Constitution had come up with:  “A Republic, madam – if you can keep it.”