News / USA

Nixon Resignation Still Resonates 40 Years After Watergate

FILE - In this March 15, 1973, file photo President Nixon tells a White House news conference that he will not allow his legal counsel, John Dean, to testify on Capitol Hill in the Watergate investigation.
FILE - In this March 15, 1973, file photo President Nixon tells a White House news conference that he will not allow his legal counsel, John Dean, to testify on Capitol Hill in the Watergate investigation.

Forty years ago on August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon became the only American president to resign from office.
 
His departure came because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal and subsequent cover-up, which began when Republican campaign operatives broke into Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate office building in Washington in June of 1972.
 
It is a scandal that left a huge impact on national politics and some of the reforms enacted in its wake continue to reverberate today.
 

In this Aug. 9, 1974, file photo, Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House in Washington as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the presidency in Washington.In this Aug. 9, 1974, file photo, Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House in Washington as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the presidency in Washington.
x
In this Aug. 9, 1974, file photo, Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House in Washington as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the presidency in Washington.
In this Aug. 9, 1974, file photo, Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House in Washington as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the presidency in Washington.

But none of that was apparent on the night of August, 8, when a high-stakes political drama was playing out in the White House that would end in Nixon waving goodbye the next day before stepping into a helicopter on the White House lawn.
 
Not a 'quitter'

It was on that night that Nixon went before television cameras in the Oval Office and announced he would resign the following day.
 
“I have never been a quitter,” he said. “To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body.  But as president, I must put the interests of America first.”
 
In an emotional speech to White House staff the next morning, Nixon seemed to touch on one of the reasons for his political downfall, though whether he knew it at the time remains open to interpretation.
 
“Always remember, others may hate you,” he said. “But those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them.  And then you destroy yourself.”
 
The nightmare is over

Shortly thereafter the new president, Gerald Ford, sought to reassure a nation that had just witnessed the first presidential resignation in history.
 
The words were simple but eloquent and a tribute to the enduring nature of American democracy.
 
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over,” he said. “Our Constitution works.  Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.  Here, the people rule.”
 
Several Nixon aides went to jail for crimes and abuses of power committed during the Watergate scandal.  White House tape recordings implicated Nixon in the cover-up when he ordered aides to tell the CIA to lie to the FBI in an effort to thwart the Watergate investigation.
 
Ford would later pardon Nixon of any criminal culpability in a move that may have cost him the 1976 presidential election, won by Democrat Jimmy Carter.
 
Important turning point

American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman said the Watergate scandal remains an important turning point in U.S. political history.
 
“Watergate remains tremendously significant,” he explained. “It is still, to date, the most comprehensive attempt by a president and his administration to undermine the democratic process.”
 
The Watergate scandal unfolded over a two-year period, much of it first uncovered and documented by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
 
Lichtman said journalists investigating Watergate and the president’s involvement in a political cover-up was crucial.
 
“Had it not been for the journalism of (Bob) Woodward and (Carl) Bernstein and their inside source, Nixon may well have gotten away with it,” he said. “So the system worked but it did work precariously and you know the lesson is you have got to be ever-vigilant.”
 
Congressional reform

The Watergate scandal also led to congressional reform of the campaign finance system, though some of those reforms have been undone by recent Supreme Court decisions.
 
Watergate also ushered in a new, more divisive political era that has become even more polarized in recent years.
 
Norman Ornstein, a political analyst who took part in a recent panel discussion on the Watergate scandal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington said, “We began to see the tensions increase but they were nowhere near what we have now.  What I see now is a level of tribalism, not simply polarization, that is something we haven’t seen in the country pretty much since the period right around the Civil War.”
 
Americans have changed their minds about one aspect of the Watergate scandal.
 
In 1974, 59 percent opposed President Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon. But by 2002, an ABC News survey found that 59 percent believed that Ford had done the right thing in granting the pardon as part of an effort to reunify the country in the wake of one of the worst political scandals in its history.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Phil Roarke from: Mesquite, Texas
August 09, 2014 8:21 AM
Nixon's partners in crime all got jail sentences, but he got off scott free, just like it never happened...but I guess if you're the top dog, there's separate (and favorable) administration of justice.
In Response

by: Mark from: Virginia
August 09, 2014 8:43 PM
It was never proved that Nixon had a direct hand in Watergate (though evidence showed that he might have). It was not the break-in that brought about his downfall, but his refusal to cooperate with the investigation that put him in hot water and got the masses believing he had something to hide. He faced impeachment for several things, including obstruction of justice, contempt and hindering a federal investigation. He was given a choice; impeachment or resignation. Nixon chose the latter, knowing that he would lose the impeachment process. He was not the first to face impeachment, Andrew Jackson was the first, and he narrowly avoided conviction by a singe vote. Clinton was the other, and he too, avoided conviction as a result of Congress being unable to secure the two-thirds majority needed to convict. Nixon was the fish that got away.
If there ever was a man determined to be President, and utterly wrong for that job, it was Nixon. He didn't get the nickname "Tricky Dick" for nothing....

