Nixon’s the one who stained presidency, tested democracy
“Shout it. The world’s going to shout it.
There’s no doubt about it. Yes, Nixon’s the one.”
Those words, set to lively finger- snapping music by Connie Francis, served as the theme song of Richard Milhous Nixon’s successful 1968 campaign for the presidency. Today, 40 years to the day after his resignation as president, those same lyrics provide an ironic and chilling catchphrase for his fall from grace.
Yes, Nixon’s the one and only president who resigned from the highest office in the land in disgrace.
Yes, Nixon’s the one who helped to mastermind a burglary against his opposition party and then toiled to cover up the misdeeds of himself and his inner- circle cronies.
And yes, Nixon’s the one whose presidency to this day remains synonymous with shame as a result of the Watergate scandal. No amount of revisionist history can ever alter the dark stain forever etched in the nation’s collective memory of the 37th president of the United States.
Nonetheless, the presidency of Nixon was hardly one-dimensional.
The negative pall that the Watergate scandal cast over Nixon’s 5 Ω years in office clouded and continues to obscure several notable achievements of his tenure. For example, Nixon’s the one who just 20 months before his resignation scored one of the biggest landslides in American history by winning 49 of 50 states, including the stalwart Democratic Mahoning Valley.
Nixon’s also the one who dramatically ebbed the flow of bloodshed in America’s most divisive War in Vietnam, the one who negotiated the most comprehensive arms-control treaty since the 1920s, the one who made groundbreaking strides in U.S.-China relations, the one who created the Environmental Protection Agency, and the one who ended the much maligned military draft.
Despite those achievements, Nixon’s presidency remains largely defined by its final years of cover-ups, conspiracies, con games and criminality. As a result, public cynicism and distrust toward the presidency in particular and all public offices in general soared to new heights. To this day, politicians remain on the lowest rungs of trustworthy professions, lower even than used-car salespeople, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.
To this day as well, anything the least bit nefarious in public affairs almost automatically gets the ignominious Watergate suffix affixed to it. Witness Coingate, Irangate, Chinagate, Billygate, Monicagate and even Weinergate.
On a more positive note, fallout from Watergate opened an era of a stronger and more aggressive press that generally has taken its watchdog role over government much more seriously. The fallout also paved the way for much more transparency in government via passage of hundreds of laws strengthening the public’s rights to access to government meetings and records.
Politically, the scandal did little in the long term to significantly damage the Grand Old Party. As today’s chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party pointed out in a Watergate retrospective story by Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick on Sunday, “It was more of personal tragedy for Nixon than a political tragedy” for the Republican Party.
The GOP’s enduring health has proved that our structural democracy is far too strong to let one man’s failures seriously damage it. Yes, Nixon’s the one who will forever be remembered for gravely dishonoring, discrediting and defacing the reputable image of the executive office of federal government. But Americans of all political stripes are the ones who have diligently persevered over the past 40 years to strengthen standards of accountability, openness and honesty at all levels of government and thereby fortified the very foundations of our nation’s 238-year experiment in representative democracy.