by: Gordon from: Connecticut
August 09, 2014 12:07 AM
My birthday, then and now. What a gift that was when I was 22 and the scumbag finally said adios. It wasn't tragedy, it was pathos. Everyone, I mean everyone, knew he was a pathetic character from 1952 onwards. Every bad thing that happened to him he brought on himself. He rode to power by appealing to the lunatic fringe, now called mainstream Conservatives. He made paranoia acceptable. A contemptible pretender. Good riddance.

by: Robert Ryan from: Farmington, Maine
August 08, 2014 11:44 AM
Two points here: first, the Watergate break-in was unnecessary, the reasons for it still murky to this day. McGovern was a weak opponent, perceived by most Americans as being too liberal at a time when old New Deal-style liberalism was rapidly losing popular appeal due to general prosperity and also to the racial and Vietnam-related upheavals of the 1960's. The second point is that the Nixon pardon generated increased cynicism at the time about the political process and sent a message to future U.S. Presidents that they could break the law with impunity and get away with it as President Reagan did in relation to the Iran-Contra Affair. It was a very bad and even dangerous precedent to set.
In Response

by: Gordon from Haddam from: Haddam, CT
August 09, 2014 12:37 AM
Murky? What's murky about it? Nixon had an obsessive enemy perception. His near-fanatical paranoia disgusted even Eisenhower. Despite being way, way far ahead in the polls he was always scared that somehow he'd lose, like in 1960, and that atmosphere pervaded his White House. It's all on the record. Also, he was unprincipled and weirdly in love with the capabilities of "secret ops."

by: Bearman from: U.S.A.
August 08, 2014 10:01 AM
The current administration is in no way as productive as the Nixon Administration and is embroiled in more serious violations of the constitution and the public trust. The current president would do well to follow Nixon's example.
In Response

by: Gordon from Haddam from: Haddam, CT
August 09, 2014 12:42 AM
Funny you should say that. The "productivity" you mention was a lot like Bill Clinton's. He endorsed things everybody wanted anyway but that Republicans had opposed simply because they had been Democratic initiatives, such as the 18-yr old vote and finding peace with the "Reds" like China. Clinton "won" on "ending" welfare and Defense of Marriage Act. See where that went...

by: max from: USA
August 07, 2014 7:38 PM
Such political hype from the media was unprecedented during Nixon's second term. When we tell kids of today, what the scandal was they're get confused, because it's such small potatoes. Recent scandal with the IRS are much, much more serious and our kids, bless them, recognize the left wing bias in our news media and the obvious hatred the left has for all that is good, decent and right. The culture of anti-culture is coming to an end, the winds of change are a blowing again, but his time in the good, right direction.
In Response

by: ad from: ny
August 08, 2014 11:08 AM
I agree with most of what you said - but I don't think its a left bias, I think its a $$$$$ bias.

by: J Getze from: New Jersey
August 07, 2014 4:18 PM
It's a shame that Nixon will be remembered most for Watergate when his trip to China -- opening that previously closed dialogue and trade connection -- is the single greatest accomplishment toward world peace in the 20th century.
In Response

by: Gordon from Haddam from: Haddam, CT
August 09, 2014 12:59 AM
So you might well ask yourself why it didn't happen decades earlier. It was because when basically Democrat-sympathetic experts such as the "Old China Hands" advocated a rapprochement with "Red" China, Nixon led the charge, calling them "soft on Communism" and the like. In fact Nixon only got his nose in the door in China because of 30 years of the careful work of those "softies" who actually knew something about the country, its leaders, and its people. Incidentally, it was Henry Kissinger who engineered it all. He was the brains of the operation.

by: Mark from: Virginia
August 07, 2014 12:38 PM
It may have cost Ford a reelection bid, but he did what no other President could have done... pardoning Nixon. Some may say that Ford concluded a 'devil's pact' with Nixon when Nixon nominated Ford to the Vice-President's position after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign shortly after Nixon's re-election.
No matter, here is snippet of information I found on the web.. "After Ford left the White House in 1977, the former President privately justified his pardon of Nixon by carrying in his wallet a portion of the text of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision which stated that a pardon indicated a presumption of guilt, and that acceptance of a pardon was tantamount to a confession of that guilt."

I remember well the 1972 election when Nixon won by a landslide.. I was in elementary school, 3rd grade I believe, and I ran about the school (with other kids) polling the teachers who they would vote for. Even in that elementary school, Nixon won by a large margin over McGovern. No other President ever rode such a wave of popularity to crash and burn so quickly, and so soon.
In Response

by: Gordon from Haddam from: Haddam, CT
August 09, 2014 1:05 AM
Funny that, the fickle public. It's only gotten worse. I was there too, although I was 20 and in school in England. I remember a British commentator saying that McGovern appealed to the young, the poor, and the blacks. He then pointed out that a huge majority of American voters were none of those. My heart sank. I realized that I and my friends were a distinct minority and that in a democracy, like it or not, majority rules.

by: Jeff from: Monterey, California
August 07, 2014 12:06 PM
Nixon was elected for his second term by a landslide. Unlike with FDR, there was never even mention or a third term. There is nothing that could have been "stolen" from the Watergate building that would have changed the dynamics of the presidential election. It is absurd that by casting out the elected leader mid term our democracy has been saved.

The precedent set was that inquiries and witch hunts take precedence over airfares of state. When a party can't govern it concentrates on disrupting governance.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs